After Maryland football head coach Mike Locksley saw Anthony McFarland Jr. catch a swing pass, get chased down by a linebacker and drop a crucial touchdown pass in the first quarter against Purdue on Oct. 12, he understood just how hampered the Terps’ star running back was.
As Locksley put it, “That’s something that never happens [with him].”
McFarland suffered a high-ankle sprain against Temple on Sept. 14 and was a limited participant at practices leading up to the matchup against the Boilermakers. But McFarland didn’t practice last week after his performance in West Lafayette, trading his No. 5 white practice jersey in for a yellow non-contact penny — similar to the ones that Maryland’s quarterbacks sport.
On Tuesday, Locksley announced that McFarland is fully healthy and expected to return to game action against No. 17 Minnesota on Saturday, which will immensely help the Terps as they attempt to not lose three consecutive games for the first time this season.
“He was happy — biggest smile — because nobody wants to sit on the sideline and watch, especially not with a talent like [McFarland],” fellow running back Javon Leake said about McFarland’s reaction, lighting up himself. “Just having him back on the field is going to be a difference maker. I know he’s going to have a lot of fun and be extra bouncy going around, running around.”
Following his injury against the Owls — a game where the redshirt sophomore received 26 carries for 132 yards and one touchdown — McFarland saw a sharp decrease in touches. Since that road matchup in Philadelphia on Sept. 14, McFarland had 20 carries for a total of 115 yards.
During that three game span, Maryland also lost another running back when redshirt junior Lorenzo Harrison III suffered a torn MCL and partially torn ACL in the first quarter against then-No. 12 Penn State. And fellow running back Jake Funk tore his left ACL against Temple.
With two running backs out for the remainder of the season and McFarland nursing his ankle, the Terps were left with just two contenders — Leake and junior Tayon Fleet-Davis. Leake received a career-high 23 carries, which is the same amount that he had in all of 2018, against the Hoosiers for 158 yards, two touchdowns and one costly fumble.
“I’ve been lucky to have some incredible backs. We had [Harrison] and [Ty Johnson] my first couple years,” offensive lineman Ellis McKennie said. “And then [McFarland] last year, Leake... it’s just a blessing to have that type of athleticism in that room that when one guy goes down the next guys picks it right back up.”
The care and support that each player has in Maryland’s running back room is genuine. So while Leake and Fleet-Davis were seeing the majority of the offensive snaps, McFarland showed no signs of animosity and was supporting his fellow backs.
“[He was] celebrating his ass off as if he scored — that’s the type of room it is,” McKennie said. “We’re the only school in the country with two, seven-touchdown rushers in one room. And [Leake and McFarland] know that with one of their success, comes both their success.”
McKennie said that he witnessed McFarland spending a lot of time in the team’s training room, ensuring that he would return to full health as soon as possible. Due his work ethic, and some natural healing, the DeMatha product’s ankle swelling has dwindled — and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Terps.
Maryland will now be able to return to its shared-backfield and give offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery and Locksley more options against the Golden Gophers on Saturday. McFarland had a dominant game against Minnesota last year, carrying the ball six times for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
With the Terps needing a crucial win with their bowl eligibility hopes depleting, one may expect the playbook to open up a bit more for the team.
“I do know he was frustrated as I was and as we were as a team that he wasn’t at 100 percent,” Locksley said. “To have a 100 percent Anthony McFarland will help the Terps.”