Maryland (3-1) entered its Big Ten opener at Minnesota (3-1) down two quarterbacks and as a double-digit underdog, but the Terps overcame adversity and began conference play with a 31-24 win Sept. 30 over the Golden Gophers.
“Obviously a great win for our team and our program,” Maryland head coach DJ Durkin said. “I’m so proud of our kids. That’s the one thing I can say is just how proud I am. Those guys responded. We had adversity and they responded. They rallied around Max (Bortenschlager) and thought Max played a great game. I thought the O-line and the guys around him did phenomenal. We did it. We made the plays. I’m very proud of our group.”
The Terps drove all the way down field on their opening drive, but came away with no points after being stopped at the 1-yard line on a fake field goal attempt on fourth down.
Maryland’s defense then got a stop of their own by forcing Minnesota’s offense into a three-and-out on their first series. The Terps’ success moving the ball on their first drive carried over into their second possession, as an eight-play, 48-yard drive resulted in a 7-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager, who was making his second career start.
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Maryland’s first touchdown drive wouldn’t have ended as such if it weren’t for an amazing 22-yard grab by sophomore wide receiver DJ Turner on fourth-and-10.
Minnesota responded with a long drive of its own that resulted in a touchdown. The nine-play, 62-yard drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Golden Gophers running back Rodney Smith to tied the game up, 7-7.
Terps safety Josh Woods was called for a personal foul early in the second quarter for a late hit on a Minnesota ball carrier that was on his way out of bounds. But Woods redeemed himself a few plays later with an interception that swung momentum back in Maryland’s direction.
Maryland turned the turnover into points by using an 11-play, 92-yard drive to march down field and punch it in with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Bortenschlager to Terps leading wide receiver D.J. Moore.
In what has become a regularity for the Terps, Moore had himself another exceptional game, leading all Maryland wide receivers with eight receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. He also added a 24-yard run to his totals.
After Moore’s touchdown, the Terps and Golden Gophers exchanged field goals to end the first half with Maryland on top 17-10.
As it has all season long, Maryland had issues stopping the opposing team’s tight ends. Minnesota’s second drive of the second half ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Golden Gophers tight end Brandon Lingen, who also had another 24-yard grab in the game. Lingen’s teammate and fellow tight end Nate Wozniak also hurt the Terps at times with his two receptions for 29 yards.
But as it had already several times against Minnesota, Maryland’s offense put together another long drive and scored a go-ahead touchdown thanks to a 4-yard touchdown reception by sophomore running back Jake Funk. The broken play showed Bortenschalger’s ability to move out of the pocket and keep his eyes up field for a good, smart throw.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for the Terps from their road win was that Bortenschlager showed great command of Maryland’s offense from the jump and had himself a solid game, going 18-for-28 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Another big revelation for Maryland in its win over Minnesota is the Terps’ newfound success on third downs. Maryland had only converted 23 percent of its third-down attempts entering the game. But the long drives the Terps sustained against the Golden Gophers wouldn’t have been possible if not for Maryland going 9-for-16 on third down on Saturday.
“Max has a quiet confidence about him,” Durkin said. “He doesn’t say much, but he’s very confident about what he does. He made some great throws on third down, some great conversions. I thought our offensive line did a tremendous job protecting him. We had zero sacks in the game. It was a big thing on the line of scrimmage going into the game.”
After Minnesota tied the game up at 24, Maryland put together one more long drive that ended with a game-winning 34-yard touchdown run by Ty Johnson, who finished with 18 carries for 130 yards.
On the ensuing possession, Terps cornerback JC Jackson sealed the deal for Maryland by intercepting Minnesota quarterback Conor Rhoda at the Golden Gophers’ 26-yard line.
Maryland’s defense had its ups and downs throughout the game, but it came up with big plays when it needed to and held Minnesota to just 80 yards rushing.
“We were able to rush for over 270 yards and no sacks,” Durkin said. “That’s an offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage. On the flip side, our defense held them to 80 yards rushing. I think that’s the story of the game. Both teams going into it we knew both want to run the ball. It was going to be a test of will, who is going to be able to run the ball and who’s going to get stopped, so that’s where it was won, I believe.”
Terps cornerback JC Jackson sealed the deal for Maryland by intercepting Minnesota quarterback Conor Rhoda late in the fourth quarter at the Golden Gophers’ 26-yard line.
“We told everyone when we walked on that field to just do their job,” Terps defensive lineman Cavon Walker said. “You don’t have to be Superman. Just be a man and things will fall into place, and that’s what happened. After the pick, I was happy, smiling, dancing. It’s an amazing thing, great win."
The Terps will take their 1-0 conference record with them next week to Columbus, Ohio, to take on No. 11 Ohio State.
“I think the proper way to live life is with an edge every day when you wake up, so that’s what we’re trying to pass on to our team,” Durkin said. “I definitely think those guys had something about them today, it’s got to continue. It’s got to be every day, every day we prepare during the week for practice. We’ve got a long schedule ahead of us. We have to keep understanding what helps us be successful.”