When senior cornerback and team captain Will Likely was injured early in the second quarter of last week's 31-10 home loss to Minnesota, first-year coach DJ Durkin didn't have to tell the other seniors on the defense that they needed be more active in terms of leadership.
Senior defensive end Roman Braglio, who has played through a hand injury for most of the season, said it was understood what had to be done, just as players on offense didn't have to be reminded about the absence of fifth-year senior quarterback Perry Hills, who was sitting out the game with a shoulder injury.
"Injuries unfortunately are a part of our game, so when someone goes down, it's the next man up," Braglio (McDonogh) said Tuesday.
It isn't clear whether Maryland (4-2, 1-2) will have either Likely or Hills back for Saturday's home game against slumping Michigan State (2-4, 0-3). Durkin said at his regular news conference Tuesday that the status for both players has yet to be decided for this week's game.
"We're determining the best course of action here right now as to what we're going to do," Durkin said, somewhat cryptically. "I don't have a definitive status on those guys. We'll have further updates later in the week."
As of Tuesday, Hills and Likely are both listed as starters. But Hills was listed as a starter throughout the week leading up to Minnesota, and Durkin never announced that true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome would instead make his first college start.
Likely is also listed as a starter at both kick and punt return and as a co-starter at slot receiver, though he hasn't played much on offense recently.
Durkin said that dealing with injuries to key players is part of building a program.
"In football, it happens — you have injuries," Durkin said. "You can't get caught up in, 'Well this happened so this happened.' It's part of it. Man down, the next man's got to hop up. That's part of a team, building a roster. Guys have an understanding of that.
"We're in obviously the beginning stages of that, but we're certainly working at it, getting better and learning what it's all about. We're treating everything right now as a coaching staff as an opportunity to learn, a teachable moment, because we're building this for the long-term and the vision to where this is going ahead."
The Terps missed both Hills and Likely, and to a certain extent senior Trey Edmunds, who had been a key contributor on special teams while his reps at running back decreased with the emergence of freshman Lorenzo Harrison and sophomore Ty Johnson. Edmunds broke his right foot at practice after the loss at Penn State on Oct. 8, and is expected to miss several weeks.
"One person goes down, no matter who it is, we're [not] going to go, 'God, we really miss him,'" senior offensive tackle Michael Dunn said. "We'd love to have him, but the next guy's got to step it up. We have a lot of confidence in Piggy [Pigrome]. That's why he was the guy who came in. If he's still playing [Saturday] I have all the confidence in the world that he'll lead us to a victory."
After acknowledging during Monday's teleconference that the loss of Hills has contributed to a dropoff in productivity from the offense, particularly in the running game, Durkin said Tuesday he hasn't seen his team's collective confidence waver or its togetherness fracture.
"We've got a group of guys that really care about one another and care about what they're doing and what the outcome is," Durkin said. "We just have to work, to continue to improve, continue to stay with it."
Durkin said he looks at the team's two-game losing streak much in the same way he viewed the 4-0 start.
"It's a learning process. Ot's kind of unchartered waters for our guys a little — 4-0 was unchartered waters for us," he said. "Now, two [losses] in a row — what do we do from here? To me, the answer is, 'Go work, go put that smile on your face and get with the guys that you love and care about, which is our team…We certainly have enough guys to do that and get it corrected."
Two more, namely Hills and Likely, certainly will help.
Notes: As of Tuesday, the only changes to the depth chart after the Minnesota game involved moving junior Chandler Burkett from backup defensive end to a co-starter at linebacker, along with junior Jesse Aniebonam, as well as moving sophomore JC Jackson back up to co-starter at cornerback alongside freshman Tino Ellis, who made his first start against the Gophers after replacing Jackson.