It probably surprised fans to see freshman Will Likely in the game as the punt returner in the first quarter of Maryland’s 43-10 victory over Florida International.
It turns out that it also surprised Maryland coach Randy Edsall.
“That’s my fault,” Edsall said. “Will shouldn’t have been back there in the first place. Somebody made a substitution to put him back there.”
Maryland’s special teams coach is Andre Powell, but Edsall didn’t say whether he was the coach who sent Likely onto the field with the Terps leading, 6-0, early in the game.
“I talked to that person that did that, and he understands that he doesn’t make those decisions,” Edsall said.
Returning punts had been thought to be the sole responsibility of sophomore standout Stefon Diggs. Likely, a promising returner and cornerback, fumbled the 56-yard punt from Florida International’s Chris Ayers in the first quarter. The Golden Panthers recovered on Maryland’s 15, setting up a field goal.
Edsall said Likely took his eyes off the ball while it was in the air to look at the Golden Panthers’ coverage.
“Will will never make that mistake again, I guarantee you,” Edsall said.
Diggs returned on Florida International’s next punt after Likely’s fumble, but Likely got another chance in the fourth quarter and handled the attempt cleanly. He also entered the game as a cornerback in the second half.
Rowe plays in second half
On Saturday, Edsall answered one of the pressing questions remaining from training camp — who is the Terps’ backup quarterback?
With the Terps ahead of the Golden Panthers, 40-10, Edsall pulled starting quarterback C.J. Brown and inserted Caleb Rowe in the final minutes of the third quarter. Coaches had said previously that they would like for opportunities to get the backup some game action.
“We ended up making a decision toward the end of the week that if we were going to use a No. 2 that it would be Caleb,” Edsall said. “I saw some things out of him in practice.”
Rowe, a sophomore who beat out junior Ricardo Young and sophomore Perry Hills to become the backup, completed 5 of 6 passes for 44 yards Saturday.
Battle of the running backs
One of the most heavily watched competitions during Maryland’s training camp was the battle between sophomore tailbacks Brandon Ross and Albert Reid.
Ross earned the starting role, but it turned out that Reid also had plenty of action in the season opener. Reid entered in the first half — when the game was still competitive — and ran effectively. He rushed for 45 yards on nine carries in the win, including a 28-yard gain.
Ross, whose longest run was 10 yards, finished with 21 yards on 10 carries.
Both runners were aided by Brown's success at running the read-option. Brown's own rushing kept the defense from keying on the tailbacks.
The Terps’ best running back Saturday, at least statistically, turned out to be freshman Jacquille Veii, who had eight carries for 53 yards.
Big debut for Long
Redshirt junior Deon Long, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, made his first game with the Terps count.
Long, originally from Washington, D.C., had nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s win. Coaches view him as a complement to Diggs, the team’s star.
“C.J. and I have had chemistry since the first 7-on-7,” Long said. “During the summer on Saturday nights, sometimes we would come out here and turn on the lights on the field and get work in.”
Long, who missed much of training camp with an unspecified back injury, said Saturday that he broke three bones in his lower back.
Not as young as others
The Terps, who have only four senior starters, are a young team — but they're not as young as the Golden Panthers.
Sixty-eight percent of Florida International’s players are underclassmen, one of the highest percentages in the nation, according to a survey by college football analyst Phil Steele.
The Golden Panthers are young in other ways, too. It’s their first year in Conference USA and their first season under coach Ron Turner. Only one starter on offense and four starters on defense returned this season.
Nearly two-thirds of Maryland’s roster is comprised of underclassmen, making the Terps the 13th youngest team from a Bowl Championship Series conference, according to Steele.