When Maryland needed one yard to score the opening touchdown against Michigan State, its first attempt didn’t go through star running back Roman Hemby, his powerful backfield mate Antwain Littleton II, any of the Terps’ receivers or a tight end that entered the game atop all of college football in receiving yardage.
Instead, after a playfake that brought every Spartan defender surging toward the line of scrimmage, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa rolled to his right and threw to a wide-open senior linebacker-playing-fullback who hadn’t scored a touchdown since high school.
“It was a good surprise for me,” Sean Greeley said.
His catch is an extreme example of Maryland’s offensive diversity. The Terps have so many viable weapons and try to spread the ball around to all of them. The width creates a necessary drop in depth. No Maryland player has crossed 900 receiving yards in coach Michael Locksley’s tenure and only one, Rakim Jarrett in 2021, has even crossed the 700-yard mark.
“We got a bunch of receivers ... we know how we want to rotate them,” Locksley said in late August. “They’ll all have roles for us. Roles change daily, roles change every game, and so I’m excited because that group is a talented group.”
Tagovailoa completed passes to eleven different players Saturday. He leads the Big Ten in passing yardage but none of his receivers are among the conference’s top ten in yards or targets. They’re bunched up right below, five players are within 14th and 35th in yards and 14th and 31st in targets.
That doesn’t even include transfer wide receiver Tyrese Chambers, who caught his first touchdown against Michigan State after a slow start to his first year with the Terps.
Jeshaun Jones encapsulates the democratic approach. The high expectations around Maryland’s receiver room last year centered around Jarrett, Dontay Demus Jr. and Florida transfer Jacob Copeland. Jones surpassed them all with 557 receiving yards.
He led the Terps with 96 receiving yards against Virginia in Week 3 and then didn’t have a single catch a week later. Tight end Corey Dyches, who finished second on last year’s team in receiving yards, totaled more than half of this year’s total in the season opener against Towson.
No Terp has been the team’s receiving leader in consecutive weeks — in order, it’s been Dyches, Kaden Prather, Jones and Tai Felton, the last of whom had a season-high 67 yards against Michigan State.
“It’s very exciting because ... even when I get subbed out I have another guy behind me that can do the job too,” Felton said of the offense’s diversity.
Locksley said last year that he writes down the number of touches he wants various players to get on his call sheet and monitors it in game. Maryland’s been innovative in how it gets those touches. It’s lined Octavian Smith Jr. in the backfield multiple times. He gained five yards on his lone rush attempt against the Spartans.
The Terps did not have an egalitarian distribution in its running game last year. Hemby had over 100 attempts than the next-highest rusher. Expect that to continue, even though he had just one more carry than Littleton Saturday. Locksley said the sophomore was “nicked up a little bit,” potentially contributing to his 1.2 yards per carry average.
The battle for second, however, is tight. Littleton had over double the carries of second-place Colby McDonald last year. He’s at 32 this year with McDonald just six behind.
“I’m so happy to see what Colby has been able to do with the opportunities that he’s earned ... he kept plugging away and ‘Twain [Littleton] opened the door for him [after being benched due to a personal foul against Charlotte]. ... The running back room is, to me, it’s one of our strengths and we have to continue to find ways to keep them all involved,” Locksley said.
That battle extends to the receivers, a position often regarded as football’s most mercurial. The Terps paid little heed to any idea that the offensive distribution would be skewed to appease any players not seeing the ball as often as they’d like.
“It’s just the system. ... I think if I tried to make one person happy that would get me in a lot of trouble,” Tagovailoa said.
Locksley was more blunt when asked about the dynamic between players and coaches: “It’s their job to keep us happy.”