The Maryland football team’s wide receivers were thrust into the fire against Clemson two weekends ago, with backup pass-catchers getting the ball from a backup quarterback. Their first game without stalwarts Deon Long and Stefon Diggs, who each suffered season-ending broken legs, went fine enough. Sure, the Terrapins lost by 13 points to the Tigers, but that was expected. That the three new starters, tasked with replacing Maryland’s biggest stars, each caught a touchdown pass? Maybe that was more surprising.
“They know the level of expectations is very, very high for them in terms of what they want to accomplish,” Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday.
Of course they are. Diggs and Long left behind 66 catches and more than 1,000 receiving yards, and still rank first and second on the team, respectively, in both statistical categories. The upshot, however, is that their absence opened up opportunities for Levern Jacobs, Nigel King and Amba Etta-Tawo.
“I feel the same,” King said. “I just feel like now is more of an opportunity for more balls to come our way. Nothing really different, just make the plays that come to me like always. I’m sorry they went down, but Coach says you never know what can happen. You have to play with the next-man-up mentality.”
Jacobs, who replaced Diggs in the slot, caught eight passes for 158 yards and one touchdown against the Tigers, his second straight game with a score. Both touchdowns, however, came from backup quarterback Caleb Rowe, roommates and locker-mates with Jacobs who was starting in place of the injured C.J. Brown.
But with Brown again healthy ahead of Saturday’s home game against Syracuse, Jacobs and his cohorts must again adjust to an unfamiliar scenario, scrambling to develop chemistry with the signal-caller who spent this summer honing a rapport with Diggs and Long.
“The last two weeks I’ve been working with them even more,” Brown said. “They’ve taken reps, just during practice with our tempo and how the receivers switch in and out, I’ve taken reps with them throughout the course of the year. It’s not unfamiliar territory at all. They’re great players, I’ve worked with them all summer, gotten to know them as teammates.”
King actually began the preseason as the clear starter, third fiddle behind Diggs and Long but a potentially dangerous option nonetheless. Nagging injuries have derailed his progress this season, but after hauling in five passes for 76 yards and a late touchdown against Clemson, he feels back to August form.
“I might have rushed myself back,” he said. “I knew I had to take my time, do what I had to do to get myself back on the depth chart and back to the playing time I had.
“It’s something to build off of. I’m ready to come back in this week and do the same thing, just make the plays that come to me.”
Still, Edsall saw plenty of room for improvement across the corps.
“They have ability, but we have to go out and be better than what we were against Clemson,” he said. “Again, it’s one of those situations that I think they all relish the opportunity that’s presented itself for them, where they’ve got a chance now to go out, step up and they know they’re going to play the majority of the plays. It’s not going to be where they’ll only play a handful of plays. They have to carry the load. And when you have to go out, have that burden on you, you’re expected to step up and play to the level that allows us to win. I know all those guys are working real hard to do that, and feel that they can do that on Saturday.”