Anthony McFarland Jr., promising receivers have Maryland positioned for bright future on offense

In the moments after last Saturday’s 52-51 overtime defeat to No. 10 Ohio State at Maryland Stadium, interim coach and offensive coordinator Matt Canada was already looking toward the future.

Canada was not only talking about the Terps rebounding from the circumstances surrounding their crushing defeat to the Buckeyes in order to get ready to play at No. 12 Penn State on Saturday. He was talking about next season and beyond.

“This program is on the rise,” Canada said. “Everybody knows that if you’re actually paying attention, because there’s a bunch of talent on the edge out there. Those young wideouts can play. The running backs can play.

“I said it a few weeks ago — there’s only one ball. That’s the biggest problem that’s going to be here. There’s only one ball and a lot of good skill players here to spread the ball around and to make plays with.”

Barring a mass exodus after the season, the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair on June 13 and the firing of third-year coach DJ Durkin on Oct. 31 might not have as negative of an effect on the program’s short-term future on the field as many would expect.

The talent Durkin and his staff had amassed the past two years might be able to sustain some level of respectability for a couple of seasons, until the fallout from this year’s recruiting — currently 87th after two top-30 classes — can be felt on the field.

Redshirt freshman running back Anthony McFarland Jr. goes into Saturday’s regular-season finale looking for his third straight game with at least 200 rushing yards after getting 298 — second in school history — against Ohio State and 210 against Indiana.

McFarland’s early touchdown runs of 81 and 75 yards against the Buckeyes helped the Terps take leads of 17-3 and 24-10. Even after Ohio State started to catch up and finally drew even at 31, Maryland kept making plays before a failed 2-point conversion pass in overtime ended the game.

“I feel like at the beginning of the season, we always knew we could play with anybody in the country. We proved that when we played Texas,” McFarland said after practice Tuesday. “I think competing with O-State and just putting up big points and just playing hard football for 60 minutes really showed us we can play with anybody in the country and in the Big Ten.”

A lot of it has to do with Maryland’s deep group of freshman receivers.

Jeshaun Jones is again making the kind of plays that highlighted his historic debut against then-No. 23 Texas when he had a hand in touchdowns on each of his first three touches in a 34-29 victory at FedEx Field.

Fellow freshmen wide receivers Dontay Demus and Darryl Jones are starting to make big plays too.

“From what I’ve heard from the older guys, our practice habits weren’t as good at first and they’re starting to get better,” said Jeshaun Jones, who has caught touchdown passes in each of the past two games and has five this season. “That’s what’s helping us come along.”

The 6-foot-4, 202-pound Demus, who caught just two passes for 14 yards in the first seven games, has eight receptions for 229 yards over the past four, including four catches for 98 yards Nov. 10 at Indiana.

“Just being in the film room and breaking stuff down just helps make the game go so much smoother,” Demus said.

Asked about the 51-yard reception against the Hoosiers that helped set up a 15-yard touchdown catch by Jones, as well as a 56-yarder against the Buckeyes, Demus said, “I guess that what what they [brought] me in for.”

That’s what Jeshaun Jones and Darryl Jones, who was ruled out at the 1-yard line on a 60-yard reception late in regulation against Ohio State, were also brought to Maryland to do. The biggest problem this season has been getting them the ball.

Before he suffered a season-ending torn ACL against Indiana, redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill had trouble connecting with his receivers down the field, often overthrowing or underthrowing them.

As many big plays as redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome seemed to make against the Hoosiers two weeks ago subbing for the injured Hill and then starting last week against the Buckeyes, there were more than a few opportunities he missed.

If Penn State loads up on the line of scrimmage in an effort to stop McFarland on Saturday, it will be up to Pigrome and his receivers to make enough plays to keep the game competitive. If McFarland runs wild again, it will also help the receivers get open.

“I always say that the receivers are my favorite [players] on the team,” McFarland said, only half-joking. “They’re just loaded — loaded. I can name like eight of those guys that can just make plays.

“It definitely starts with the seniors like Taivon [Jacobs] and Jahrvis [Davenport] being the leaders and the freshmen just coming along. I feel like they’re developing each week. I think the future is bright for those guys.”

Canada knows that whoever is coaching the Terps next season — and a win Saturday will enhance his own chances to be hired on a permanent basis — will be inheriting a lot of talent, in particular at wide receiver.

“Waiting for those guys to have those big moments in those big games and those big plays,” Canada said Tuesday. “Some of it is dictated by play call, so we’ll put that on me. … A couple games we didn’t play well and the weather did not allow us to really throw the football.

“Therefore the wideouts, especially the guys you’re referring to who make those big plays down the field, weren’t able to make those plays. It’s a combination of all those things, but they have grown. They’ve done a tremendous job learning, getting better. Those four true freshman wide receivers are very, very good.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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