A Likely Story

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Amongst the wreckage of Saturday's 20-3 home loss to Syracuse were few positives.But one had to be the play of freshman corner Will Likely, who was thrust into a starting role this season when both of Maryland's starting corners were injured.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Amongst the wreckage of Saturday's 20-3 home loss to Syracuse were few positives.

But one had to be the play of freshman corner Will Likely, who was thrust into a starting role this season when both of Maryland's starting corners were injured. Senior corner Dexter McDougle is out for the year following shoulder surgery, while opposite him junior J.J. Johnson is still battling turf toe, with a return time still unknown.

But Likely, who is also filling in on returns now that Stefon Diggs is out for the year, came up with his first career pick against the Orange last night as he continues to build on his early resume, which now includes seven starts. He also rates fourth on the team in tackles with 43.

While the defense endured a galling, 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive on the first series, which featured two fourth-down conversions, including one for the first score, Maryland bent but did not break with only two field goals allowed until SU scored its second and final touchdown in the fourth quarter. This despite no support from the offense and short fields following turnovers.

But once again, broken or missed tackles, no pressure on the quarterback (Maryland had zero sacks) and a run defense that eventually gave up 242 yards (a healthy 5.4 yards per carry), doomed the under-manned and gassed defense again.

Missing this week was starting linebacker and leading tackle Cole Farrand, who had 23 stops two weeks ago against Clemson, as well as safety Anthony Nixon (toe), who was injured at Wake Forest. Linebacker L.A. Goree (back) was not expected to play, but came in during the second half.

But Likely, who is an eager learner and aggressive press-man, saw some keys on SU game film this week that he exploited for his first pick. It was a diving grab on an inside slant, which came in the second quarter sandwiched around two C.J. Brown turnovers and the Terps badly needing a sudden-change play. Likely's had three pass breakups this season (second best on the team) and a few near-picks as he's gotten his feet wet quickly as a rookie.

"I was watching film. And every time they were in twos back they tried to do the bubble to bring the twos, the DB guys, to the bubble and then try and come back on the slant," Likely said. "And I just read the slant."

The Terps couldn't take advantage of either SU turnover, which also included a fumble caused by Andre Monroe that linebacker Alex Twine pounced on.

Likely said the defense was flat on the first drive but stepped it up later, "as we just tried to make plays for the offense." He said the offense was having its ups and downs so "we had to make plays for them."

Likely said the team did not lack emotion, though that appeared the case in a seemingly listless game. He also said the Terps would get their elusive sixth win.

"We are going to come back tomorrow and we're going to work hard and we're not worrying about the sixth win because a win is a win and we're going to get that," Likely said. "And that's a fact."

Likely has also stepped in in the return game, and is inching closer to breaking one he believes. He had long returns of 22 yards (kick return) and 19 (punt return) Saturday after some 40-plus ones earlier this season. While the undersized Likely still has much to learn and has been burned defensively a few times, he's gaining valuable reps for the future as a fixture in the secondary, which loses starters like McDougle and Isaac Goins after this season.

And a few special teams or defensive scores would be a welcome sight now given the offense's woes week to week. He made defenders miss and had some good cutback runs Saturday in the return game. Against FSU a month ago, Likely had 72 yards on four returns, while he led the team with eight tackles at Wake Forest.

"Yeah, it's coming. It's close. I am going to get there," Likely said of breaking one for a score after the early-season adversity of dropping two boots.

Meanwhile, junior nose tackle Darius Kilgo, who didn't register a tackle Saturday, said he didn't believe the team came out uninspired what with so much on the line and bowl aspirations still alive. He said it was more about executing game plans, which he said SU had the better of.

"I don't think we came out flat," Kilgo said. "I think we came out and made a couple mistakes, and turning the ball over, and also on defense they were able to split us a couple places. I don't think we came unprepared at all. I just think they had a better game plan."

Kilgo said the Syracuse backs, led by Jerome Smith (28 attempts for 118, two touchdowns), were cutting back and finding gaps and enjoyed several gash plays from it. The Terps, down their best run support ‘backer in Farrand, weren't fitting or filling well, and Orange backs were easily getting to the second level. And once there, the Terps were sloppy in their wrapping up and tackling once again.

Stepping in for the injured backers, Abner Logan had 10 tackles and Shawn Petty had 6, but the injured were missed as too often SU linemen got push and covered up Terps linebackers, enabling the middle to open for several big plays on the ground. Additionally, quarterback Terrel Hunt had 67 yards on seven rushes, including a 29-yarder up the gut to break the Terps back early in the fourth and set up their final touchdown two plays a later.

"It's the simple things. You know, fundamentals and techniques, that's where it all starts," Kilgo said of the defensive breakdowns, which seem to be echoed more and more each week.

It's been a few weeks that the defense has seemingly shown renewed energy (see Clemson effort), but to no avail as the offense hasn't supported, while the defense continues to lose players and tries to patch and mend on the go. The little things they were taking care of in the early going, like proper technique and wrapping up, etc., have been hit or miss of late, while the Terps lost the turnover battle again.

"It's definitely a tough position to be in. But the best thing we can do is stay prepared, stay positive, and all we can do it try to move forward from here," Kilgo said.

In the locker room and of team morale, Kilgo uttered much of the same mantra of late: "We just need guys to speak up, realize what we need to do to become better as a team. The only thing we can do is practice better, and practice transforms to the game. It's just a matter of guys taking it and applying it. Once we can get guys to apply it, then I think we'll be pretty good."

Said Likely on the team's hopes for six wins, and a pact the players made afterwards: "You can't worry about trying to get a sixth win. You just got to worry about winning. And it's never a good vibe, it's never a great feeling when you lose. So we made a pact we got to contribute anything we can to help us win. And that's what we are going to do. Everybody's got that same mentality, that same focus."

The Terps must take to the road -- and at a hostile place next week at Virginia Tech -- before they play their final home game in two weeks against a tough and smart Boston College team. That sixth win still eludes them, and two great opportunities (Wake and Syracuse) just slipped through their fingers.

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