The news spread through the locker room in the hour after Maryland staved off James Madison 38-35 in its home opener Saturday night, hitting the stunned Terrapins hard even as they tried to celebrate an overtime victory.
The relief of surviving a close call was offset by the loss of cornerback Nolan Carroll, who suffered a broken tibia and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
“I think losing Nolan is pretty tough,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “He’s one of the premier corners in the ACC. To lose a senior, one of your best players, that’s always tough. It’s gut-check time. We need guys to step up. Nolan’s not coming back. We don’t have a time machine around here.”
If the Terps (1-1) did, they probably would want to go back a couple of weeks to ensure their defensive backfield, considered a near-certain strength at the start of the season, remained intact.
Two games into the season, Maryland is down half of its senior-laden starting secondary. Strong safety Jamari McCollough limped off in the first quarter of the opener at California with a left ankle injury and wore a walking boot to Saturday’s game. It’s unknown how long he will be out.
Unpleasant though it was to lose the savvy McCollough, the Terps at least possessed the comfort of a known quantity behind him. Kenny Tate was one of Maryland’s camp stars last month, and the bulky sophomore made seven tackles against James Madison in his first career start.
The Terps’ backup cornerbacks are much longer on uncertainty, especially compared with Carroll. The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder was an ideal fit for a scheme dependent on physical corners with cover skills, and opponents demonstrated a reluctance to throw it Carroll’s way.
The reserves most likely to play extensively in Carroll’s stead are sophomores Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes, both of whom appeared almost exclusively on special teams before this season.
Sixth-year senior Richard Taylor is an option, as is true freshman Dexter McDougle - whom coach Ralph Friedgen indicated last week likely would be forced to play if the Terps faced any injuries.
Now they will find out soon enough who can fill Carroll’s void.
“We prepare everybody as a starter,” defensive tackle Travis Ivey said. “That’s something coaches have been harping on to some of the young guys that don’t start, that they have to be ready at any time.”
Whatever combination of backups are thrust into action will step into a precarious situation. Of 120 major-college teams, Maryland ranks 108th in total defense, 113th in scoring defense, 114th in rushing defense and 117th in pass efficiency defense.
All four figures are last in the ACC, and playing without the roster’s top cornerback won’t help. But there’s little the Terps can do other than try to improve.
“Nobody’s going to cry for you,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “Next Saturday when the game starts and they blow the whistle, nobody cares. So I don’t even worry about it.”
Some concern, however, will be saved for Carroll. It was clear his injury was serious the moment the cart that came onto the field to collect him veered toward an ambulance rather than the locker room, and Maryland will miss the fifth-year senior’s quiet steadiness the rest of the season.
Teammates - most of whom voted for Carroll as one of the Terps’ four permanent captains last month - were sympathetic for a player who switched from wide receiver to cornerback two years into his career before eventually emerging as a vital contributor in his final season.
“It’s a guy who busted his [butt] for his senior year,” linebacker Alex Wujciak said. “I don’t know what the prognosis is for something like that, but we’re going to miss him for however long he’s out.”
Notes - Like McCollough, it appears unlikely that left tackle Bruce Campbell (turf toe) will be ready for this week.
“It doesn’t look that way,” Friedgen said. “We’re hoping for the following week.” …
Friedgen said sophomore tackle Tyler Bowen held up in his first action. Bowen, who has battled foot injuries since arriving, is likely to miss practice Tuesday as a precaution.