COLLEGE PARK, MD - - Maryland turned the ball over four times and only managed 236 yards of total offense, but the Terps did enough to win their season opener Saturday afternoon, defeating the William & Mary Tribe 7-6 at Byrd Stadium.
Both teams struggled on offense, but it was Maryland who managed to get into the end zone, thanks to a fourth quarter touchdown from Justus Pickett.
The focus of the game was definitely on the Terps' true freshmen, with mixed results. Perry Hills started to look better as the game went along, but threw three interceptions on 16/24 passing for 145 yards, and Albert Reid ran for 29 yards on twelve carries. Stefon Diggs only had eight touches, but had 83 total yards and looked electric. Pickett ended up with 11 rushes for 45 yards, and got most of the carries down the home stretch.
"I thought that Albert did a good job for being a freshman," coach Randy Edsall said. "At the end of the game I wanted to go with experience so we put Justus back in the game and his experienced paid off."
Maryland received the opening kick-off, and curiously decided to open the game by passing the ball twice with Hills. The second pass was picked off by De-Andre Houston-Carson, and the Tribe's Drake Kuhn slotted home a 30-yard field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
With around five minutes left in the quarter, Hills threw another interception, to safety Brian Thompson. Thompson returned it to the Terps' nine-yard line and Kuhn hit a 22-yarder to make it 6-0. Edsall spoke of the defense's red zone resilience.
"Offensively we had four turnovers and we put our defense in the hole," he said. "But our defense stood up and only gave up field goals with that field position, which is huge."
Albert Reid fumbled the ball late in the quarter, and the Tribe recovered, giving the Terps three turnovers in the first fifteen minutes Maryland was able to stop the ensuing drive with an interception by Joe Vellano after the ball was knocked loose from Keith McBride's hands by Darin Drakeford.
Maryland was able to put together a drive after getting the ball back, led by 18 yards from Justus Pickett and 45 total yards from Hills, but true freshman kicker Brad Craddock missed a 25-yard field goal to keep it 6-0.
With about ten minutes left in the third, Hills threw his third interception of the game, completely missing Kevin Dorsey on a slant route. Tribe safety Ivan Tagoe was there to get the easy pick. Edsall said he never considered benching the freshman quarterback, and said Hills will learn from the experience.
"I think that he was trying too hard," Edsall said. "He tried to avoid a sack one time and threw it when he shouldn't have. Sometimes a sack might be the best thing and he has to learn that."
A ten play, 69-yard drive to start out the fourth quarter finally put Maryland on the board. Hills had two big completions - one to Stefon Diggs and a screen to Kevin Dorsey, and had an eight-yard run that set up the Pickett's eventual score on a six-yard run to the left side.
"I knew a blitz was coming on before they had a pre-snap read," Pickett said. "The offensive line did a great job picking it up and all I had to do was walk into the end zone."
After the game, Edsall said it was a drive that was a long time in the making.
"I think it was just a matter of putting ten plays together back-to-back without having the mistakes," Edsall said. "And I think that's something we just couldn't do, we were always making the mistake in drives where we couldn't sustain anything. I think Perry started to settle in a little bit more in that drive, and I think that's the thing that we have to continually do, is just make him feel comfortable."
The pass to Dorsey was a screen play that ended up converting a 3rd-and-8 and was sprung by a huge block from Bennett Fulper. Fulper said the touchdown drive was indicative of the team's offensive potential.
"When we suffered the setback of turnovers," he said. "It makes us much less efficient as an offense. We did show on that one drive just how efficient we can be as a unit."
Craddock was expected to start at punter, but that role was instead filled by Nathan Renfro. Renfro was one of the stars of the game for Maryland, punting four times for 212 yards, including a 60-yarder. None was bigger than his last punt, which pinned the Tribe at their own two-yard line with two and a half minutes left.
"Nate Renfro is a guy who stepped up huge today," Edsall said. "He had a great day punting, and that last punt, you couldn't have asked for anything better than that."
Maryland's defense did their part after taking the lead, holding the Tribe to 60 yards of total offense in the final quarter. William & Mary's chances officially ended with a fourth down sack and forced fumble by Jeremiah Johnson with a minute and a half remaining. Raphael Ortiz was taken down and coughed up the ball, with Demetrius Hartsfield recovering. Hills kneeled the Terps out, and Maryland won 7-6.
Defensively, Vellano and Hartsfield were the stars. In addition to accounting for the two turnovers, Hartsfield had 13 tackles and Vellano had 11, including two for a loss.
For more on this game, check out SB Nation's Maryland blog, Testudo Times.