Maryland cornerback Will Likely went in for one play on offense in the team's loss at Ohio State, but against Penn State this Saturday, interim head coach Mike Locksley loosened his grip on the Likely-offense leash quite a bit.
Putting Likely in on offense makes sense. He's a tremendous open-field runner who excels at making people miss and breaking tackles, and has many of the same attributes as Stefon Diggs, whom he stole the punt-return job from upon his arrival to College Park.
Likely was a considerable part of Maryland's offense against the Nittany Lions, coming in on several series. He broke a few tackles and made some defenders miss on a 17-yard carry in the second quarter, which was a peek at what this offense could look like if it chooses to utilize Likely more often. He finished the day with four carries for 30 yards.
Even when he wasn't touching the ball, Likely had a tremendous effect on the defense. On most of the plays he particpated in, Likely would go in motion before the snap and the quarterback would fake a reverse to him before turning around and throwing a quick pass to a receiver on the outside. While none of these plays were huge gainers, Likely always took a huge portion of the defense's attention away from the guy who actually had the ball.
"He's just an overall talented dude," running back Brandon Ross said. "He had a couple good runs today, and he's just a weapon on both sides of the ball, and that's what coach [Locksley] saw."
However, playing Likely on defense comes at a cost. It's not unheard of that a player in college football would see time on both sides of the ball, but no player can play the entire game on offense, defense AND special teams. Combining a heavy dose of offensive plays with Likely's already full-time particpation returning kicks would not be a logical solution.
A similar case to this is that of UCLA and linebacker Myles Jack. Recruited as a linebacker, the team took advantage of Jack's spectacular athletic ability by putting him at running back, and did so with great success. He finished 2013 as the PAC-12 offensive and defensive freshman of the year.
In Jack's case, he stayed mainly a defensive player, only averaging two carries per game his freshman and sophomore years, according to cfbstats.com. As a freshman, he had seven rushing touchdowns and averaged over seven yards per carry, but then saw his productivity decrease as a sophomore, only averaging four yards per carry, before getting hurt three games into his junior season.
The Bruins elected to have Jack focus on his defense, and even after suffering a season-ending knee injury this year, he's expected to be a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Chances are he wouldn't have become such a dominant defensive player if he had spent half of his time focusing on offense.
The Terrapins face a similar problem with Likely.
Objectively speaking, Maryland's secondary did not play well against Penn State. In the week before the game, Maryland linebacker Jermaine Carter said big plays were really putting the team in a hole on defense. This game was no different. Maryland's defensive backs were often outmatched against Penn State's receviers, giving up long completions and often getting out-jumped or out-muscled for balls. Likely is undoubtedly the team's best corner, and he'll need to be at his best for the Terps to have their best chance at winning another football game this season.
However, Maryland's offense looked its best when Likely was on the field. It'll be interesting to see how Locksley approaches this situation when the Terps take on the No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes next week.