Terps confident in Likely, young secondary

Terps confident in Likely, young secondary
September 17, 2013, 3:30 pm
Share This Post
(Associated Press)

COLLEGE PARK--There's something hauntingly foreboding and undoubtedly saddening about an Associated Press photograph captured Saturday night in East Hartford, Conn.

In it, Maryland head coach Randy Edsall has his arm wrapped around cornerback Dexter McDougle in celebration on the sideline, his face lit up with happiness moments after McDougle's 49-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Terrapins a 27-13 lead late in the third quarter of a win over Connecticut.

But there's no way Edsall could have known, nor could anyone else on the field or on the sideline or on the staff, not even McDougle himself, that the senior was three plays away from the end of his Maryland career.

On Connecticut's ensuing drive, McDougle went down awkwardly while making a tackle on Huskies tight end Sean McQuillan and jammed his shoulder, sending him to the ground in pain and in need of attention from Maryland's team of trainers.

As a fifth-year senior, the injury and surgery that came on Monday also marks the end of his time in a Maryland uniform.

"It's devastating," linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil said on Tuesday. "When he went down, he makes that play like all the time. I really couldn't see the difference. It was just so weird."

Cudjoe-Virgil paused every few seconds, sighing and shaking his head while trying to find the right words to describe what happened Saturday night.

"He was on pace to having a great season. You could see that in practice. He works so hard. I'm not even just saying that."

Now McDougle becomes a player-coach, still involved in team meetings, film study, and player mentoring, and Maryland must move on.

Already missing fellow starting cornerback Jeremiah Johnson until likely early November as his broken toe heals, Maryland's secondary has gone from being the most experienced defensive unit to a group of mostly unproven starters within a matter of weeks.

Take away McDougle and Johnson and slot in senior Isaac Goins, who has played in seven career FBS games, sophomore Alvin Hill, and a true freshman, Will Likely.

But unproven doesn't mean the staff lacks confidence, nor does it mean that there haven't been positive results in the small sample size we've been given.

In Week 2 against pass-happy Old Dominion, Goins had five tackles and an interception, while Likely had 11 tackles and won the team's defensive game ball.

"I think that, if you listen to what I've said about Will, it shouldn't be any surprise," Edsall told the media Tuesday. "These are the things we saw from him when he got here in January. He plays like he's a seasoned veteran. Will he make mistakes? Yes, just like every player.

"But if we had everybody practicing the way he practices and the way he competes, we'd be even better."

Likely is only 5-7 and probably reaches the 180-pound mark only when soaking wet with a brick in his hand, but he has a nose for the football and always seems to be somewhere near the action. And his teammates don't speak of him like a true freshman, either.

"We have total confidence in Will Likely," Cudjoe-Virgil said. "He showed us against Old Dominion that, you know, 13 tackles in his first game starting. That's a big deal. Even in practice, he shows us on the field that he can get the job done.

"He's a hard-working guy. I've seen that as soon as he came in. He's always a guy that's willing to ask questions and stuff. He's always one to get better."

But there still should be some room for concern. 

Whether it was a schematic error or something deeper, Hill was beaten badly by Connecticut's Shakim Phillips on a 75-yard catch and run late in Maryland's win. 

Saturday night was just the third career game of Hill's young college career.

"That's just something that we try to stress to all of our players, that It doesn't matter where you started on the depth chart," Edsall said. "You better be practicing and you better be mentally sharp in the meetings because there could come a time where you're going to get out there when you least expect it and you've got to get the job done."