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7 things we learned from Maryland’s win at Texas

Some lessons from a roller coaster of an opener.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football started the 2017 season with a huge 51-41 upset over No. 23 Texas on Saturday.

The first half was absolutely wild, but after the Longhorns cut the lead to three in the third quarter, the Terps managed to right the ship and hold on. Maryland’s off to a great start, but still has some improvements to make and some injuries to evaluate if they’re going to compete all season. Here are some takeaways from Maryland’s season-opening win in Austin:

The defense looks strong up front, but has work to do in the secondary.

Maryland’s front line held Texas to four rushing yards in the first quarter, while the Terps rushed for 108 yards in the same period. Maryland finished the game with five sacks and eight tackles for loss. The Terps have shored up some of their issues stopping the run, but they struggled mightily against the Wildcat formation in the third quarter, resulting in a few key conversions before the Longhorns punched it in for a touchdown.

Maryland’s secondary had some issues stopping the pass, allowing Longhorns quarterback Shane Buechele to go 34-of-52 passing for 375 yards and two scores. The Terps also allowed seven receivers to catch at least one pass over 12 yards. Maryland’s secondary improved as the day went on, but can’t expect continued success surrendering almost 400 yards through the air.

Tyrrell Pigrome had a solid game...

Pigrome came out cold in his second career start, and for the first series he looked to be in “panic mode.” But then his growth as a passer started to show. Pigrome scored the first Maryland touchdown on the ground, before the team started to open up the playcalling and let him sling in two scores. Pigrome looked like an improved passer, with a command of the line, before he went down near the end of the third with a right leg injury. He finished the game with 175 passing yards, completing 9 of 12 attempts, and rushed 11 times for 64 yards.

...but Kasim Hill may have to take over.

After a scramble ended with Pigrome holding his knee, the true freshman was forced to take the helm for the fourth quarter. This probably wasn’t the way coach DJ Durkin imagined throwing his four-star recruit into the fire, but Hill passed the test.

Hill went 3-for-3 for 44 yards on the day, capping his second-ever drive with a walk-in touchdown. Hill showed maturity under center, but whether the Terps stick with Hill or return to Pigrome will likely depend primarily on Pigrome’s health.

Special teams will be huge this year.

Maryland competed in all three phases of the game, and special teams was huge in this one. Maryland was able to grab control of the momentum in the second quarter, and it started when Antoine Brooks returned a blocked field goal to the house, and continued with a fumble recovery by the Terps on a kickoff. The momentum started to swing towards the Longhorns when Texas matched Maryland’s blocked field goal return, and raised it a punt return touchdown.

But Ty Johnson immediately neutralized the momentum swing with a 62-yard kickoff return of his own before breaking a 40-yard touchdown run. For the Terps to take the next step as a program, they will need to be consistent on special teams to prevent big momentum swings.

This is still a running team.

Despite Maryland’s increased passing presence, it was still powered by its backfield. Johnson finished the game with 132 yards on 12 carries, as the Terps won the running game with 263 yards on the ground to 93 yards from Texas. That accounts for over half of the Maryland’s 483 yards, and four of the team’s six touchdowns. In terms of touches, Johnson led the “Presidential Backfield” with 12 touches, with Lorenzo Harrison chipping in 11 attempts for 53 yards and Jake Funk adding a late ground score of his own.

Maryland enters Week 2 banged up.

After making it through fall camp relatively unscathed, the Terps had a number of players exit the game Saturday, and we will have to keep an eye on the injury report. In addition to Pigrome, linebacker Jesse Aniebonam left the game in the second quarter and cornerback Antwaine Richardson was carted off the field in the third. Richardson was later cited to be awake and responsive in the hospital. There’s still no word on Pigrome’s injury, but he was seen on the sideline after Hill’s score.

This is a different team than we saw last year.

The second year of the Durkin era is off to a hot start, and it’s clear this isn’t the same team that lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl. The Terps came out with the heat in the first half, stayed calm in the face of a comeback and finished off the Longhorns on the road. After going 0-5 against S&P+ 50 teams last season, and losing 17 straight games against ranked opponents, the Terps get a win against the No. 23 team in the country (No. 16 S&P+) to start the year. It would be reckless to say they’ve turned a corner, but scoring 51 points in a top-25 win is a nice start.