Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen briefly relapsed to his NFL days when he started describing his injury-decimated secondary by talking about activating a player who had yet to appear this season.
Trouble is, this isn’t the pros, and Friedgen can’t sign extra defensive backs off the street to plug several injury-created holes. Not surprisingly, the Terrapins (3-1, 0-0 ACC) could use a little help entering Saturday’s visit to No. 20 Clemson (3-1, 1-0).
Some of it could come from players recovering from injuries. Free safety Terrell Skinner is likely to return from a high ankle sprain that has cost him the last two weeks, and cornerback Nolan Carroll is questionable after missing Saturday’s 51-24 rout of Eastern Michigan with his own ankle injury.
Reserve safety Drew Robinson, who suffered a dislocated shoulder, participated in warmups Saturday and also should be back. But the group is returning to a pass defense that has yielded 279.3 yards a game, 109th in the country.
It’s a multifaceted problem with roots nearly everywhere on the defense. Maryland’s undersized defensive line simply does not account for many sacks, and the linebackers were frequently fooled last week on play-action attempts.
Then there’s the secondary, where victories over California and Eastern Michigan were accompanied by season-ending knee injuries to cornerback Richard Taylor and safety Dominique Herald.
With Carroll and Taylor both out, the Terps’ minimal depth beyond starters Kevin Barnes and Anthony Wiseman was exposed Saturday. And if Eastern Michigan could roll up 282 yards passing against a decimated defensive backfield, more-talented teams likely can do the same.
“Where we’re hurting right now is at the corner position,” Friedgen said. “Losing Richard Taylor, that hurt us. I’m hoping Michael Carter can come on, Trenton Hughes can come on and Cameron Chism can come on. If we can get some guys that can improve there, it would help us.”
Eventually, all three probably will. Carter is a junior college transfer who redshirted last year and received his first considerable playing time against California. Hughes, a redshirt freshman, has played in two games this month.
Chism could be a wild card. The true freshman wanted to redshirt this season but promised Friedgen he would be ready if needed. With Taylor’s injury, Chism was plugged into the kickoff team Saturday and is likely to earn an expanded role as the season progresses.
Still, the need to play him so quickly represents the manpower issues Maryland faces as it begins conference play.
“As long as they’re not season-ending injuries,” Barnes said. “We’ve lost Richard Taylor for the season, but Terrell Skinner and Nolan Carroll, they’ll be back. Just the fact we’ve gotten more players experience, I think it’s going to be better in the secondary in terms of depth.”
Perhaps in the long term, but the Terps still must fix their leaky pass defense quickly. The reasons for Maryland’s struggles vary from week to week. In the loss at Middle Tennessee, it was constant dinking and dunking. Against California, it was sheer exhaustion in the fourth quarter after more than a half of quality play.
On Saturday, it was typical Terps inconsistency, a reflection of a teamwide phenomenon Maryland finally would like to correct.
“Our problem is when we go ahead, we play soft instead of playing aggressive,” secondary coach Kevin Lempa said. “We have to play aggressive the whole game. We´re playing not to make mistakes and playing not to get beat instead of playing to make plays.”