COLLEGE PARK, Md. – One after the other, big plays rained down on the Gophers on Saturday afternoon.
They came in a variety of ways — an 81-yard touchdown run here, a 54-yard scoring pass there, and even a 36-yard pick-six that let Maryland’s defense to get in on the act.
Eight times, Maryland had plays that covered 20 yards or more, and six of them resulted in Terrapins touchdowns. It all added up to the Gophers suffering a 42-13 loss in their Big Ten opener in front of an announced crowd of 36,211 at Maryland Stadium.
“It’s like option football. If one guy’s out of place or you miss a tackle, it can be catastrophic,” said Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, whose team fell to 3-1 after Maryland rushed for 315 yards against a Minnesota defense that allowed only 72 rushing yards per game in nonconference play.
Doing most of the damage for the Terrapins (3-1) were running backs Anthony McFarland, who had TD runs of 26 and 64 yards and rushed for 112 yards on six carries, and Ty Johnson, who ripped off that 81-yard TD run and finished with 123 yards on 11 attempts.
The Gophers suffered an added blow, too, when playmaking safety Antoine Winfield Jr. injured his left foot on the game’s first series. Winfield was examined on the sideline and had the foot taped but did not return to the game. Fleck didn’t have a specific update on Winfield’s condition.
“We’ll find out. It was significant enough to keep him out,’’ Fleck said. “He wanted to come back in, but doctors kept him out. I haven’t got the final report yet. He’ll do everything he can to get back as fast as he can.’’
Maryland took it to the Gophers right away, with McFarland capping the eight-play, 75-yard opening drive with the 26-yard TD. Johnson made it 14-0 with 4:03 left in the first quarter when he found a gaping hole and sprinted 81 yards for the score.
“They are a very skillful team,” Gophers linebacker Thomas Barber said, “and they take advantage of it.”
Maryland’s early lead forced the Gophers offense to play catch-up, which didn’t go well. Minnesota’s offense sputtered for much of the day, gaining only 41 yards in the first quarter, twice settling for field goals after drives deep into Maryland territory and twice being stopped on fourth down inside the Terrapins 10.
Gophers true freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad was sacked four times and went 14-for-32 for 169 yards and a touchdown in his first road start. He threw two interceptions, and Terps linebacker Tre Watson returned the first one 36 yards for a TD.
“A lot of pressure in his face all day,” Fleck said of Annexstad.
The Terps also clamped down on Gophers wideout Tyler Johnson, the Big Ten’s leading receiver entering the game. Johnson didn’t catch his first pass until 12 minutes remained in the game, and that reception was for minus-2 yards. He finished with two catches for 12 yards.
Down 14-3 after Emmit Carpenter’s 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter, the Gophers saw Maryland re-establish control with a big play. On third-and-5 from the Terps 46, quarterback Kasim Hill escaped from a Gophers blitz and found D.J. Turner, who broke a tackle and went 54 yards for a touchdown with 4:43 left in the first half.
The Gophers trimmed it to 21-10 on Annexstad’s 17-yard TD pass to Rashod Bateman with 54 seconds left in the half. Bateman, a true freshman, finished with a team-high seven catches for 68 yards, while redshirt freshman Chris Autman-Bell caught four passes for 70 yards.
“We’ve just got to get better,” Autman-Bell said. “We can’t come out flat in the first half, like the first quarter. We have to come out and finish.”
The second half featured three more haymakers from Maryland — Watson’s interception return, McFarland’s 64-yard run and Chigoziem Okonkwo’s 21-yard TD run with 1:12 left to set the final score.
Though Fleck pointed to positives such as the play of Bateman and Autman-Bell, he was disappointed in mistakes in all facets of the game.
“We were very inconsistent in a lot of areas,” Fleck said. “When you’re inconsistent on the road in the Big Ten, it’s going to be very difficult for you to win. That’s what happened.”