COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — The way Minnesota ran the ball and performed defensively against Maryland, it really didn’t matter who played quarterback.
That’s not taking anything away from Conor Rhoda, who did everything asked of him in his first college start.
Rodney Smith ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns, Rhoda threw for a score and the Golden Gophers cruised past error-prone Maryland 31-10 Saturday.
Starting for senior Mitch Leidner, who was out with a concussion, Rhoda went 7 for 15 for 82 yards without an interception. The former walk-on had previously thrown only two passes in a mop-up role.
“He managed the game well,” coach Tracy Claeys said. “Our kids believed in him. He did the things he needed to do.”
Rhoda spent most of the afternoon handing off the football to Smith and Shannon Brooks, who ran for 86 yards on 22 carries.
“I felt good once I got out there and took a couple hits,” Rhoda said. “Everything settled in from there and we got things cooking on offense.”
Minnesota (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) limited Maryland to 100 yards and four first downs through three quarters in building a 17-0 lead.
Smith’s 70-yard touchdown run with 9:30 left made it 24-3, and Antoine Winfield Jr. sealed the victory late in the game with an 82-yard interceptions return.
Maryland also started its second-string quarterback, using true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome for injured Perry Hills (shoulder). The Terrapins made a variety of mistakes on both sides of the ball in their second straight lopsided loss.
“Obviously, a very sloppy performance,” first-year coach DJ Durkin said. “We killed ourselves with penalties and turnovers, especially early in the game. Playing from behind is a hard thing to do with a freshman quarterback.”
Dukin said Hills was not healthy enough to play.
“I don’t feel it was in his best interest or our team to put him out there today,” Durkin said. “I think it’s one of those things where it’s a ticking time bomb, where it’s going to get hit again.”
Pigrome threw for 161 yards and ran for 71. But Maryland committed three turnovers and was penalized nine times for 75 yards.
“I know the story will all be about our freshman quarterback, but the guys around him need to play better, too,” Durkin said.
The Terrapins didn’t score in the second half last week in a 38-14 defeat at Penn State and had gone five quarters without a TD before Pigrome threw an 11-yard pass to D.J. Moore with 5:42 remaining.
It wasn’t enough to prevent Durkin from absorbing his first loss at home.
Durkin showed his frustration in the third quarter when Moore tumbled to the ground chasing a long pass in front of the Maryland bench. Durkin ran down the sideline, arms in the air, demanding an explanation why pass interference wasn’t called.
Maryland entered the game with only four turnovers, fewest in the Big Ten. But the Terrapins gave the ball away twice in the opening 16 minutes, and the second turnover proved costly.
After Pigrome threw an interception, Minnesota missed a 36-yard field goal. In the second quarter, however, William Likely muffed a punt on his own 15 to set up an 8-yard run by Smith for a 7-0 lead.
The Golden Gophers made it 14-0 just before halftime with a well-timed screen pass from Rhoda to Brooks, who caught the ball over the middle and sprinted in for a 17-yard score.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers appears to have found their groove defensively. They’ve allowed only two TDs over the last two games.
Maryland: The Terps have gone south after a 4-0 start, losing two straight behind a sputtering offense that really needs Hills back under center.
Minnesota hosts Rutgers next Saturday. The Scarlet Knights lost to Illinois on Saturday to remain winless in Big Ten play.
Maryland hosts Michigan State under the lights next Saturday. Spartans won 24-7 last year.
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