The setup was there for Maryland to stumble Thursday night at Virginia Tech all along, for reasons already reasonably well known.
Lane Stadium is a snakepit. It was a Thursday night. The Hokies direly needed a victory.
But the clincher in many respects was when fullback Cory Jackson was listed as questionable.
Jackson is the kind of guy who plays under nearly every circumstance. And, indeed, he did wind up playing (though not starting) on Thursday. (In fact, it took a broken hand – kind of an important appendage for a fullback – to keep him out last year, and then, only for a game).
But the rugged junior might just be the most vital player to Maryland’s offensive success.
That’s not an exaggeration. Obviously, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Chris Turner and Edwin Williams and Da’Rel Scott are all important.
But when Scott is barreling ahead, he usually has Jackson clearing a hole. When Turner needs a sure-handed place to dump it off, Jackson is often around. When Heyward-Bey is torching a defensive back, Jackson is often used in pass protection.
That’s a very simplified explanation. But there are several people around Maryland’s football complex who will extol Jackson’s value, including the big fella himself.
“He might be our MVP and unsuing hero,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “He does all the dirty work. When he’s playing well, we’re playing well. It definitely had an impact on our running game.”
Jackson suffered his knee injury late in the Oct. 25 N.C. State game, and Friedgen didn’t think he’d be able to play against the Hokies. He stayed in the team house for treatment for part of the week, but still made the trip.
Redshirt freshman Taylor Watson was in for the first series and for part of the game, though a limited Jackson still played about 20 snaps.
“He hasn’t practiced since the N.C. State game,” Friedgen said. “I was amazed he knew what to do.”
There will be plenty of questions about Scott’s shoulder this week. That’s natural. The sophomore struggled to do much of anything behind a scuffling line, and Friedgen acknowledged it wasn’t Scott’s best day, either.
But if Maryland is to have only one of its starting running backs at full strength against North Carolina, it would be better off if that guy is Jackson.