During the Maryland football team’s frustrating 51-14 blowout loss against then-No. 5 Iowa Oct. 1, the offense suffered a devastating blow.
Early in the second quarter on a kickoff return, wide receiver Dontay Demus was tackled around his left knee, and his right leg bent awkwardly on the tackle. He was carted off the field and didn’t return.
On Oct. 5, Terps head coach Michael Locksley announced that Demus suffered a season-ending knee injury, with surgery scheduled for later in the week. The injury represents a brutal setback for Maryland, as Demus leads the Big Ten in receiving yards (507) and is third in the conference in receptions (28). He also caught three touchdown passes. His skill set will be difficult to replace, considering he possesses great size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and athleticism.
“Obviously very devastating for a player that I felt was playing at a very high level,” Locksley said. “But what that means for us is that the next man has to kind of pick up some of the slack [after] losing a player of Dontay’s caliber.”
Demus also served as somewhat of a safety valve for junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. He has at least one catch in all of Tagovailoa’s career starts. Additionally, Demus was most often the player opposing defensive coordinators specifically game-planned to slow down.
With Demus on the shelf, other members of Maryland’s deep and highly-touted receiving corps will need to step up. Expect sophomore Rakim Jarrett to be more prominently featured as one of the team’s most explosive weapons.
In the last two games, Jarrett has just five receptions for a total of 17 yards. The sophomore wideout is most effective in space and will look to create more of those explosive plays against Ohio State on Saturday.
“Dontay was a great player, I don’t think you can really fill the void that he left,” Jarrett said. “It’s going to take all of the other receivers to step up, including myself, to collectively do it. He was one of a kind. I think we all have to step up, not just myself.”
Junior Jeshaun Jones also needs to step up as another player who creates yards after the catch. After a preseason injury kept him out for much of camp, Jones has steadily improved each week. Jones finished with five catches against Kent State and Illinois, developing increased chemistry with Tagovailoa.
Beyond Jarrett and Jones, seniors Brian Cobbs and Darryl Jones should see increased action as the veterans of the wide receiver corps. Locksley speaks highly of both players, and their contributions will be pivotal in helping to decrease the impact of Demus’ absence.
Maryland’s tight ends could see increased target share in the receiving game as well. Both senior Chig Okonkwo and sophomore Corey Dyches have become increasingly involved in offensive coordinator Dan Enos’ system.
Okonkwo has been a red-zone specialist thus far this season, scoring touchdowns in three of five games. In the past two games, the Terps’ tight-end tandem has combined for 12 receptions, a potential indicator of increased involvement with the offense moving forward.
The growth of the passing game becomes more and more important as Maryland continues a daunting stretch of its schedule. The Terps have back-to-back road contests against No. 7 Ohio State and Minnesota — both challenging places to play — with a bye week in between.
Yet, the schedule only gets more challenging, as Maryland faces ranked opponents in three of its next four contests: No. 4 Penn State (Nov. 6), No. 11 Michigan State (Nov. 13) and No. 9 Michigan (Nov. 20). The Terps will host the Nittany Lions and Wolverines and go on the road to face the Spartans.
Without a key weapon for the remainder of the season, the Terps’ wide receiver and tight end units will need to collectively improve and feed off one another. That starts when Maryland travels to Columbus for a noon kickoff against Ohio State Oct. 9.
“I think we’re doing a good job of game-planning against Ohio State and we have other good receivers as well, tight ends, and our running backs are also in the passing game,” Tagovailoa said. “Whatever Ohio State does, we’ve just got to adjust.”
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