The Longhorns have started their Maryland preparation and while DJ Durkin is playing coy with respect to naming his starter, I can read the tea leaves in the crab cakes. Or something.
So can our staff. And if we know the Terp’s starter, we know the Maryland offense we’ll see.
A quick review of the four candidates:
Caleb Henderson – JR, 6-3, 225
The fourth year transfer from North Carolina was a four star high school recruit (#10 ranked pro style prospect in 2014) who left the Tarheels when he couldn’t beat out NFL 1st rounder Mitch Trubisky for the starting gig. Henderson has been plagued by foot and ankle injuries and has missed too much practice time to factor.
Max Bortenschlager – SO, 6-3, 215
Bortenschlager started against Nebraska last year, going 14 of 29 for 191 yards, including a 92 yard touchdown pass to standout WR DJ Moore. Beyond that play to Moore, he was ineffective and is clearly running 3rd team.
Kasim Hill – FR, 6-2, 230
The four star recruit (Rivals Top 100 national recruit) was one of the most heralded recruits in DJ Durkin’s last class and has thus far impressed with his arm and downfield accuracy. He is, however, a true freshman and has exhibited all that means in terms of game management. Running out a true freshman drop back passer be an interesting opening day gambit, but doing it behind a shaky pass blocking OL in front of 100,000 fans in a road opener against a Todd Orlando defense is a bridge too far. Hill will eventually end up as the Terp starter, but it won’t be against Texas.
Could he be used situationally in Austin? Possibly. But that will depend on the play of the starter, the man they call Piggy….
Tyrrell Pigrome – SO, 5-11, 200
Piggy! Let’s watch a freshman highlight video featuring bad rap!
Pigrome saw a fair amount of action last year, throwing for 322 yards and rushing for 254 in relief and in a start against Minnesota. Piggy is a former Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year and led his 6A high school to consecutive state title games, but the lack of pursuit from home state institutions suggest what his tape shows: a natural leader improv playmaker QB with substantial limitations as a passer who can freestyle his way into big plays at lower levels of competition but isn’t dynamic enough to kill good defenses off-schedule.
Pigrome is a pretty common archetype – we’ve seen this dude a hundred times with different names – and while Trevone Boykin represents that archetype’s apogee, the more common variety never exhibits the accuracy and arm strength to fully make their dual threat respected by defenses. He’s slippery (lots of duck and scoot from the pocket), plenty quick, lacks top end speed and he’s a scatter arm on some throws that require precision. Pigrome’s passing program is pretty much inside the hashes and a sideline go route to DJ Moore. Could he have made giant offseason strides? Maybe. But he’ll have to demonstrate it in ten days.
His skill set should suit our athletic upgrades at safety just fine. I like our group with eyes on this type of QB – there’s good potential for going Lord of the Flies on Piggy if he tries a cross-body late throw over the middle while scrambling or tip toes up the middle on a QB draw.
The good news for Maryland is that its offensive personnel generally suit Piggy’s strengths – the OL is physical and good at run blocking, but they struggle to protect in obvious passing situations. They also have a stable of explosive running backs (Ty Johnson ran for 1,000+ last year while averaging 9.1 yards per carry – not a misprint).
Personnel write game plans. Maryland is going to run the ball and try to improvise 3rd down into an acceptable conversion rate.
Piggy’s desire to play 3rd and long off schedule is a test of tackling and defensive soundness. If we’re sound, the Terps will generally find 3rd down or any series with an offensive penalty a big problem. However, their regular downs running game will provide an immediate test of our LB physicality, the secondary’s ability to understand down, distance and formation and the front’s ability to not settle for ties – all areas where Texas scored a resounding D or F in 2016.
Maryland may not fully prepare us for Big 12 flag football, but they will tell us about our toughness and intelligence.
So how can Maryland be effective with the improviser athlete at QB?
1. Take the air out of the ball. They’ll run power to test our base nickel, but expect plenty of 2 back misdirection and option mixed with RPO
2. Hit a couple of off schedule plays downfield to WR DJ Moore if our CBs do their 2016 “I don’t need to know the coverage cuz I’m a balla” routine.
3. Play good defense and prevent the Horns from playing with a lead.
4. Convert short yardage. Convert in the red zone.
A winning box score for Pigrome is 74 yards rushing, 125 passing yards, no turnovers and 37 minutes in time of possession.
Todd Orlando knows that. And while it will be fun to see him launch a Pigrome pogrom on 3rd and long, the game will largely be decided on 1st and 2nd down. Nelson, Ford, Omenihu, Roach, Wheeler and the starting B-backer (likely Hughes given the Terps run fixation) need to bring it at the point of attack and guys like Jones, Elliott, Hall and Locke need to show what 210-215 pound safeties can do in run support.
If the Texas defense has shored up its fundamentals and physicality, they will not only win on defense, but they could dominate the Terps. Particularly if the offense helps with an early lead and forces the turtles into a foot race.
If we haven’t, expect a long, hot frustrating day.