ITP On-Site: Minnesota Golden Gophers at Maryland Terrapins

There’s nothing like catching a football game on a Saturday in early autumn. Getting to see the young talent live instead of evaluating it on film is a very different experience. Mark Schofield attended the Minnesota Gophers at Maryland Terrapins tilt and has his breakdown of the game from what was a sloppy affair.

This autumn Saturday afternoon was dominated by yellow. From the helmets and pants worn by visiting Minnesota, to the yellow in the Maryland state seal that was visible from all angles of the press box, down to the colors of the flags that haunted the Terrapins on play after play. In a game that featured two freshman quarterbacks starting, including walk-on Conor Rhoda for the Golden Gophers, it was the visitors who emerged victorious, downing the Terrapins by a final score of 31-10.

The game started slowly, with both teams going three and out on their opening drives. The Golden Gophers caught the first break of the afternoon when Maryland freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome was flushed from the pocket to his right and tried to throw a corner route on a Flat-7 smash concept, but failed to account for the cornerback peeling off the flat route, who stepped in front of the throw for the interception. The Terrapins defense responded, forcing a field goal attempt from Emmit Carpenter that was off the mark.

Minnesota caught the next break of the game, when Maryland punt returner Will Likely muffed a punt inside his own 20-yard line, setting the visitors up with a 1st and 10 on the Maryland 16-yard line. Three plays later sophomore running back Rodney Smith punched it in with a short touchdown run, showing impressive change of direction ability, capped off by a spin move around the left edge for the score. Smith and classmate Shannon Brooks, another running back, were the two offensive weapons for the Golden Gophers on the day. Both runners showed the ability to operate in space and to make defenders miss with the football in their hands, and showed good vision in the zone blocking game. Brooks in particular had a nice cut on a split zone play. Both players showed some versatility in the passing game as well. Brooks caught a screen pass for a touchdown late in the first half on a well-timed play call, and Smith also showed his route-running ability earlier in the first half on a beautiful Texas route.

The Brooks touchdown gave the visitors a 14-0 lead right before the half, and from my vantage point it was unclear if the Terrapins had the offensive firepower to mount any semblance of a comeback. Maryland’s coaches must have felt the same way, as third-string signal caller Caleb Rowe, a senior, came out to handle the kneel-down before halftime. Maryland’s two biggest offensive plays of the opening half fail to even appear on the stat sheet. Pigrome kept the football on an inside zone option play and caught the defense in a cornerback blitz, bursting into the secondary with a huge gain, but that was nullified by a holding penalty. Later in the second quarter Terrapins freshman RB Lorenzo Harrison ripped off a beautiful run on a 3rd and 20 play, picking up the first down with a 21-yard gain where he showed great footwork and vision, only to have the play come back on another holding penalty.

Minnesota started the second half with possession, and faced a 3rd and 5 near midfield. But Rhoda was able to find wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky on a mesh concept to extend the drive.

A few plays later the Golden Gophers faced a 3rd and 8 on the Maryland 36-yard line, and Rhoda looked for sophomore WR Rashad Still on a slant route. The pass fell incomplete, but yet another yellow flag fell as the officials called defensive pass interference on freshman cornerback Tino Ellis. With the drive extended, the Golden Gophers moved into field goal range, and a few plays later Carpenter redeemed himself from the earlier miss, splitting the uprights on the 37-yard field goal try.

With 8:21 remaining in the third quarter, the hosts trailed 17-0, and looked to be down to their third option under center. But it was Pigrome who started the second half for the Terrapins, and instantly hit wide receiver Teldrick Morgan in the slot on a quick out route, his most decisive read and throw of the day, on a play that moved the chains.

On second down Pigrome lost 7 yards on a botched quarterback keep, and then he was tackled behind the line on 2nd and 17 for a loss of 3, setting up a 3rd and 20. His long throw on third down fell incomplete, and Maryland was forced to give the football right back to the visitors.

Later in the third quarter, Maryland seemed to catch its first break of the game when the Minnesota gunner interfered with Morgan as the senior WR was trying to field a punt. That gave the Terrapins the football at midfield, their best starting field possession of the afternoon. But Pigrome overthrew Morgan on a post route to start the drive, and then a holding penalty backed up Maryland. Pigrome was sacked on third down, and the Terrapins punted yet again.

As the third quarter became the fourth, the audio visual staff at Capital One Field played a montage of clips from movies including “Friday Night Lights,” “Remember the Titans,” and “300” to try and inspire the more than 40,000 fans to make some noise. Unfortunately for the staff, the student section was largely empty by this time, as the beautiful weather and other Saturday activities seemed a wiser decision for the student body at large.

But maybe it inspired the offense. In a few plays the Terrapins were in Minnesota territory, thanks in large part to two great catches from wide receiver Levern Jacobs, who showed impressive hands on the first catch, which was a very low throw on a comeback route, and later on an out route where the pass was thrown high and outside, but Jacobs pulled it in and cut upfield to convert on a third down. In addition, now that the offense was focusing on the passing game to try and pick up the pace it seemed that the freshman QB was starting to settle into the game and make things happen both with his arm and his feet. With just more than 11 minutes remaining, the offense faced a 3rd and 9 on the Minnesota 15-yard line. Pigrome stood in the shotgun and tried to throw a slant route, which was nearly intercepted for a disastrous pick six. Facing 4th down, head coach DJ Durkin called on kicker Adam Green to convert the 32-yard try for three points.

Now it was up to the defense to get the ball back for its offense. The Terrapins seemed to be in position to do just that, as they forced a 3rd and 1 on the Minnesota 30-yard line. But Smith took the third-down handoff off the right side and went the distance, breaking an upper-body tackle attempt by the free safety in the open field and tacking on six more points for the visitors. The extra point extended the Minnesota lead to 24-3, sending all but the most die-hard Terrapins supporters for the exits.

In the closing act of the contest, a few of Maryland’s skill players showed some individual ability. On a gain of 31 yards, Morgan flashed two very impressive moves after the catch in rapid succession to evade tackles and keep the play alive. Jacobs made another nice catch on a low throw, showing the ability to extend his catch radius and help his quarterback out. For his part, Pigrome showed great aggression and anticipation on his only touchdown throw of the day, an 11-yard score on a post route to D.J. Moore where he made the throw under duress and before the receiver had made his break.

But it simply wasn’t enough on this day. The story of the afternoon was the Minnesota ground game, led by Brooks and Smith. Smith finished with 149 yards on 18 carries with the two touchdowns, while his fellow RB tallied 88 yards on 22 carries. In these two backs, the Golden Gophers look stout at this position for the near future. In addition to those players, the Minnesota offense also has some emerging young players in wide receiver Still and tight end Brandon Lingen, who only had one catch on the day but was impressive blocking on the edges in the ground game, especially when acting as the cross blocker on split zone running plays. With this young core, the Golden Gophers look to be in contention in the years to come in the Big Ten.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, or Tennessee’s use of the double post concept, or how LSU runs play action.

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