EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Three athletic trainers knelt beside Dexter McDougle, forming a barrier around the injured Maryland cornerback. Just seconds before, McDougle had dashed into the end zone, turning an interception into a game-changing touchdown in the Terrapins’ 32-21 win over Connecticut on Saturday night. But now here he sat, fighting back tears as Coach Randy Edsall looked on and rubbed his shoulder to signal the injured area.
Maryland moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2001 thanks in large part to McDougle’s two interceptions, the second of which he returned 49 yards into the end zone in the third quarter to help the Terrapins seal the win. But as he trudged into the locker room, Maryland faced uncertainty going forward.
“I’m not sure what happened to Dexter,” linebacker Cole Farrand said. “It was a crusher seeing him go down. He just had that great interception, then something like that happens. But that’s just football. I was ecstatic on the first one. I was so happy. I was pumped up. Then the next time we went down, it’s definitely a crusher.”
Edsall declined to comment on the extent of McDougle’s injury after the game, saying only that it was to his shoulder. If McDougle should be forced to the sideline, the Terrapins would be without both of their starting cornerbacks; Jeremiah Johnson will miss seven to eight weeks after breaking his toe in the season opener against Florida International.
How Maryland responded to the seesaw shift in emotions, arriving within minutes of each other, revealed plenty about this group’s resiliency. The Terps had breezed to 90 points and 1,163 yards over their first two games. But tested by turnovers, failed third- and fourth-down conversion, and injuries — many of the errors self-imposed — Maryland held off a late Huskies charge and summoned enough juice to squeak by Saturday night.
“Sometimes that happens when you have a young team,” Edsall said. “They never lost their composure. They never lost their poise.”
Before a near-capacity crowd of 38,916 that jeered Edsall’s return to Rentschler Field two years after he left the Huskies, the Terps’ defense held strong when it mattered. McDougle’s first interception — Maryland’s fifth of the season, one more than it had in 2012 — choked off an early Connecticut drive.
Only once McDougle left did Connecticut find any real success through the air, going 75 yards in one play and converting the ensuing two-point attempt to cut its deficit to 32-21 with just more than four minutes left. But linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil suffocated the Huskies’ final drive with sacks on third and fourth down, allowing the Terps to kneel away the game.
Maryland slowly chipped away at the Connecticut defense, piling on enough points to start the season with three double-digit wins for the first time in 18 years. Quarterback C.J. Brown accounted for 277 yards passing and 122 yards rushing, including a 41-yard touchdown that jolted Maryland out of its slumber. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs had 98 receiving yards by halftime and finished with 110. Despite losing wide receiver Nigel King early to a lower leg injury, Maryland topped 500 yards for the third straight game.
Given the manner through which Maryland rocketed to season-opening blowouts of Florida International and Old Dominion, though, some regression was to be expected. Brown threw several off-balance, wobbly throws uncharacteristic of the pinpoint accuracy he showed since returning from ACL surgery, missing open targets and throwing his first interception of the season on a tipped screen pass. Running backs Albert Reid and Brandon Ross each lost fumbles, ushering the defense back onto the field to mop up.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we did what we needed to do to get the job done,” Brown said. “We kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The Terps weren’t alone in their errors either. Connecticut’s offense was equally helpless against a powerful Terps pass rush that gobbled up quarterback Chandler Whitmer for five sacks.
And it was a strong-side blitz from defensive lineman Darius Kilgo that drove Whitmer into the ground, allowing McDougle to jump the route. His mad dash toward the end zone propelled Maryland, but his early departure hung a dark cloud over an otherwise triumphant road victory.