Coach Mike Locksley said the Maryland football team is continuing to prepare for Saturday’s game even though its next opponent, Michigan, suspended in-person activities because of coronavirus issues for the second consecutive day.
Locksley, whose own program endured its own bout with COVID-19 that canceled two games and infected 23 players and seven staff members, including himself, said the idea of a contingency plan if the Wolverines pull out of Saturday’s game was “above the pay grade of the head coach at Maryland.”
“Everything that we’re doing today is all about Michigan,” he said Tuesday during his weekly media session. “That’s where our attention is. Until we hear anything differently, we’re not even going there.”
The Wolverines played on Saturday, falling 27-17 to Penn State, its fourth loss in its past five games. On Monday, coach Jim Harbaugh, the younger brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, told reporters that the program would shift to online meetings and coaching.
About two hours after Locksley spoke, Michigan announced a second straight pause on in-person activities.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we will again hold all team activities in a virtual format today,” the school said in a written statement. “We will continue to follow the prevention protocols and recommendations of our medical professionals and the health department, and do everything to keep our focus on protecting the health, safety and welfare of our student-athletes and staff.”
If Saturday’s game is called off, the Terps will lose their third game in their original eight-game schedule, falling below the six-game requirement to be eligible for the Big Ten championship game Dec. 19.
If the game continues as planned, Maryland might welcome back some of the players who tested positive for COVID-19. Four starters on offense and two more on defense were absent from Saturday’s 27-11 loss at No. 10 Indiana.
“We always have those expectations,” Locksley said of anticipating some players’ return. “We have a COVID list that we obviously operate off of. When the medical people tell me that these guys are available, we implement them back into our preparation. … We’ll play with the guys that are deemed medically able to play, and we’ve made adjustments with how we practice and how we prepare, and we’ve got a next-man-up mentality.”
Locksley did express his empathy for what the Wolverines are currently experiencing.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Michigan, having gone through what they may be going through,” he said. “The health and safety of their players and staff are at the forefront of our thought process. If we get the opportunity to compete against them this weekend, we’re excited about that opportunity.”
Back on the same page
A three-interception performance by Taulia Tagovailoa in Saturday’s loss at the Hoosiers had spurred Locksley to wonder about the sophomore quarterback’s mindset.
“I’ve got to figure out kind of what’s going on with our quarterback and make sure that we’re clean with everything that we’re asking him to do and make sure that he is very knowledgeable with where exactly we want him to go with the ball in certain situations,” he said after the game.
On Tuesday, Locksley blamed the disconnect on him being confined to his home as he recovered from the coronavirus and upsetting his usual routine of meeting Tagovailoa during the week before the game.
“I’m a creature of habit, and I think our quarterback is the same,” Locksley said. “Obviously, I was not happy with his production and the turnovers, and having to watch the film, there’s some things from a coaching standpoint that we could have done better to help our quarterback. Throwing three interceptions in a game is not acceptable at any point, but I also feel like there were some things that we could have done better as a coaching staff in an effort to make sure our quarterback always has a place to go with the football if, in fact, his primary reads aren’t there.
“These are things we’ve gotten addressed, these are things we’ve kind of gotten cleaned up after reviewing the Indiana game, and hopefully moving forward, we’ll have the ability to make sure that our quarterback has a place to go with the football.”
End of a streak
The offense had scored two touchdowns and one field goal on the opening possessions of its first three games, but that trend came to a halt when sophomore kicker Joseph Petrino pushed a 29-yard field goal attempt wide left against Indiana.
Both Locksley and junior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. said a young team like the Terps could use a fast start to generate some confidence.
“Coming out strong always gives you the momentum swing early in the game,” said Demus, who was missed by Tagovailoa in back right corner of the end zone one play before Petrino’s mistake. “We always tend to have good first drives because we’re a good fast-start team. I feel like that gives us a lot of momentum to get things started.”
Added Locksley: “It helps a young team that typically plays kind of to the ups and downs of the game, the ebb and flow, which we always want to guard against. So anything we can do to generate momentum helps our team, and I think starting off fast — whether it be on offense or defense — sometimes helps with that energy level.”
Running out of running backs?
Already poised to play without fifth-year senior and leading rusher Jake Funk because of COVID-19 issues, the running backs group could be forced to play without freshman and top backup Isaiah Jacobs.
Jacobs, who ranks third on the offense in rushing yards (61 on 19 carries), injured his hamstring in the second quarter of Saturday’s 27-11 loss at No. 12 Indiana and did not return. That left fellow freshman Peny Boone and junior Challen Faamatau as the only ball carriers against the Hoosiers.
Jacobs’ status for Saturday is uncertain, but Locksley said he likes what he has seen thus far from Jacobs and Boone, who has 19 rushing attempts for 86 yards.
“Both of those young running backs continue to impress me, and they continue to grow with every rep and every play they get to play,” he said. “So we’ll be better for the experience these guys have gained and the opportunities that they’ve been presented, and hopefully we can get some guys healthy and back in the fold, which builds our depth back up.”
>> Indiana coach Tom Allen announced Monday that redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. had torn his right ACL during a 21-yard scamper in the third quarter of Saturday’s win against the Terps, prematurely ending his season. Locksley expressed his sympathy for Penix, saying, “Our prayers are with Michael Penix as we heard the news of him possibly being out.”
>> Junior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr., junior defensive lineman Cherokee Glasgow and senior safety Antwaine Richardson will be the team captains for Saturday’s game.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM
Line: Michigan by 5