“Program-defining wins” is quite the cliched term in college football. It often times is used as a synonym for “upset,” though the terms really shouldn’t be used interchangeably. The 51-41 win Maryland pulled off at No. 23 Texas Saturday, however, is most certainly a program-defining win.
In spite of the long odds, debilitating injuries and the challenges of playing in Austin, the Terps pulled off their first victory over a ranked team in seven years, and their first-ever win over a ranked team in a season opener. And they did so in ways that no Maryland team has done in over a decade at least.
Football has never been the dominant sport at Maryland; it’s still and always will be a basketball school. But football does take hold when the program has its flashes, especially in the early days of Ralph Friedgen. Towards the end of his tenure, though, the program would be wildly up and down from year to year and incredibly inconsistent, despite the offensive talent those teams possessed. But with D.J. Durkin at the helm, it seems some of those days could finally be back at Maryland after the Randy Edsall mistake.
Durkin’s arrival to the program coincided with a revival, especially in recruiting. He brought his know-how from Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan machine and started to aggressively recruit the DMV, a surprisingly-rich area for football talent. In his second year at the helm, Durkin brought in a top-20 ranked recruiting class in spite of blowout losses against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Last season, a healthy helping of freshmen along with some Edsall leftovers took advantage of a fortunately weak schedule to put the Terps in a bowl game, though they ended up losing to Boston College. But even with the prospect of a brutal schedule on the 2017 horizon, there were plenty of signs that Maryland football was on the way up. Still, no one could have ever imagined this.
Maryland’s strengths last year were at the skill positions with players like Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison and D.J. Moore, who all returned and made their names well-known on Saturday in Austin. They take pressure off of whoever the QB is for the Terps with their explosive playmaking abilities, and they all showed that on a big stage. They allowed the offensive line, a unit that has been so well recruited for many years, to help protect both Tyrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill from an athletic Texas pass rush. Maryland had issues in pass protection, especially last year, but looked good there Saturday.
How the Terps responded after Pigrome’s first pass was taken back by Holton Hill for a TD was impressive, and showed a moxie that Maryland teams haven’t had in years. And then amazingly, Pigrome and a suddenly explosive offense took over, easily shaking off the numerous QB troubles in Maryland’s recent history. Even when corner Antwaine Richardson was taken off the field on a stretcher, and when defensive leader Jesse Aniebonam hobbled off the field with an injury, and even when Pigrome hobbled off with a serious-looking injury, they never flinched.
A true freshmen QB, highly-rated recruit or not, is not expected to do what he did on the road with your team clinging to a three point lead, but Kasim Hill did it anyway. A product of the DMV to UMD movement turned what in past years would have been a total disaster for Maryland into opportunity, and he led the team on offense to seal the victory.
Maryland now has two QBs who could feasibly lead the team in the lion’s den that is the B1G East. Suddenly, the Terps have an explosive offense the likes of which they haven’t seen since Shaun Hill, Jafar Williams and later Torrey Smith and Darrius Heyward-Bey were flying around the field. Suddenly, Maryland football has arrived in the biggest and best way possible.
Maybe this edition of Texas will be nowhere near as good as the one that comes to FedEx Field this time next year. Maybe Maryland never captures the momentum from this game and still struggles mightily against the B1G’s best. But this is a marker from a program that hasn’t found its footing since controversially letting go of Ralph Friedgen after the 2010 season. All of this recruiting momentum may now be turbocharged by a victory like this. A stadium that has largely been empty of late may be full again for the biggest games.
Suddenly, Maryland football is back. And the B1G East may need to start fearing the turtle a little more, and a bit sooner, than they expected to.