COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In the locker room after its surprise win at Minnesota last week, Maryland held a spirited celebration that centered upon a player who started the season as a third-string quarterback.
Max Bortenschlager, a drop-back passer operating in a read-option offense, delivered a near-flawless performance Saturday to carry the Terrapins to a 31-24 victory in their Big Ten opener.
“Everyone was obviously very excited about the win,” coach DJ Durkin said Tuesday. “But there were a group of guys grabbing and hugging Max. That tells you what type of teammate he is, when others are excited for his success.”
Bortenschlager is Maryland’s starting quarterback because Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill are lost for the season with knee injuries. Pressed into action early in the Terrapins’ third game, Bortenschlager played tentatively and miserably in a 38-10 loss to Central Florida.
But, given a week to work with the first team offense, he returned Saturday to go 18 for 28 for 154 yards and two TDs against the Golden Gophers. Bortenschlager also scored Maryland’s first touchdown on a 7-yard run.
The intensity should pick up at practice this week because the Terrapins (3-1, 1-0) travel to No. 10 Ohio State (4-1, 2-0).
“Ohio State, they’re super fast and super fundamentally sound so I have to be sharper with my progressions and my reads,” Bortenschlager said. “Just getting the ball out of my hands super quick, not put a bunch of stress on the O-line.”
As a true freshman last year, Bortenschlager completed 16 of 33 passes for 209 yards. In his lone start at Nebraska, he went 14 for 29 for 191 yards, most of them on a 92-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Moore.
Bortenschlager competed for the starting job this summer but finished behind Pigrome and Hill.
“They just played better than me,” Bortenschlager said. “I don’t think it deterred my confidence. I knew I had to be ready, because it’s a long season.”
And so, after Pigrome tore an ACL in the opener against Texas and Hill did the same against UCF, the Terrapins’ hopes of earning a second straight bowl bid under Durkin now rest on the 6-foot-3, 211-pound Bortenschlager.
“I believe in him fully,” running back Ty Johnson said. “The coaches believe in him, the team believes in him. All it takes is great preparation.”
Durkin recalls recruiting Bortenschlager out of Cathedral High School in Indiana, and how the lanky quarterback instantly made a good impression.
“You could tell being around him that he has a good presence about him, a confidence to him, he’s extremely intelligent and thorough,” Durkin said. “Those qualities in any player are helpful, but especially in your quarterback.”
Bortenschlager was originally recruited by Pete Lembo, then the head coach at Ball State. After Lembo left to be an assistant at Maryland, he asked Bortenschlager if he might be interested in being a Terp.
“I said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s Big Ten,’” Bortenschlager recalled. “I came out and visited. I loved it, I loved the coaches, I loved the environment, what coach Durkin’s all about, what he wanted his program to be about. And then, obviously this is a great school for me academically, which was huge for me, too.”
Turns out, both sides made out on the deal.
Though Pigrome and Hill both got injured at the end of downfield runs, Bortenschlager won’t hesitate to take off with the ball. He ran four times Saturday, but don’t look for him to make it a habit.
“The guy has different strengths and weaknesses, but I think Max is a complete player,” Durkin said. “I don’t think we’re going to have Max carry 30 times a game but he can be effective when it’s there for him.”