Through the first nine games of the season, Maryland football's 18th-ranked freshman class hadn't made much of an impact.
Among the Terps' eight four-star Class of 2017 recruits, only Kasim Hill started a game, and he suffered a season-ending ACL tear Sept. 9 against Towson. Top recruit Anthony McFarland hasn't fully recovered from the broken fibula he suffered in high school. Four-star safety Markquese Bell left the program after a code of conduct violation.
But against Michigan last weekend, Marcus Minor — Maryland's best rookie offensive lineman prospect — received extended playing time when Damian Prince suffered a second-half injury. Freshman offensive lineman Johnny Jordan also featured in place of injured sophomore Terrance Davis.
Maryland's first-choice offensive linemen hadn't missed time up to that point. While the Terps hope Prince and Davis, who are day-to-day, can return Saturday against No. 22 Michigan State, they're impressed with how their first-year options filled in during a matchup with one of the top defenses in the nation.
"You get to see a young guy [in Marcus Minor], that was his first real extended time playing football," coach DJ Durkin said. "He went in there and played really well. That was a really bright spot for him, for our team, to see a freshman out there on the offensive line playing like that."
Durkin said Prince has played through pain throughout the season, and he'll wait to see how he feels at the end of this week before making a decision on his availability. If he can't go, though, the second-year coach is confident Minor can step up.
Minor attended DeMatha Catholic High School, and 247Sports ranked him the No. 16 offensive guard entering college. He's listed at 6-foot-4, 294 pounds, bringing size to the offensive line that Durkin has sought out to compete in the Big Ten.
Maryland rushed for 116 second-half yards against Michigan, moving the ball well behind its altered blocking unit. Running back Ty Johnson accounted for 52 of those yards and leads the team in rushing this season. He didn't notice a difference in the running lanes after Minor entered.
"He looked really good," Johnson said. "It's really big for … him to come in mid-game and just start making the calls, the adjustments that we need. We just need to play and go fast without missing a beat, so it definitely shows a level of maturity."
Maryland's running game will take on an even bigger role this weekend at Michigan State, where the cold, wind and potential rain might limit downfield passes for both teams.
That's an outcome offensive coordinator Walt Bell is hoping for as he tries to craft a game plan without quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome and Hill, who have missed most of the season with ACL tears.
"We're a run-first football team and that's what we do," Bell said. "Hopefully the elements … will induce an ugly, grinded out game."