COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It seems like ages ago Taivon Jacobs was a star-studded receiver/track athlete with a 4.4 40-yard dash coming out of Suitland High School (District Heights, Md.), and ready to join Urban Meyer at mighty Ohio State. Meanwhile, older brother Levern Jacobs had been toiling in the prep school ranks, hoping to elevate his recruiting resume beyond his lone offer, Marshall, where he first committed coming out of Suitland the year before.
Jacobs, Terps Receivers Peaking
My times have changed.
Taivon, the younger, faster, and more highly-touted of the Jacobs boys, remains sidelined this season, as he has been much of his Terps career, the junior still battling knee injuries. Ohio State eased out of its pledge to the former four-star slot receiver late in the process, and he found his way to College Park, where his older brother and now senior Levern got a late offer in December of his prep season and jumped at the chance to join the Terps.
On Nov. 12 the Terps face Ohio State and Meyer again, and Levern Jacobs is peaking at just the right time in a bit of a checkered career for himself.
Two seasons ago he was suspended for the season for a University student conduct code infraction, for which he was later cleared, and this year the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder began the season as a reserve (even though he was Maryland's top pro prospect at least on paper) after having a slow off-season and spring under new head coach D.J. Durkin.
He's back on top of his game now, tied for second on the team with 30 catches, 27 of which have come in the last four games after catching just three balls through the first five. Senior transfer Teldrick Morgan leads the Terps with 31 receptions.
Meanwhile, though Maryland's defense continues to struggle, the offense continues to show promise, hanging 367 yards on No. 2 Michigan last week, the second-most the Wolverines have allowed this season. Senior quarterback Perry Hills is expected back in the lineup this weekend after missing more than a half at Michigan after a dubious hit that re-aggravated his throwing shoulder. Combined with a soaring Jacobs, and the Terps steady run game, the Terps have a chance at least to continue to pile up yards, and hopefully points, on the offensive side, and potentially stay in games, though OSU brings a Top 5 defense and the best team speed the Terps have faced all year.
"I think this is another great opportunity, a great team for us if we can bring our 'A' game," Levern Jacobs said. "They are playing at a really high level right now, probably one of the best defenses in the country."
Jacobs caught the tail end of OSU's dismantling of Nebraska last week on television, and what jumped out most to him were the defense's two 'pick-sixs' against the Cornhuskers in their 62-3 rout of the No. 10 team in the country, as OSU appeared to finally find its season stride with so much youth learning on the job.
"This is another great week of opportunity for us," Jacobs said. "They like lead the nation in pick-sixes, so that catches your eye for sure."
Jacobs said the offense has been improving with its balance more each week, and he has simply waited for his number to be called and is making the most of it. Getting off press coverage and winning one-on-one battles will be big this week, especially, something he and the Terps receiving corps have been doing a good job of late with.
"We weren't throwing the ball as much as the beginning of the year because we didn't really have to, and now that we are playing these bigger teams we have to start to get more balanced," Jacobs said. "And it is giving the receivers the chance to make plays and I think the receivers have been doing that."
Jacobs, along with sophomore D.J. Moore (30 catches, team-leading 5 TD receptions) and the senior Morgan, have been getting good separation on double moves and the like, while the short passing game off play-action and the Terps solid run game allowed it to roll, at least between the 30s, last week at Michigan.
"I think that helped us out a lot," Jacobs said of the Michigan performance of moving the ball and boosting confidence. "Michigan was one of the best defenses in the country and we kinda showed we could move the ball on anybody. But one of our biggest things right now is we got to find out how to finish because we were able to move the ball up and down the field on them but we weren't able to finish drives and execute in the red zone."
Jacobs said the success the Terps had at OSU last year, when the game was tied 21-21 in the third quarter before trailing off in the end, gives them encouragement as well. But this year the Buckeyes are faster as a team defensively, and likely won't be allowing another 170 yards on the ground by quarterback Hills, who ran wild in the zone read in Randy Edsall's final game as Terps head coach.
"Last year, going up against them, like any team there are things we can attack. They put on their pants the same way as anybody does. But they have good athletes all around the board on defense, but nobody is perfect so we got to figure out what those [weaknesses] are this week."
Jacobs believes Hills will be able to go at quarterback, and said rhythm with one passer is always good. Last week three Terps quarterbacks played at Michigan, and he said the receivers have been ready for each. Hill's interceptions (three) are way down this year, and when he is healthy he still gives the Terps their best chance for success in the offense. He has been spreading the ball around to the receiver crew of late, while Rowe also had success distributing the ball last week in his first extended play this season before two picks reared their ugly head once again for the volatile thrower who can be so hot and cold.
"We all know Perry is a tough guy, and he will play through anything. That is why he is one of the leaders of the team. He will play through anything and the team is grateful for it," Jacobs said.
Meanwhile, Jacobs said Caleb Rowe is a gunslinger as everyone knows, and "he can throw the ball 60, 70 yards, things like that. He is one of our most accurate quarterbacks." He added Tyrrell Pigrome, the freshman, has shown a lot of promise "but sometimes you can tell he is a freshman. But at times he has played like a senior, too, with his run and play-action and things like that."
Regardless, Jacobs is in a good rhythm after being 'AWOL' through the first five games of the season. He remains a prospect that has a chance to play on Sundays, and currently ranks 8th in school history with 119 receptions despite the slow start in 2016.
"I just have been getting the ball, coach has been putting me in a good position to get the ball, and I have just gone out there, be it man-to-man or what not, and done the things needed to do in Big Ten press-man defenses. I have done a good job week in and week out of doing a good job beating my man," he said.
Jacobs is also excited for the future, one he sees hopefully including a healthy kid brother Taivon next year. Taivon Jacobs played last year in the OSU game out there and had some moments, while two years ago Levern missed the game, Maryland's first B1G Ten home game after joining the league, while under the suspension.
"I definitely see growth in the program," Levern Jacobs said. "With the freshmen and sophomores and things like that...and I think we came a long way because last year it was no secret we were 3-9. So this year we can do nothing but improve. All you can do is go up from here, and with the new facility being built, I think the program is looking nothing but up. I can't wait to see what Maryland look through the years to come.
On Taivon, who has yet to see the field this year and likely won't as he rehab continues, big brother said:
"He is doing well, just preparing for his time to come, and all he can be is patient," Levern said. "And I don't remember much about [Taivon's former OSU pledge] beyond he just tried to be all about Maryland after he committed here as he’s been all along."
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