When Maryland offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery was asked about running back Anthony McFarland Jr. at the team’s media day on Aug. 2, his face lit up, saying “wow” before getting into his answer. He raved about McFarland’s ability to quickly tuck the ball following a catch out of the backfield as he demonstrated the action himself.
“Those small details turn into sometimes huge plays in the game where it looks like a very simple play,” Montgomery said. “But his quickness to the tuck will let him eye up defenders and make them miss and get huge yards.
“You can get a guy to do that — understand that he gets a chance to eye up linebackers at six yards away versus three to four yards away,” Montgomery said. “Which gives him a better chance to make them miss and be more elusive.”
In a new offensive scheme orchestrated by Montgomery and backed by head coach Mike Locksley, McFarland may have more opportunities to catch the ball and demonstrate that unique ability on Saturdays this season.
“I was recruited to be an all-purpose back. All my life I’ve been learning how to be versatile; I see my game as a versatile player,” McFarland said. “I didn’t get to show that much in the offense we ran last year, but I still had a lot of success.”
Last year, McFarland was featured in interim head coach Matt Canada’s offense with a scheme based on constant shifts to create mismatches that had little passing opportunities. Despite only catching seven passes for 73 yards, McFarland thrived and finished with 125 rushes for 1,022 yards and four touchdowns.
Wanna relive some Anthony McFarland highlights from today? Of course you do.— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) November 18, 2018
The redshirt freshman's 298 yards are the second-highest single-game total in school history. pic.twitter.com/TDscAB96hJ
This season may look a little different, as Locksley, who served as interim head coach in 2015, returns to College Park after serving as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2018. Locksley has made it clear that the offense that the Terps plan to execute will be very similar to the one his ran under Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
“If you’re doing a scouting report, you better watch a lot of Alabama,” Locksley said Aug. 2.
But in that offensive system, the Tide utilized a trio of running backs, including Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris. While Najee only had four catches for seven yards, Damien accounted for 22 catches for 204 yards, and Jacobs caught 20 passes for 247 yards.
McFarland could see his number called in a similar fashion this year. And if it is, the Hyattsville, Maryland, native says he’ll be ready.
“He called their number, they made a play, whether it’s getting a handoff or passes out the backfield or anything,” McFarland said. “I’m looking to do the same, and not just me, everybody in that [running back] room [is] looking to do the same.”
With Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson winning the quarterback competition over redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome, Maryland’s offense could also look more balanced. Jackson has demonstrated the ability to throw the ball with an arsenal of different passes, which won’t allow the defense to stack the box like they may have been able to last year. As a result, McFarland will have more room to run and exhibit his catch-to-tuck ability.
“I’m sure we’ll be throwing him the ball — him, [Javon] Leake, [Tayon] Fleet [-Davis],” Jackson said. “I’m definitely sure that he will be out wide, and maybe we will throw him a couple passes as well.”
Along with catching passes out of the backfield, McFarland told 247Sports that during fall camp he had also been lining up some in the slot, placing him in another position on the field that could have big-play potential.
As a junior at DeMatha Catholic High School (he missed his senior year due to injury), McFarland caught 25 passes for 386 yards in addition to running for 527 yards and eight touchdowns.
If Locksley’s offense truly does replicate what was run at Alabama, then McFarland will definitely see a difference in the reception category this season, which is an area that he is enthusiastic to display.
“It does excite me because I know nowadays that’s what people like to see, you know, durable backs or versatile backs — first-down, second-down, third-down backs,” McFarland said. “That’s what I really worked on to try to be this camp.”