(EDIT: Made a copy-and-paste mistake earlier that left Edsall and Brown saying the exact same thing. They indeed did not. It’s been fixed below. Apologies for the error.)
Maryland’s football players hate to admit it, but they remember this feeling all too well. The Terrapins insist destiny remains in their hands, even though the injury report says otherwise. Entire starting platoons have been wiped out. Bones are broken and ligaments torn.
Ring any bells?
“We kind of learned from last year that everyone has to raise their level of play,” center Sal Conaboy said. “Having that lesson from last year is great going into this week, because it’s something we have to do again. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.”
Three weeks ago, Maryland was undefeated, refreshed from a bye and bracing for a top 25 matchup against Florida State. On Sunday, the Terps limped home from their second straight road loss, far more battered than before they flew into Winston-Salem, N.C.
With Stefon Diggs and Deon Long both out for the season with broken legs, and a smattering of other role players either sidelined for the game or longer, Maryland finished the 34-10 defeat with just 12 of 23 offensive and defensive starters (Maryland listed both a fullback and three wide receivers on offense) from its preseason depth chart still on the field.
The rest were receiving treatment for various injuries. Long, Diggs and cornerback Dexter McDougle (shoulder) are out for the season. Right tackle Nick Klemm (ankle) and fullback Tyler Cierski (calf) have yet to play. Running back Brandon Ross left the Wake Forest game with an apparent shoulder injury. Linebacker L.A. Goree sat out with back spasms and outside linebacker Matt Robinson was plagued by a rotator cuff issue. Safety Anthony Nixon and cornerback Jeremiah Johnson both have toe problems. It’s the least fun game of “Operation” ever.
“This sport is pretty much 100 percent guaranteed that you’re going to get hurt playing this game,” Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s anyone that has gone through his career without getting hurt. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had the injuries that we have, but there’s nothing that we can do about it. I think that our guys will step up and do a good job.”
No one inside Gossett Team House will deviate from Maryland’s “next man up” party line, but wouldn’t someone be excused for claiming a snake-bitten roster? Last season, the injuries were localized to quarterback, where five players held the starting position, starting with the preseason. Linebackers Kenneth Tate and Demetrius Hartsfield felt the bug spread to their position, too.
The problems this season have been more widespread. Four key linebackers missed the Wake Forest game. So did Maryland’s two starting cornerbacks. Then Long and Diggs were carted off the field, all hell broke loose. Now Maryland’s biggest playmakers, with 66 catches and more than 1,000 receiving yards between them, were gone, too.
“It’s definitely tough,” said quarterback C.J. Brown who, oh yes, missed Maryland’s win over Virginia with a concussion and evidently suffered another unrelated injury against Wake Forest. “I feel for all those guys. Not only Stef and Deon, but all those guys who have gone down before them. Even more so now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I just feel for them.”
Brown insisted Maryland’s preseason goals remain within reach, no matter how unrealistic that might sound at this juncture. Clemson plummeted from third to ninth in the Associated Press poll following its home blowout loss to Florida State and travels to Byrd Stadium on Saturday seeking a punching bag against a Maryland squad ravaged by matters out of its control.
“We all know we paint our own picture,” Conaboy said. “We’re going to write our own story this season.”
Said Brown, “We can still write our own story.”
Easy to say, harder to practice. After Clemson, Maryland enters its second bye week, then hosts Syracuse in an easily winnable Atlantic Division matchup that could finally push the Terps into bowl eligibility. After that, they travel to Lane Stadium to play No. 16 Virginia Tech, host pesky Boston College then close the season in Raleigh, N.C., against North Carolina State. Preseason projections had Maryland facing a very realistic eight-win season. Now? Injuries have put that in jeopardy.
“Got to worry about what you can control,” Conaboy said matter-of-factly, just like Brown did moments earlier. “Whether it’s bad weather, too hot, raining, you can’t control those types of injuries. But you can control how the next guy steps up and fills in. You can control how you raise your level of game, not so much to make up for what we lost or anything, but to raise your level of intensity.”