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Anthony McFarland broke out in 2018, and he returns as Maryland’s biggest offensive star

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Running Backs Week turns its focus to the Terps’ latest 1,000-yard rusher.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

We’re previewing Maryland football’s roster one position group at a time this summer. This week, we’re focusing on the running backs, which should be the Terps’ strongest position group in 2019.

Maryland returns five running backs, but the operation will start with redshirt sophomore Anthony McFarland. After missing the 2017 season as he recovered from injury, McFarland broke out late last fall and finished with over 1,000 yards for the year. Now he’s perhaps the centerpiece of the Terps’ new offense.

Anthony McFarland, RB, No. 5

Height: 5’8
Weight: 193
Year: Redshirt sophomore
Hometown: Hyattsville, Md.
High school: DeMatha Catholic

2018/career stats: 131 rush, 1,034 yds, 4 TDs; 7 rec, 73 yds

The background

McFarland was the No. 3 all-purpose back and No. 99 overall player in the country in the 2017 class, and was still highly coveted despite suffering a leg injury and missing his senior season at DeMatha. He was long expected to pledge to Miami, but the week before National Signing Day, he committed to the hometown Terps in a Snapchat story that took a couple hours to complete (yeah, seriously).

That injury kept McFarland sidelined in 2017, and he entered his redshirt freshman season as an intriguing option in a young, talented backfield. His pass-catching impressed teams on the recruiting trail, and he had a 46-yard catch against Bowling Green in Week 2. McFarland followed with back-to-back 100-yard games against Temple and Minnesota, and was a consistent rotational piece all season. But then ...

McFarland took off at the end of 2018.

Through Maryland’s first nine games last season, McFarland had 514 rushing yards on 75 carries. Then he ripped off 210 yards on 29 carries against Indiana, a game in which the Terps rallied from an early deficit and an ACL injury to quarterback Kasim Hill to take a late lead (they lost 34-32).

And that was only the warm-up. Against No. 9 Ohio State, McFarland took the game’s second play from scrimmage 81 yards to the house. When Maryland got the ball back, he broke free for another touchdown, this time from 75 yards out. McFarland tallied 153 rushing yards in the first quarter, 228 in the first half and 298 by the final whistle.

Maryland lost both of these games, and McFarland finished his season with a six-rush, 12-yard outing against Penn State. But he’d already established himself as the star of the season, and was a primary reason Terps fans entered the offseason with optimism for the near future, even when they didn’t know who the new coach would be.

Now he’s the ace of a crowded Terps backfield.

Ty Johnson, whose injury late last season allowed McFarland to become the Terps’ lead back, is on the Detroit Lions now, but Maryland still has more talent at this position than any other. Javon Leake scored seven rushing touchdowns last season and had a 140-yard game with only five carries. Tayon Fleet-Davis found the end zone five times in 2018, Lorenzo Harrison III has been a fixture since his arrival and Jake Funk is far better than an afterthought if healthy.

Still, McFarland is the kind of talent that stands out even in a group like this. His 7.9 yards per carry were seventh in the country among qualified running backs, and his speed is elite at any level. At the Terps’ spring game, McFarland took his first carry 34 yards for a touchdown, if only to remind everyone he was on another level.

McFarland will be draft-eligible after this season, and while his name hasn’t come up much as a top running back in 2020 — other notables include Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, among others — but another productive season could change that. He’s also got three years of eligibility remaining, and staying for even two could vault him into historic territory at Maryland. Whatever happens, though, should be exciting to watch.