Pigrome to start at Purdue
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — As Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) prepares to head to West Lafayette, Ind., for a cross-divisional Big Ten game against Purdue (1-4, 0-2) following a 48-7 win at Rutgers last weekend, the Terps will do so with a new quarterback running the offense.
Grad-transfer gunslinger Josh Jackson, who has started all five games under center for the Terps so far this season, injured his foot and ankle during the second quarter of the win over the Scarlet Knights. Jackson did not return to the game and is being called “day-to-day” by head coach Mike Locksley with a high-ankle and mid-foot sprain.
And while Locksley didn’t completely close the door on Jackson recovering in time to play on Saturday, the injury appears to have opened up a window of opportunity for dual-threat backup Tyrrell Pigrome to take Maryland’s offense and run with it — literally and figuratively.
“[Pigrome] will be our starting quarterback,” Locksley said at his Tuesday press conference. “Josh (Jackson) is on a day-to-day basis. We can’t rule him out just yet. He has a mid-foot, high-ankle (sprain), which basically will be based on how he feels. But this game, we expect [Pigrome] to be our starter. If Josh is available, this could change come closer to game time.”
Locksley went on to add that, while Pigrome does present the added elements of elusiveness and running ability to the quarterback position for Maryland, he does not see the Terps’ offense changing too much because of Jackson’s injury because the program has full confidence in Pigrome’s ability to step in and be prepared after watching him compete with Jackson for the starting job this summer.
“The battle between those two in summer camp was a close battle and we have a lot of confidence in both of those guys,” Locksley said. “We have a lot of confidence in [Pigrome] and his ability to come in and perform and run our offense. His teammates have confidence in him and I know as a coaching staff we do.
“Obviously you will call the game for what the strengths of your quarterback are. Both of those guys’ strengths are very similar, but I think [Pigrome] does add a different element because of his ability to make plays with his feet. But the way our system operates, whether it’s the RPO system, whether it’s the zone-read stuff, we can do it with both of those guys. I think Piggy adds the element in the passing game for when things break down you probably won’t see him take as many sacks because of his ability to take off with the ball if it is a passing situation. But I don’t see it being called differently in terms of the schemes that we use, but we’ll call it to the strengths of whichever quarterback plays for us.”
From the standpoint of a defender who plays against the Terps’ offense almost every day and has seen it operate with both Jackson and Pigrome under center, Maryland outside linebacker Shaq Smith echoed Locksley’s sentiment that the offensive system won’t need a huge overhaul with Pigrome at the helm, adding that he has seen both quarterbacks be able to lead their teammates on that side of the ball.
“It doesn’t really change much; our offense is our offense,” Smith said. “We have packages where Piggy can run the ball more...I really don’t see it being much different. Piggy is, of course, a lot more mobile than Josh and can escape out of the pocket and things like that. But we have confidence in both of those guys that they have bought into the offense and have total control over the offense. The guys on that side of the ball rally behind each of those guys and we see that every day at practice.”
Part of the reason why Pigrome’s coaches and teammates have such confidence in him to take over for Jackson without the offense regressing is because of the improvement they have seen him make in his throwing ability during this past offseason.
Locksley said he and his coaches meet with each player on the team individually about two or three times a year to go over strengths, weaknesses, and areas where the coaches would like to see each player improve.
For Pigrome, the improvements needed to come as a passer, and by all accounts, they have.
“I think [Pigrome] has really improved the area where he had his weakest strengths, which, to me, would have been throwing the football,” Locksley said. “And I’ve seen great improvement in [Pigrome] being able to throw the ball. And we saw some of that at the end of the (Rutgers) game, which is why we continued to call it that way. We had to get him some experience and reps in our system throughout the course of the game, even though the game may have been a little bit more in the bank, per se.”
Locksley added that he has seen promising factors of Pigrome’s passing game in the past, but now he is seeing the junior become a more complete quarterback.
“He throws a great deep ball; I think some of the intermediate stuff is where I’ve seen his improvement, as well as his decision making in terms of reading his keys and the RPO stuff that we do,” Locksley said. “It’s really important that your quarterback is disciplined with his eyes and where his eyes are to be able to get the ball to the right spots.”
On top of losing about 10 to 12 pounds this offseason in order to regain some speed and quickness he had lost from previously bulking up, Pigrome also invested in himself by attending a quarterback camp this summer that helped him with his mechanics and, most importantly, footwork.
“It’s a big thing with your feet when you’re throwing the ball,” Pigrome said. “If your feet are out of control, then you’re going to be inaccurate. So I always get my feet in a good position to throw the ball now to be as accurate as I can be.”
With the work he has put into is game, Pigrome was hoping to earn the starting job for the Terps in a way other than taking over for an injured Jackson, but he’s using his disappointment from not being named the starter initially as motivation to help propel him to a strong performance against the Boilermakers.
“I just look at it as a motivational thing,” Pigrome said. “It’s always keeping me moving and pushing forward. It’s the worst way to get the job, but at the end of the day, I just look at it as motivation and I’m always trying to push myself forward to do what I need to do to help the team.”
Pigrome currently finds himself in a position to have this starting opportunity for the Terps because of his decision to stick with the program in an era where many talented backup college quarterbacks enter the transfer portal in search of regular playing time elsewhere.
Besides seeing Pigrome improve immensely as a passer this offseason, Locksley said another exciting revelation for him as the Terps coach was seeing the loyalty and leadership Pigrome displayed by staying in College Park.
“That’s been one of the pleasant surprises, and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this and see the unselfishness that the backup quarterback has because those guys want the opportunity to play, and unlike certain positions, it’s hard to play two of them. I can’t say that there aren’t times when I know [Pigrome] wouldn’t be disappointed in not having opportunities, but one of the things we always tried to do is to prepare him mentally that you have to be ready when the opportunity comes, and you never know when that is.
“And that’s where we’ve seen [Pigrome’s] maturation in terms of preparing as if he’s going to play, preparing as if he’s a starter, and not necessarily wallowing in that he’s the backup or looking at himself as a backup. So we prepared [Pigrome] each week as if he is going to play. We’ve always had packages of things we wanted to do with him, and with Josh’s injury, he’ll have an opportunity to go play and hopefully take advantage of the opportunity that he’ll have.”
After Jackson left the game against Rutgers last Saturday, Pigrome came in to complete 13-of-18 passes for 111 yards. He also added five rushes for 22 yards. If Jackson is indeed unable to go against Purdue, redshirt freshman Tyler DeSue would serve as Pigrome’s backup.