The helmet flew one way, the mouth guard another, and Jo Jo Walker went directly to the ground. Walker's backup, freshman Danny Oquendo, watched the senior receiver get leveled by Virginia's Nate Lyles and figured he'd need to enter the game. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach couldn't see exactly what happened but he had a pretty good idea: "I heard the crowd noise, I saw his helmet rolling, so I figured it was a big-time hit," Hollenbach said.
And Maryland cornerback Josh Wilson marveled less about the tackle's ferocity than what came next. Walker popped up, fiddled with the helmet that had been ripped from his head and went back to the huddle.
"I think he was more worried about his helmet than his life," Wilson said. "I don't know if 99 percent of people would have got up after that hit. He's just a tough cookie."
Walker's 18-yard gain in the second quarter of last Saturday's victory over Virginia -- a play that earned him heavy rotation on ESPN and had teammates buzzing about his moxie -- was just another highlight clip from a wide receiver corps that is, somewhat surprisingly, amassing a collection of them.
Senior Derrick Fenner, whose 44-yard third-quarter catch Saturday was the longest for a Maryland wide receiver since 2003, also provided one of the indelible moments of the Terps' win over Navy. After being knocked unconscious, he raised his arm to the crowd as he was taken off the field on a stretcher, although he doesn't remember the incident. Fenner's replacement in that game, junior Drew Weatherly, soon after caught a last-minute, go-ahead touchdown.
Several times this season, Walker has bounced to his feet after being steamrolled by defenders; "He earned my respect big-time today," an emotional Coach Ralph Friedgen said after Walker withstood several shots in a loss to West Virginia. And senior Danny Melendez's moments have come at the most opportune times; in last Saturday's win over Virginia, he converted three third downs in the fourth quarter and also caught a third-down touchdown pass.
"Those guys have really kind of been the barometer of our offense," offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. "Their work ethic has been great. They've just matured and really taken that leadership role, and they're making the plays."
In Maryland's final seven games last season, its wide receivers combined for one catch of at least 25 yards. Through five games this season, they already have six such catches.
While such a turnaround is partly attributable to solid quarterbacking from Hollenbach and the constant attention paid to tight end Vernon Davis, Maryland's three top wide receivers clearly are playing better in their final season in College Park. Dropped passes have decreased dramatically, in practice and in games, and routes have been more precise, coaches said.
"The timing of our passing game," Taaffe said, "is the best it's ever been."
On the first day of fall practice, Friedgen said the wide receivers were the most improved group on the team, and nearing the season's midpoint, his opinion hasn't changed. Which is why, before last week's game, Friedgen did something he had never done before, entering the wide receivers' regular Tuesday meeting and asking them to take responsibility for earning the Terps' most important win of the season.
"I told them I was going to put the game in their hands," Friedgen said. "I said, 'I have that much confidence in you now. I probably wouldn't have asked you to do this in other years.' . . . They accepted the challenge."
Terrapins Notes: Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson missed practiced yesterday with an unspecified leg injury. Friedgen said he was probable for Saturday's game. Jackson has led the Terps in tackles each game this season; his average of 14.4 tackles per game is second in the nation. Friedgen said running back Lance Ball, who had a career high 163 yards against Virginia, will likely start Saturday's game.
Special correspondent Kathy Orton contributed to this report.