Opposing coaches could afford to be single-minded last season in scouting Maryland receivers. After Stefon Diggs, everyone else was merely an afterthought.
In his freshman season, Diggs commanded the attention of defenses on the way to catching 54 passes for 848 yards and six touchdowns. No other Terp had even half of Diggs' receiving total.
This season is different. After Saturday's 27-26 victory over Virginia, Deon Long — the transfer from Iowa Western Community College — is Maryland's leading receiver with 28 catches for 446 yards and a touchdown. Diggs is second with 26 receptions for 520 yards and three touchdowns.
It has required a certain maturity for Diggs — who was Maryland's most celebrated recruit in years — to partially cede the spotlight. Coaches say Diggs, who is intensely competitive, has been willing to be a decoy if it helps open the field for Long.
Together, they have become one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's most dangerous receiver tandems.
"They make crazy catches week after week," said Maryland tight end Dave Stinebaugh (Perry Hall), whose 12-yard touchdown reception from Caleb Rowe with 5:14 remaining turned out to be the game-winner on Saturday after Virginia kicker Alec Vozenilek missed a 42-yard field goal in the final seconds.
Diggs caught six passes for 96 yards in Saturday's win, which moved the Terps (5-1, 1-1 ACC) within one game of bowl eligiblity. The sophomore was coming off consecutive weeks of two receptions apiece and seemed due for a splashy, Diggs-like performance.
Long caught four passes for 98 yards against the Cavaliers, including the day's biggest play: a 47-yard, fourth-quarter catch in which he leaped between defenders Anthony Harris and DreQuan Hoskey and came down with the ball on the Virginia 13.
Maryland trailed 26-20 at the time and faced a third-and-22. Stinebaugh's score came two plays later.
Diggs was among the first Terps on the field to reach Long and congratulate him.
"I was just so happy for him that he came down with it," Diggs said. "He was real firm with the ball, he caught it at its highest point. I'm always happy for Deon."
Maryland coach Randy Edsall tells his quarterbacks — Rowe and C.J. Brown — to take shots to Long and Diggs that allow the receivers to use their athleticism.
Brown, the usual starter, missed Saturday's game with a concussion, but Edsall said Sunday that Brown has been cleared to return to full football activities. The Terps travel to Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2 ACC) on Saturday.
Edsall said Long's catch provided "a good lesson for Caleb and C.J. If you put the ball in a position where he and Stefon can go fight and jump, they are going to be able to make some plays. We have to do more of that."
Long distinguished himself in another way on Saturday, too. Coaches have emphasizedthe need for Terps receivers to block more effectively.
Long clearly was blocking on a significant play Saturday — a 77-yard, first-quarter swing pass to running back Brandon Ross that set up Maryland's first touchdown.
Ross had a convoy of blockers as he made his way toward the end zone before being tackled on the 2. It was one of Maryland's most impressively-blocked plays this season.
"Deon was the guy that really escorted him down the field," Edsall said. "I thought [the receivers] blocked a little better yesterday but they're still nowhere near where they need to be."
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