COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A year ago, Maryland quarterback Perry Hills ran the ball effectively for a bad football team.
He also threw 13 interceptions, and that’s why the fifth-year senior was in a competition for the starting job this summer under new coach DJ Durkin.
It didn’t take long for Hills to separate himself from the rest of the quarterbacks.
“What he showed us is what everyone is seeing right now,” Durkin said Tuesday. “A guy that is really confident about what he’s doing.”
With Hills leading the way, undefeated Maryland (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) is averaging a whopping 43.4 points, including 50 last Saturday in a rout of Purdue .
Hills still takes off with the ball every now and then, but for the most part he’s operating Maryland’s high-powered offense instead of “running” it.
In 2015, Hills ran for 535 yards — fourth-most by a Terrapins quarterback in school history. But he had only eight touchdown passes, not nearly enough to offset those 13 picks, and Maryland finished 3-9.
This season, Hills has 104 yards rushing. That includes 79 yards in losses, in part because he’s been content to absorb a sack rather than to force the ball downfield. Only one of his 73 passes has been intercepted, and Hills has already thrown for five scores.
“Last year, I kind of had more confidence in my legs because that’s what I worked on in the offseason,” he said. “I worked on throwing this offseason.”
The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Hills is perfect for Maryland’s no-huddle offense. Not only does he have a keen understanding of the scheme, but he carries the ideal demeanor for a quarterback trying to get 10 other players set to run a play before the opposing defense can catch its breath.
“He’s really calm, cool and collected,” left guard Mike Minter said. “He looks a lot more mature. You can just see it in his eyes: He’s focused, he knows what to do. He trusts his throws more, trusts his reads more.”
Maryland went three games without a turnover until Hills was intercepted on the opening possession against Purdue. When he returned to the field, Hills led the Terrapins 80 yards in six plays, capping the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Although Durkin wasn’t pleased with the turnover, he loved the way Hills reacted to the temporary setback.
“Perry didn’t put his head down,” Durkin said. “That’s what a confident guy does. You make a mistake, jog off the field with your chin high and say I can’t wait to get back out there. The next drive we came out and made a point: We’re throwing the ball. We threw the ball, went right downfield and scored.”
Maryland already has more wins than a year ago and can move within one victory of being bowl eligible with a win at Penn State (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions improved to 3-0 at home with a 29-26 overtime win over Minnesota on Saturday.
“It’s definitely nice to go back to Pennsylvania,” said Hills, who grew up in Pittsburgh. “I’ll have some family at the game, but other than that, it’s our next Big Ten opponent.”
Visiting with family will have to wait until after the game. From now until the final whistle, Hills plans to be all business.
“He has the respect of his teammates. They look at him as a leader because of how hard he works,” Durkin said. “Perry’s not worried about the yards he throws for or runs for. All he cares about is us playing well on offense and winning. You see that if you’re around him for 10 seconds.”