Cole Farrand walked into the Gossett Team House cafeteria on Wednesday afternoon, well aware of the questions facing him and the Maryland football team. His right hand was bandaged tight with white tape, a minor bump compared with the torn ligaments and broken bones that have dropped so many of his fellow Terrapins.
“I think we’ve got enough injuries,” the inside linebacker said, parking himself into a chair. “I think we’ve had enough. No more would be nice.”
In a perfect world, perhaps. But as Maryland (5-2, 1-2 ACC) prepares to host ninth-ranked Clemson (6-1, 4-1) on Saturday afternoon, the medical circus has again stationed itself in College Park, threatening to alter the course of the season for the second straight year.
Bear witness to the madness: When the Maryland offense takes the field Saturday, it will start backups at quarterback, running back, tight end and two wide receiver positions. The defense will face quarterback Tajh Boyd and the Tigers’ vaunted spread attack without two cornerbacks, two linebackers and one safety, not to mention the three dinged-up contributors listed as “probable.”
“From last year, I was like, ‘Okay, we got all our injuries out the way,’ ” said Farrand, who was mercifully left off Thursday’s injury report. “And this year, this is happening. I guess you got to roll with the punches and keep trucking.”
Maryland still has goals, which the players insist are attainable. Maybe not the preseason dream of winning the ACC or even reaching the conference championship game, but the Terps are only one victory from their first bowl appearance since 2010.
But the Terps must do so with a starting lineup full of backups who, no matter how much they preach about the “next man up,” were second-stringers for a reason.
And so the burden falls to underclassmen such as Levern Jacobs and Amba Etta-Tawo, the two wideouts tasked with replacing Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, Maryland’s leading receivers who each broke a leg at Wake Forest last weekend. Albert Reid will start at running back, a capable replacement for Brandon Ross (shoulder).
But what about redshirt freshman tight end P.J. Gallo, who hasn’t taken a meaningful offensive snap this season but will fill in for the injured Dave Stinebaugh (knee)? What about the dinged-up secondary that is tasked with shutting down all-American wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a Clemson scheme that averages 487.6 yards per game? What about backup quarterback Caleb Rowe, who will make just his third career start after C.J. Brown suffered a trunk injury against the Demon Deacons?
Following that sluggish 34-10 loss in Winston-Salem, N.C., and a 63-0 battering incurred at Florida State two weeks earlier, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall retroactively expressed concern over his team’s ability to handle the hype surrounding a program off to its best start since 2001. But now the third-year coach, who still hasn’t won a game in the second half of a season at Maryland, doesn’t seem the least bit worried about a lack of focus from arguably the most injured team in college football.
“We’re immune to all that,” Edsall said Thursday, an injury report in his hands that spilled onto a full page. “I’d be more worried about how we’d react if we had everybody because it’s something we’re not used to. No, they understand. It’s football.”
They understood last season, too, when season-ending injuries to four quarterbacks turned a 4-2 start into a 4-8 finish. And if they forgot, the Terps have been forced to relearn it through three ACC games — two blowout losses and a nail-biting victory over Virginia — in which they have forced zero turnovers, recorded just two sacks and have the league’s worst third-down conversion rate during conference play. But because Maryland has been here before, constantly confronted by questions about replacing key cogs, it knows how to respond: just keep trucking.
“It’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” center Sal Conaboy said.