A Terrapins football wide receiver slipped over the middle Saturday afternoon against Clemson, caught a bullet pass from his quarterback and raced past everyone for a 71-yard touchdown and a 7-3 Terps lead.
Before the season started, it would be logical to assume Stefon Diggs or Deon Long, two of the Terps’ most hyped offensive options, made the play. But after both wide receivers suffered season-ending injuries, it was backup Levern Jacobs whose catch-and-run gave the Terps an early lead in an eventual 40-27 loss to Clemson.
It was just the beginning of a big day for Jacobs, who started in place of Diggs. The sophomore finished the day with eight catches for 158 yards — both career highs — and his second career touchdown. While the Terps can’t replace Diggs’ explosive ability, Jacobs showed that the team still has a big-play threat on the edge.
“Of course, I mean, all season I feel like I’ve worked to be the starter, and it’s unfortunate what happened, but I’m getting my chance now, and I just got to keep proving my point,” Jacobs said. “I think me having this big game just shows people that I’m able to play. And now I just have to keep doing this week in and week out.”
Jacobs, who caught seven passes for 50 yards in 2012, flashed his big-play ability in spot duty during the first seven games of this season. He had a 32-yard reception in the season opener against Florida International. His 48-yard catch at Connecticut set up a go-ahead field goal in the final seconds of the first half. And at Wake Forest, he scored the Terps’ only touchdown on a 56-yard play in the third quarter.
“Levern is a great player, great athlete and he’s also my roommate, so me and him have a real good connection,” quarterback Caleb Rowe said Saturday. “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 is just one of many Terps with the chance to make an impact because of the plethora of injuries hitting the team’s wide receivers. In addition to the absences of Long and Diggs, freshman DeAndre Lane was out with a concussion. As a result, Amba Etta-Tawo made his first career start, Daniel Adams — a transfer from New Mexico — made his Terps debut and backup quarterback Ricardo Young even played a few snaps as a wide receiver.
There were mixed results, as Rowe finished 19-of-45 for 282 yards and three touchdowns but also threw two interceptions. One week after setting career highs in catches and yards at Wake Forest, Etta-Tawo caught his first career touchdown, and wide receiver Nigel King had a career-high five catches for 76 yards and caught a touchdown pass with nine seconds left.
“I thought they were inconsistent,” coach Randy Edsall said. “I thought they made some really nice plays, then I thought there were some plays that were there to be made that we didn’t make, and when you’re playing the No. 9 team in the country, you got to be able to make those plays.”
Still, Edsall has been positive about the impact he thinks his remaining corps of receivers can have. Most of them have worked together on the second team, so the chemistry is there in practice. It’s just a question of whether it can translate to the playing field.
Despite the injuries and uncertainty, the Terps are still expecting results from the offense. Quarterback C.J. Brown is expected to return from injury after the bye week, and the Terps are still poised to attain bowl eligibility, needing only one win in their final four games to reach it.
But instead of Diggs and Long leading the way on the edge, it could be Jacobs, King and Etta-Tawo.
“Everybody realized it’s their chance to play with us losing a lot of guys,” Jacobs said. “And the team mentality is the next man has to step up, and the next man has to make the big play, and that’s all we have to go off. That’s everybody’s focus right now.”