One of D.J. Durkin’s best hires when he came aboard as Maryland Terrapins head football coach was offensive coordinator Walt Bell. In the two years Durkin has been in charge, it was Bell’s offense that gave the Terps their best chance to win games.
But, after two seasons with the program, Bell is off to a new gig as the offensive coordinator at Florida State under newly hired head coach Willie Taggart. It’s a huge step forward for Bell, but also a massive blow to the progress that Durkin is looking to make for the Maryland program.
Losing Bell this late in to January is also a big blow because it limits Durkin’s options in his search for a replacement.
Durkin will also be waiting to fill the vacant running back’s job, as Anthony Tucker moved on in December for the same position at UCF. He was instrumental in leading a rushing revolution at Maryland if you will.
Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison nearly rewrote the Terps rushing record books the past two seasons. Johnson’s per carry average of 9.3 set a single season school record back in 2016, while Harrison nearly set the freshman rushing record at Maryland at the same time. It was a banner season and could’ve been the same in 2017.
The Terps were 4th in the Big Ten in 2016, averaging just over 199 yards per game on the ground and came back with an 8th place finish this year, averaging 161.7 yards per game even with the lack of a running option at quarterback in 2017.
However, overall the Terps seemed like a struggling offense. Maryland finished no higher than 8th in scoring offense (2016), 4th in rushing offense (2016), 10th in passing offense (2017) and 10th in total offense (2016). Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Bell’s capabilities.
While the numbers may suggest that Bell failed up, one has to look beyond just the rankings and raw numbers to understand Bell’s rise up the coaching tree. His biggest challenge at Maryland came in the form of finding a starting quarterback. A total of seven different starters made their way behind center in just two seasons, most of which came because of injury.
That kind of upheaval at quarterback would doom any offensive coordinators best-laid plans, and it certainly did that to Bell. Still, when he had his pick of healthy quarterbacks things looked promising for the Terps offense.
One just has to look to what Tyrell Pigrome did in leading Maryland for most of its win over Texas in the seasons opener. He helped lead the team to 51 points in a win over Texas. Pigrome had 175 yards and two touchdowns through the air and 64 yards and a touchdown on the ground before he tore his ACL in the third quarter.
Freshman Kasim Hill came in and finished off a back-and-forth game with the Longhorns for the win. He then led the team to a win the next week while not needing to be the focal point of the offense. However, his 85.7 percent completion rate in limited playing time was certainly promising towards turning around the passing offense.
Furthermore, wide receiver D.J. Moore was good enough and productive enough to earn the Big Ten’s Wide Receiver of the Year honors this season.
Signs of progress were clear for Bell at Maryland, he just needed stability from the roster to help him out.
Now the question is where does Durkin turn, because there aren’t great options to replace Bell on his staff thanks to coaching changes and lack of experience internally.
This hire may be the most important of the Durkin era and it needs to be one that fits the players currently in the program. Blowing up what has been built over the last few years makes little sense given the promise shown when everyone has been healthy.