An open week provided an opportunity for Maryland to get some key players healthy while also losing two to season-ending surgery as the Terrapins prepare to visit Minnesota.
Coach Mike Locksley told reporters this week that junior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones is out for the remainder of the season due to a leg injury he sustained on the second play from scrimmage of Maryland’s 66-17 loss to then-No. 7 Ohio State on Oct. 9.
The Florida native was Maryland’s third-leading receiver, with 224 yards on 18 catches in 2021. It’s the second season-ending injury for Jones in as many seasons after he missed the 2019 season due to an anterior cruciate ligament tear.
It’s another blow to a thinning receiver unit that’s already lost senior Dontay Demus for the season, also to a leg injury. But senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo emphasized that it’s also Maryland’s deepest and most talented group.
“The wide receiver group is our best group on our team, so there’s a ton of guys in there that can come and play at a high level,” Okonkwo said.
“No one’s nervous, no one’s worried. They’re all ready to go.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Terrapins (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) will look to get some help back, as Locksley is hopeful that senior defensive backs Kenny Bennett and Jakorian Bennett will be available this week after not playing against Ohio State.
In the linebacking corps, Locksley also says freshman Branden Jennings should be able to go against Minnesota (4-2, 2-1) after missing back-to-back games against the Buckeyes and then-No. 5 Iowa.
At the same time, junior Durell Nchami’s season is over, with what Locksley described as an upper-body injury that will require surgery. Nchami finishes the season with nine tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.
Maryland will try to shake off those losses and the struggles of the past two games when it heads to Minneapolis this weekend.
“They’re a very senior-laden, grad-laden program,” Locksley said of the Golden Gophers, who’ve won four of their last five games. “We’ve to to get back to creating turnovers … generating explosive plays on offense, and defensively limiting those big plays.”
“These past two weeks, we’ve struggled a lot. But a lot of the time it’s not really even been what the other team is doing, it’s just been what we weren’t doing,” Okonkwo said.
The Golden Gophers are tied for second in the Big Ten West with Purdue and boast a strong defensive front, responsible for the second-stingiest run defense in the conference. Okonkwo acknowledged the unit as one that Maryland needs to be concerned with, but also turned the focus inward, saying that turnovers and penalties have been the Terrapins’ biggest problem in recent weeks.
“Just being a more disciplined team, and just executing our stuff, that’s the things we’ve been working on over the bye week,” Okonkwo said.
Okonkwo has told some of his younger teammates not to get discouraged by being routed in consecutive games, especially for some players who might not have experienced those kinds of losses in high school.
“We don’t have guys mentally checking out,” Okonkwo said. “We understand the mistakes we’ve made in the games and we want to correct them so that we have a chance to win.”