Stefon Diggs has dazzled the Maryland faithful in his short collegiate career, a human highlight package filled with dazzling runs, leaping grabs and breathless acts of evaporation away from would-be tacklers. So it was only a matter of time before the true freshman brought one back on special teams, too.
Diggs took the opening kickoff 100 yards, virtually untouched as he came out of the end zone against Virginia on Saturday. The Good Counsel product hesitated only momentarily, calling his blocks, then took off down the near sideline, finishing with a jog into the end zone that sapped the energy out of Virginia’s Homecoming crowd and propelled the Terps to a 17-3 halftime lead.
Anthony Nixon, a true freshman who drew raves from Coach Randy Edsall for his substitute performance against Wake Forest, started in place of injured safety Matt Robinson and picked off Cavaliers quarterback Phillip Sims on third and long on Virginia’s ensuing drive. Five plays later, Perry Hills stared down an oncoming blitz, calmly checked down to running back Justus Pickett and let the sophomore do the rest of the work. Pickett, Maryland’s top receiving back who got the start Saturday, juked on the outside and cut toward the middle. Like Diggs, he also trotted in untouched.
After a favorable Virginia bounce pinned the Terps at their 2-yard line, Albert Reid nearly got dropped for a safety. But on second down, Hills lofted up an awkward fade by the far sideline, which Kevin Dorsey hauled in for a 27-yard gain.
Then Diggs took over again.
The two-time ACC rookie of the week, just like he did against West Virginia and Wake Forest, morphed a short route into massive yardage, spinning away from Cavaliers defenders as if it were a flag football game. He bounded down to the Virginia 12-yard line, a 60-yard gain that set up a Brad Craddock’s 33-yard field goal.
A Cavaliers rushing attack that has struggled all season actually found some life against the stingy Terps defense, including a 26-yard run by Kevin Parks, the longest rush Maryland has allowed this season. Grinding out the yardage, Virginia marched inside the Maryland 10-yard line, culminating in Ian Frye’s first collegiate field goal, a 20-yarder that finally put Virginia on the board midway through the second quarter.
For all the early Maryland fireworks, the Terps’ offense stalled for the half’s duration. Pickett has eight carries for minus-12 yards. Hills didn’t complete a pass since Diggs’s 60-yard reception. The Terps finished the second quarter with four straight three-and-outs.
Hills finished the half 5 of 9 for 116 yards and one touchdown. Diggs leads all receivers with two catches for 64 yards. For Virginia, Perry Jones, who torched Maryland in last season’s 31-13 win at Byrd Stadium, finished with seven carries for just 18 yards. Parks, meanwhile, has nine carries for 73 yards.
But the 17-point first quarter, Maryland’s largest of the season, was more than enough.
Especially with Stefon Diggs being, well, Stefon Diggs.