It was a simple slant pattern: Release on the snap, cut toward the middle and sneak into the second level. But when a Clemson linebacker blitzed and a greedy safety bit hard, Maryland wide receiver Levern Jacobs suddenly found room to run. Seventy-one yards, in fact. “I was in stride already,” the sophomore said. “I hit the middle. All I saw after that was green grass.”
Jacobs’s touchdown reception, just the second of his career, gave the Terrapins a 7-6 early lead over the ninth-ranked Tigers on Saturday afternoon, briefly injecting hopes of an upset into the near-sellout homecoming crowd. It also underscored a new-found truth revealed over the past two weeks: Since Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffered season-ending broken legs, no wide receiver has benefited more than Jacobs.
“It definitely does a lot to me,” the Suitland (Md.) High School graduate said. “It helps my confidence a lot. I can make big plays just as anybody else can. It helps me a lot. It boosts my confidence, it shows my teammates what I can do, what my coaches what I can do. They can just have trust in me.”
Entering preseason camp, Diggs was coming off an all-ACC caliber season that ranked among the best freshman seasons in program history, while Long’s junior college records further raised expectations. Sophomore Nigel King outshined them all during summer workouts, so Jacobs became widely viewed as the team’s fourth-best receiver, a speedy slot man with minimal experience but plenty potential. After all, injuries forced Jacobs from scout team to punt-block to backup slot receiver behind Diggs last season, but offensive coordinator Mike Locksley eased him into the rotation, where Jacobs caught 11 passes.
This year? Injuries have once again increased his role. On Oct. 18, the day before Maryland visited Wake Forest and lost its top two receivers, Jacobs had caught 10 passes for 167 yards and zero touchdowns, pedestrian numbers at best. Diggs and Long gobbled up receptions and headlines. What room remained for the rest?
Since then, Jacobs has become the team’s most reliable option, particularly when backup quarterback Caleb Rowe plays. The two live together in their College Park dormitory and sit next to each other in the locker room, their No. 7 (Rowe) and No. 8 (Jacobs) stalls inches away.
“Levern’s a great player and a great athlete,” Rowe said. “Me and him have a real good connection. He’s been working hard, even when he wasn’t playing. You could see it in Levern that he wanted to play. He had a good opportunity tonight and he took advantage of it.”
Jacobs, who caught three passes for 78 yards and one touchdown against Wake Forest, including a 56-yard catch-and-run for his first career score, outdid himself last weekend at Byrd Stadium. Busted coverage helped part the Clemson secondary and Jacobs outraced them all. He caught eight passes for 158 yards and one touchdown, only five yards shy of Tigers all-American Sammy Watkins. Add these numbers together, and Jacobs has clearly become the biggest beneficiary of Maryland’s horrible medical fortunes.
Amba Etta-Tawo (three catches, 26 yards, one touchdown) was shaky in his first career start, allowing several Rowe bullets to zoom through his hands. King returned to his preseason form after bouts with injuries and inconsistencies, snaring five receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. But if Jacobs can keep up this level of production – or even sniff it on a regular basis – he can help the Terps forget about all they have lost.
“With the receivers I had, I didn’t feel like there wasn’t much of a drop-off, Rowe said. “Like Levern, with the incredible day he had.”