Maryland Football: Terps face tough challenge in Texas to begin season

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 26: Ty Johnson #6 of the Maryland Terrapins runs 30 yards for a second quarter touchdown during the game against the Boston College Eagles at Ford Field on December 26, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 26: Ty Johnson #6 of the Maryland Terrapins runs 30 yards for a second quarter touchdown during the game against the Boston College Eagles at Ford Field on December 26, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Maryland football team certainly won’t be facing a cupcake like they have in recent season openers.

On Saturday, the Terrapins open their 2017 slate against Texas on the road.

Maryland hasn’t opened the season against a marquee opponent since hosting Miami (Fla.) to open the Randy Edsall era back in 2011. That resulted in a 32-24 win over the Hurricanes in one of the more memorable games under the lights in College Park.

In addition, the Terps haven’t faced a big-time opponent in nonconference play since West Virginia in 2014. That was infamous game where Maryland erased a 22-point deficit only to see the Mountaineers kicked a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation to win the game 40-37.

Maryland enters the 2017 campaign after going 6-7 (3-6 Big Ten) in the first year under coach D.J. Durkin. Durkin led the Terps to an appearance in the Quick Lane Bowl where they narrowily lost to Boston College 36-30.

Ironically, Maryland and Texas are both programs that are trending upward with two of the more popular coaching hires in recent years in Durkin and Tom Herman. Both have seen instant results on the recruiting trail and Herman will be looking to lead the Longhorns back to the promised land.

Storylines to watch

  • The play of Tyrrell Pigrome – The quarterback competition was the hot topic throughout the offseason for Maryland. It came down to sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and true freshman Kasim Hill, but Pigrome was named the starter when the depth chart came out on Monday. Despite only one collegiate year under his belt, Pigrome got plenty of experience as a freshman in College Park. He played in all but one game and started against Minnesota last October. The biggest issue for Pigrome was his passing ability last season. If that’s improved, Pigrome could easily have success against Texas. Maryland can’t afford to dig themselves into a large hole early on, so Pigrome’s ability to run the offense will be huge.
  • Establishing the running game early – Getting off to a hot start is going to be very important for the Terps. One of the easiest ways to find success is going to be by running the football in the early going. Luckily for Maryland, they possess two extremely talented running backs in Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison III. The talented duo combined to rush for 1,737 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for at least 7.2 yards-per-carry apiece last season. Johnson was one of the most dangerous backs in the Big Ten as he reached the 1,000-yard plateau despite just 110 carries. Both of these tailbacks are threats to get off a huge run on any play, so getting them involved early is essential. Having success on the ground will also take some of the pressure off of Pigrome.
  • Pass rush – Maryland’s ability to get to the quarterback may be one of their most underrated strengths. The Terps finished third in the Big Ten with 37 sacks, which averaged out to 2.8 per contest. Only Michigan and Penn State got to the quarterback more frequently than Maryland. The Terps did lose Roman Braglio and Azubuike Ukandu off the defensive line, but this is still a very talented front seven. Senior Jesse Aniebonam, who plays the “BUCK” position, led the team in sacks last season with nine and is definitely in line for a similar performance. The x-factor could be linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr., who had six sacks last season despite not registering a single one prior to that. Maryland’s front seven is fast and extremely physical. If they can get in the Texas backfield and get in Shane Buechele’s face early on, it could go a long way towards swaying the momentum in Maryland’s favor.

Key player for each team

  • D.J. Moore (Maryland) – The obvious candidates are Pigrome or one of the running backs, but in order for Pigrome to have success, he’s going to have to lean on his junior wideout. Maryland fans saw just how good Moore is in 2016 as he took a huge step forward. He registered 637 receiving yards and found the end zone five times last season. The Pennsylvania native has also caught a pass in 21 consecutive games, which is the longest streak since Torrey Smith did so from 2008 to 2010. There’s very few players in the Big Ten that are as dangerous with the ball in their hands as Moore. If Pigrome gets him the ball, it could be a very successful afternoon for Maryland.
  • Kyle Porter/Chris Warren III (Texas) – D’Onta Foreman was a sensational playmaker that rushed for over 2,000 yards for the Longhorns last season. Replacing a talent like that is never easy. However, it appears that Texas has the talent to fill the void. Both players are listed at the top of the depth similar to Johnson and Harrison for Maryland. They both have had success early in their collegiate careers with Warren having one of the biggest single games in program history back in 2017. These two talented running backs have the potential to shred the Maryland defense.

Projected starting lineups

QB: Tyrrell Pigrome (So.)
RB: Ty Johnson (Jr.) or Lorenzo Harrison III (So.)
WR: D.J. Moore (Jr.)
WR: Taivon Jacobs (Sr.) or DJ Turner (So.)
WR: Jacquille Veii (Sr.)
TE: Derrick Hayward (Sr.)
T: Derwin Gray (Jr.)
G: Sean Christie (Jr.)
C: Brendan Moore (Jr.)
G: Terrance Davis (So.)
T: Damian Prince (Jr.)
DE: Chandler Burkett (Sr.)
NT: Kingsley Opara (Sr.)
DT: Cavon Walker (Sr.)
BUCK: Jesse Aniebonam (Sr.)
SAM: Jalen Brooks (Sr.)
NICKEL: Antoine Brooks Jr. (So.)
WILL: Shane Cockerille (Sr.)
MIKE: Jermaine Carter Jr. (Sr.)
CB: JC Jackson (Jr.)
S: Darnell Savage Jr. (Jr.)
S: Qwuantrezz Knight (So.)
CB: Tino Ellis (So.) or Antwaine Richardson (So.)
Special Teams
K: Adam Greene (Sr.)
P: Wade Lees (So.)
QB: Shane Buechele (So.)
RB: Kyle Porter (So.) or Chris Warren III (Jr.)
XWR: Collin Johnson (So.)
HWR: Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (RS Fr.) or Lil’Jordan Humphrey (So.)
ZWR: Devin Duvernay (So.)
TE: Garrett Gray (Jr.)
T: Connor Williams (Jr.)
G: Patrick Vahe (Jr.)
C: Zach Shackelford (So.)
G: Jake McMillon (Jr.)
T: Tristian Nickelson (Sr.) or Denzel Okafor (So.)
DE: Chris Nelson (Jr.) or Jamari Chisholm (Jr.)
NT: Poona Ford (Sr.)
DE: Malcolm Roach (So.) or Charles Omenihu (Jr.)
BLB: Naashon Hughes (Sr.)
MLB: Anthony Wheeler (Jr.)
ROV: Malik Jefferson (Jr.)
CB: Kris Boyd (Jr.
S: DeShon Elliott (Jr.)
S: Brandon Jones (So.)
CB: Holton Hill (Jr.)
NB: P.J. Locke III (Jr.)
Special Teams
K: Joshua Rowland (Jr.)
P: Michael Dickson (Jr.)

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It’s no secret that Maryland comes into this game as huge underdogs. Going on the road into an environment like the Longhorns have in Austin won’t be an easy task. However, the Terps have a lot of talent and starting an experienced quarterback like Pigrome should bode well.

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If Maryland can establish the running game early and maybe even grab the early lead, this is a game that they can win. Texas wins 31-27 but I believe it’s going to be a close one.