- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2012

Freshman quarterback Perry Hills had three interceptions and no points to show after three quarters of his Maryland debut Saturday.

There was no doubt, though, who would be under center for the Terrapins’ first drive of the fourth quarter against William & Mary.

“Never crossed our minds,” coach Randy Edsall said of a change. “Sometimes, kids have to play through things.”

Maybe that could double as a portion of the Terrapins’ mission statement this season, especially after a harrowing 7-6 victory against the Tribe to open the season.

Maryland played 12 true freshmen Saturday, a figure reflective of the unusual confluence of player defections and injuries to hit the program over the past year. In comparison, the youthful 2009 Terps used 10 true freshmen for the season and just four in the opener.

The required reliance on Hills is an extreme example of the youth movement-by-necessity. Junior C.J. Brown was the unquestioned starter before tearing a right knee ligament in mid-August. Less than a dozen practices into his career, Hills topped the depth chart.

The numbers, besides the modest scoring total, looked about right for a true freshman thrust into a starting role. Hills was 16 of 24 for 145 yards and three interceptions. He overthrew open tight end Devonte Campbell in the end zone in the second quarter on a drive capped with a missed field goal.

More significantly, he was intercepted on his second pass attempt to set up the first of the Tribe’s two field goals, an ominous start which nonetheless didn’t bleed much into a functional second half.

“Just a simple mistake,” Hills said. “Probably should have read the outside guy better. There was a little read, some miscommunication there. But I wasn’t going to let it ruin me for the rest of the game. It was behind me as soon as it happened. I thought about what I did wrong, talked to coach and then it was behind me.”

Hills also cobbled together a scoring drive when needed, a 10-play push to secure the game’s lone touchdown.

“He did pretty well,” guard Bennett Fulper said. “He’s young, and he’s definitely going to grow from this game, which is very important. He didn’t let this stuff bother him near as much some of the younger kids probably could have, so that’s a good thing, and he showed perseverance.”

Beyond the praise, though, is something the Terps’ staff seems to intuit even if their shrinking fan base might be loath to accept it: There really isn’t much choice at this stage than to let Hills (and other freshmen) make mistakes in games.

Brown underwent surgery last month and is done for the season. True freshman Caleb Rowe fell behind Hills early in camp. Sophomore Devin Burns only moved back to quarterback after a year and a half at receiver when Brown was injured.

That leaves Hills to learn on the job and Maryland to find traits it can build on going forward. So while the early interceptions created consternation, Hills’ response proved encouraging.

“He looked me in the eye, wouldn’t look away,” Edsall said. “You didn’t see that spaced-out look that sometimes that you see, the deer-in-the-headlights. He didn’t have any of that.”

It’s something to work with and could lead to further growth, even if there are no guarantees it will help the Terps find substantial success this year as they venture deeper into their schedule.

Notes:Edsall said sophomore tailback Justus Pickett, who scored the lone touchdown Saturday, “will probably go and be the starter” Saturday at Temple. Freshman Albert Reid, who started against Temple, also will be expected to play. …

Saturday was the fourth 7-6 victory in Maryland’s history and the first since a 1931 triumph over Virginia. …

The Terps last won a game while scoring seven points or less in a 6-0 defeat of Temple in 1999. It was the only time Maryland started a freshman in its season opener before Saturday.