Plenty of praise went around after Maryland football kicked off conference play with a 31-24 road win over Minnesota, but one position group was crucial.
The Terps’ top playmakers and signal callers aptly received their credit for Maryland’s victory. But the offensive line truly paved the way for the win. While much was made of the Terps’ quarterback woes in the media, the offensive line didn’t seem fazed ahead of the test.
“The quarterback-receiver exchange, I feel like, it changes more from quarterback to quarterback than my job does,“ center Brendan Moore told reporters Sept. 27. “At the end of the day, my job is to pick up blitzes and block people. I really, usually don’t even know what’s going on behind me after I snap the ball. As long as there’s a guy I trust back there, it doesn’t change anything and Max is one of those people.”
That was before the Maryland proceeded to win its third game, with its third different starting quarterback.
Against UCF, the Terps were just 2-of-13 on third down, and the Knights were effective stacking the box against the run. The injury to Kasim Hill, thrusting sophomore Max Bortenschlager into the spotlight, compounded the issues in the loss. Maryland converted 9-of-16 third downs a week later against the Gophers, and that just begins to tell the story.
“They had some pretty exotic third down packages, third and medium, third and long, and for us to handle those as well as we did,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell told reporters Wednesday. “I just think that offensive line coach Tyler Bowen had those guys prepared. I thought that our players and our offensive line, those guys up front, they did an incredible job executing the plan that was put in place.”
With a week of prep for Minnesota, the offensive line turned in one of its best performances of the year. Against the S&P+ No. 15 rushing defense, Maryland was able to rip the Gophers for 262 yards on 47 attempts. The Terps’ backfield tandem of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison combined for 205 yards on 35 attempts, including the game-winning touchdown from Johnson.
The line also created enough space for Bortenschlager to operate in the pocket and complete 18 of his 28 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. After the Terps gave up a season-high five sacks against Central Florida, they weren’t sacked at all against Minnesota. As with many aspects of coach DJ Durkin’s program, if you ask the players, it all comes down to the mindset.
“Whether it’s Derwin [Gray] or Brendan [Moore] or anybody on the line, they just try to go out there and try to bully their way through the game and win the line of scrimmage,” wide receiver D.J. Moore told reporters Oct. 4.
Maryland boasts two of the top performing pass blocking tackles in the Big Ten in Gray and Damian Prince, according to ProFootballFocus. However, the Terps will face a whole different beast against No. 10 Ohio State. If Maryland is going to make some noise, it all starts up front.
“When those guys play as well as they did,” Bell said, “that’s going to give us a chance, and continue to give us a chance, from here on out for the rest of the year.”