In vaulting to the top of the Big Ten among wide receivers, Maryland’s D.J. Moore exhibited success in another area – his ability to adapt.
Moore, who starred at Imhotep Charter High School, has seen quarterbacks come and go this season for the Terrapins (4-7, 2-6), who host 12th-ranked Penn State on Saturday. In fact, with injuries decimating the position, he has seen five of them.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior leads the Big Ten in receptions with 72. Four of the Terps quarterbacks have completed passes to Moore , with sophomore Max Bortenschlager, the likely starter against the Nittany Lions, the triggerman for 47 catches.
For Moore, who also leads the conference in receiving yards (933) and touchdowns (eight), it’s all about relationships.
“It’s huge,” he said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “I’m happy what we did this year. Before the season started, we got relationships with all the quarterbacks no matter what, whether it was an off-day or if we just had free time. It was all the quarterbacks and all the wide receivers coming out and just getting on the same page.”
Moore said the process of establishing timing with each quarterback began with discussing that week’s game plan before practice.
“You sit down with the quarterbacks if they have any questions about where you’re going to be on a certain play or how you want the ball,” he said. “If things go bad, they know they have receivers out there that know what they’re actually doing, so they can put the ball up for us to go make a play.”
Maryland lost two starting quarterbacks – Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill – in the first three games, each with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Bortenschlager sat out the Michigan game two weeks ago with an injury and Ryan Brand filled in.
It’s a marked contrast with Penn State, where quarterback Trace McSorley has made 25 straight starts. Lions wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton called what Moore has achieved amid the quarterback instability “pretty crazy, pretty remarkable.”
“They probably have great coaches to make sure that [the quarterbacks] are making the right plays and getting their playmakers the ball,” Hamilton said. “I think that’s the main adjustment, those quarterbacks feeling comfortable with a guy like him because he’s been able to make plays this season and all his career.”
Moore will be on the field Saturday with former high school teammate Shaka Toney, a redshirt freshman defensive end for the Nittany Lions. He said that the two don’t talk much but that he looks forward to giving him a hug after the game and telling him, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Moore said he stays in touch with a pair of NFL wide receivers from Philadelphia – Houston’s Will Fuller (Roman Catholic) and Jacksonville’s Jaelen Strong (West Catholic).
“They always told me that I was going to be the next best thing out of Philly, so I just stuck with that and made it happen,” he said.
He has. Moore needs six catches to break the team record of 77 receptions in a season. He will make his 35th consecutive start and seek to extend a record by catching a pass in his 33rd straight game, a mark that used to belong to current Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith. He said the possibility of leaving for the NFL after the season is a decision for later.
Amid Moore’s great season, the Terps have struggled, having lost six of their last seven games. But he has stayed positive with the help of teammates and coaches who “find a way to make me have some joy in what I do.
“The relationships on the team were big,” he said, “because everybody, no matter if we won or lost, we always stayed together and that’s something that stuck out to me all year.”
By The Numbers
Passing yards needed by Trace McSorley to become the first Penn State quarterback ever to have two 3,000-yard seasons through the air.
Completions allowed by the Maryland defense in its last three games combined (Rutgers, Michigan, Michigan State). The Terps have averaged 90.7 pass yards allowed during that stretch.
Percentage of plays run this season by Penn State in which the Nittany Lions have held the lead, third in the nation behind Central Florida and Alabama.
Three Things to Watch
Maryland has drawn just one crowd of more than 40,000 (Michigan, 44,325) this season to Maryland Stadium, which has a capacity of around 54,000. With the way Penn State fans travel, the venue could become Happy Valley South on Saturday.
Two of the best kickoff returners in the Big Ten are also their team’s best running back – Penn State’s Saquon Barkley (30.2 yards per return) and Maryland’s Ty Johnson (25.0). Both players have returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Ohio State.
Speaking of special teams, the Terrapins have blocked four kicks this season. The Lions have had one punt and two field-goal attempts blocked in 2017.