Maryland’s quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome is out for the season with an ACL tear. Many expected Pigrome to be a breakout star coming into the season, but those dreams are now dashed. Pigrome is an electric dual-threat quarterback whose passing and scrambling abilities had many Terrapins fans with high hopes coming into the season.
Pigrome lived up to those expectations and more in the season-opener against Texas, completing 9 of 12 passes for 175 and two touchdowns, while adding a 25-yard touchdown run. He led the way to the big season-opening upset for the Terrapins, who made a major statement that they will not be pushovers in the Big Ten East, probably the toughest division in college football this year. Maryland showed that it will not be a pushover this year–something much-needed, after losing to the division’s top three teams by a combined score of 159-20 last season. That team wouldn’t have beaten Texas last year. This team just did, which says something to the entire division.
Durkin’s expected success
Since D.J. Durkin‘s arrival as Maryland’s head coach after the 2015 season, he has reinvigorated the program. Maryland is not known for its football success, but the program has had some prestigious moments in the not-so-distant past. The Terrapins won the ACC and earned a bid in the Orange Bowl as recently as 2001. That’s not a long time ago at all. The program has eight losing seasons since then, so the success has not been sustained, but this is still a football team that has won double-digit games three times this century. It may have fallen on hard times, but College Park isn’t a football wasteland.
Durkin brought instant energy to the program, as well as recruiting classes that Maryland just doesn’t get. Maryland pulled in the 18th-ranked recruiting class in 2017 (247Sports composite rankings), Durkin’s first full year on the recruiting trail. Durkin brought energy. He brought excitement. He brought recruits. But in 2016, he didn’t bring wins. He didn’t even bring competitiveness to big games. To start 2017, he brought the biggest win this program has seen in years. But–and this is the unfortunate part for Maryland–Pigrome was crucial to that win.
Durkin has to prove himself early
Usually, Year 3 or 4 of a coach’s tenure is the “put up or be fired” time. A coach needs a few years to change the culture of a program sometimes. After two or three seasons, most of the team’s players are now the new coach’s recruits. If a coach can’t start to get wins after a few years and with his own recruits, then it’s clear he isn’t the right coach for the program.
What Durkin has made clear, though, is that he is the right coach for the Maryland program. He has brought the energy that this college town hasn’t had for its football program in a decade. This school loves its sports, and so many of those programs are competitive nationally. The Terrapins swept both the men’s and women’s lacrosse titles in 2017, and were runners-up in both sports the year before. The school hasn’t been excited about football in a long time, though. Durkin changed that overnight against Texas–and he did that with Pigrome leading the charge.
Now Durkin is in a tough position. He only has one full year of his recruits in College Park. Pigrome isn’t really considered one of his recruits, even though he committed after Durkin took over as head coach. Pigrome is the linchpin of this Maryland offense. And while some Terrapins fans might complain about announcers calling him by his nickname of “Piggy,” they all know that he is the team’s best chance of success.
Whether fairly or not, Pigrome’s injury will become a focal point of Durkin’s tenure. If the team cannot compete without him, then Durkin will have a cloud hanging over him as long as he is Maryland’s coach. People will always question whether the success is really Durkin’s, or whether it’s only due to Pigrome’s talent. Since Pigrome is expected to be at Maryland for at least another year (and likely two) after this one, that is a long time for Durkin to deal with this cloud.
Freshman backup Kasim Hill–a Durkin recruit from this year’s class–will replace Pigrome. Hill is also a very talented dual-threat quarterback, but not yet quite as good as Pigrome. Durkin will need him to be, though. Durkin never had to pull off any upsets in the Big Ten East this year. He just has to prove that he can be competitive. After the win over Texas, that seemed likely. Now, though, without Pigrome, questions will plague Durkin if he can’t keep one or two games against the divisional powers close.
Durkin has shown that he is the perfect guy for the program. Then again, Ralph Friedgen did the same thing for almost a decade, and eventually it fell apart. If Durkin is going to continue improving at Maryland, he needs to show it now. Usually coaches get three or four seasons to do that. Pigrome’s injury changed everything. If Durkin can’t do it now, he’ll have no way to prove that he is the real cause of improvement until Pigrome leaves College Park.