Early in the second quarter of Maryland football’s 51-41 win over No. 23 Texas on Saturday, offensive lineman Derwin Gray lined up with the field goal blocking unit for the first time in his career. He was placed on the group a couple of months ago in offseason camp.
As Texas kicker Joshua Rowland tried a 44-yard field goal, Gray leapt above the line of scrimmage with his right hand in the air. He deflected the attempt, and linebacker Antoine Brooks scooped the ball and returned it 71 yards for a score.
“That felt great,” Gray said. “I still remember being put on field goal blocking, and I was like, ‘I ain’t never played this before.'”
The sequence marked one of four non-offensive touchdowns in a back-and-forth game that featured opportunistic special teams play. Texas also returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown, as well as an interception and a punt.
Gray, a redshirt junior and former four-star recruit, helped Maryland’s offensive line protect the team’s skill players. The Terps racked up 482 total yards and allowed just one sack.
In particular, the offensive line paved openings for the running game. Maryland rushed for 263 yards, led by junior Ty Johnson,
But Gray’s block and Brooks’ ensuing return in the second quarter, which gave the Terps a 21-7 lead, proved to be a pivotal moment in a difficult road game. Brooks was named Big Ten Co-Specialist of the Week on Monday.
“It meant a lot to help put our team up front even more and to extend our lead,” Gray said. “It still feels unreal.”
Johnson provided a key special teams play in the third quarter. After the Longhorns took back a third-quarter punt 91 yards to cut their deficit to three, Johnson returned the following kickoff 62 yards. Three plays later, he ran for a 40-yard score to help put the game away.
The Terps also forced a fumble on a kickoff return. Their special teams performance frustrated Texas, which entered as a double-digit favorite.
“To have a field goal blocked for a touchdown and have a long kickoff return that set up a touchdown,” Texas coach Tom Herman said, “Special teams, to me … [had some] untimely self-inflicted wounds.”
Coach DJ Durkin, meanwhile, lauded the unconventional production from his special teams unit. The Terps managed just two special teams touchdowns last season.
When Maryland encounters ranked teams such as Ohio State and Wisconsin in Big Ten play this season, Durkin hopes the unit will continue to make an impact.
“That’s what it takes,” Durkin said. “To be a team that’s going to compete for championships, you got to be able to do that on the road.”