When Tyrrell Pigrome found out that he wouldn’t be the starting quarterback for Maryland football this August, coming up second to Josh Jackson, he admits he was upset.
He could have easily sought out a transfer — it’s becoming increasingly popular in today’s era of college football — but the redshirt junior instead decided to focus on improving himself.
“To fall short on that really hurt,” Pigrome said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to be a better person for the team. Just be a leader, always motivate the team, make sure you stay up through the good and the bad.”
When Jackson suffered a mid-foot, high ankle injury against Rutgers on Saturday, it meant that Pigrome would get his shot to prove himself for the Terps.
“I just look at it as, when the opportunity comes, take advantage of it,” Pigrome said Tuesday. “Even though it’s the worst way to get a job, you have to do it for the team.”
Pigrome’s ability to run the football and use his mobility to elude pass rushers was always something useful that the redshirt junior could fall back on. However, the most important thing a quarterback can do — throw the football accurately — was a skill that Pigrome needed improving upon.
That was evident when Maryland hosted No. 9 Ohio State last year. After the Terps scored to bring the game to a 52-51 score in overtime, Maryland elected to put the ball into Pigrome’s hands to make a play on a 2-point conversion for the win.
Taking the snap out of the shotgun formation from the 3-yard line, Pigrome rolled out to his right and attempted to hit wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, who was approximately 12 yards ahead of Pigrome in the endzone with no defenders near him. With the chance to beat the 9-1 Buckeyes, Pigrome missed his open wide receiver, and the Terps lost the game by one point.
In fall camp, Pigrome said that play still haunted him, knowing he was that close to upsetting one of the best teams in the conference and earning Maryland a bowl game, knowing that his throw cost them a victory. So he spent the offseason focused on improving his arsenal.
Like many mobile quarterbacks, Pigrome often throws on the run. While that ability to extend plays can be a big benefit, it can also hamper a passer’s ability to be accurate from inside the pocket.
“If your feet are out of control, you’re going to be inaccurate,” he said. “So I just try to make sure I always have my feet in a good position to throw the ball.”
Improving his footwork isn’t the only avenue Pigrome has taken to become a better quarterback. He also dropped over 10 pounds from last season to this one, allowing for him to operate an RPO offense more smoothly.
“I feel more fluent,” Pigrome said. “I don’t feel as stiff, I don’t feel as heavy. In RPO, you have to move and get your feet around. ... Losing that weight and cutting down to get back to ‘me,’ that helps.”
It’s not the first time the undersized, shifty redshirt junior has been in the spotlight as the first-team quarterback for Maryland football — Pigrome will now have started a game in four straight seasons for the program, despite rarely being the chosen starter at the beginning of the season.
As a freshman in 2016, he started a mid-season game against Minnesota before handing the reins back to Perry Hills.
As a sophomore in 2017, Pigrome earned the starting job out of camp, lighting up Texas in the first two quarters of the season opener before tearing his ACL early in the second half.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2018, he took over for an injured Kasim Hill in the final two-plus games of the season, nearly knocking off then-No. 9 Ohio State in the penultimate game of the year.
Now, as a redshirt junior in 2019, he’s taking over for the graduate transfer Jackson for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s unknown what will happen once Jackson gets healthy, but for now, Pigrome plans to make the most of his time back in charge of the offense.
When Jackson got hurt with seconds remaining in the second quarter against Rutgers, Pigrome played well, completing 11-of-13 attempts for 111 yards while also showcasing his athleticism.
With the game out of hand, he wasn’t asked to do too much, but against Purdue, he’ll have to lead the offense to victory. Locksley is confident Pigrome is the guy for the job.
“We got a lot of confidence in Piggy and his ability to come in and perform and run our offense,” Locksley said. “His teammates have confidence in him. I know as a coaching staff we do.”
Like last season, being a backup this year didn’t mean Pigrome was banished to the sidelines with a clipboard in his hands while Jackson was the starter. Pigrome had been used in small packages throughout the first five games of the year, mainly running read options as a way to keep the defense off-balanced.
His athleticism is definitely an advantage when it comes to navigating potential issues stemming from an often-injured offensive line, but Locksley doesn’t see himself having to change the offense too much with Pigrome under center.
“Piggy does add a different element because of his ability to make plays with his feet,” Locksley said. “But the way our system operates — whether it’s the [run-pass option] system, whether it’s the zone read stuff that we can do with both those guys — we have a similar menu of plays that we call for both.
“...He has the element of the passing game when things break down, you probably won’t see him take as many sacks because of his ability to take off with the ball if it is a passing situation. Obviously you will definitely call the game for what your strengths of your quarterbacks are. ... But I don’t see us having to be different with how we call it in terms of the schemes we use.”
That’s good news for the offense, which has been hampered by injuries all season long. First, starting wide receiver Jones tore his ACL at the beginning of fall camp. Then running backs Jake Funk and Lorenzo Harrison III tore their ACLs, and a trio of offensive linemen — Marcus Minor, Johnny Jordan and Terrance Davis — have been sidelined with various ailments.
The injuries have thrust a lot of young, inexperienced players into sizable roles, and the last thing they’d need is to have to implement an entire new offense.
“It doesn’t change anything for us,” running back Javon Leake said. “I just feel like Piggy can get out of the pocket a little more. He’s a better runner... but it’s still going to be the same offense. Whoever’s in — Piggy or Josh — we’re still going to be a good offense.”
Entering 2019, Pigrome’s ability to run the football and evade pass rushers was never in question. However, the most important thing a quarterback can do — throw the football accurately — was a skill that eluded him at times.
That was part of the reason Jackson broke camp as the starter over Pigrome, but according to Locksley, those concerns have been quelled, at least for now.
“I think Piggy has really improved the area where he had his weakest strength, which to me would have been throwing the football,” Locksley said. “I think some of the intermediate stuff is where I’ve seen the biggest improvement, as well as decision-making in terms of reading his keys.”
Pigrome made the decision to stay in College Park, and now, he’ll get a chance to carry out his unfinished business on the field.
“I’ve been training, trying to work hard, better my game, be a better person, be a better player for the team,” Pigrome said. “I’ve talked to a couple of guys, telling them I want to see how it feels [to start] for a whole full game, how would it seem. Hopefully we’ll see.”