After being sacked by Temple four times and getting hit to the ground relentlessly, Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson had no idea the Terps took another blow during their trip to Philadelphia.
Maryland right guard Terrance Davis exited the game in the first half with a knee injury, which turned out later to be a MCL sprain that would sideline him for the majority of the season.
But it wasn’t till later that Jackson talked with running back Jake Funk and discovered that the redshirt junior had torn his left ACL, the same injury he suffered in November against Ohio State. He had gone to ask Funk how he was feeling, and was taken aback to hear the news.
“That was really unfortunate to hear from Jake because he’s a big leader on the offense,” Jackson said. “He just brings a type of energy to the field every day [and] was very consistent.”
Such injuries are unfortunate for the Terps, who welcome No. 12 Penn State to College Park Friday for their Big Ten opener, requiring other Maryland players to step up in the biggest game of the season thus far.
“We’re a developmental program,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “When one guys goes down, we’ve got to have the next man ready to play with him knowing [that] it’s important to do his job and why it’s important to do his job.”
Injuries are a common occurrence for any football team, but they have hit the Terps hard at multiple positions this season.
Funk was the fourth Maryland player that was lost to an ACL tear, including wide receiver Jeshaun Jones and linebacker Durell Nchami, who both suffered the injury during fall camp and safety Antwaine Richardson tore his ACL during spring practice.
Not only was the Gaithersburg, Maryland, native utilized in the backfield, but Funk played a large role on special teams and is one of the most versatile players on the roster. In Maryland’s three games this season, Funk has had 17 carries for 173 yards and two touchdowns to add to his three tackles on special teams.
“Losing Jake, even on special teams is going to be big,” fellow running back Javon Leake said. “He was on kickoff making a lot of tackles, running back -- everything for us. So Jake is definitely a big loss.”
Luckily for the Terps, the running back room is one of the deepest positions on the team. Along with continued touches to Anthony McFarland Jr. and Leake, Locksley said that Lorenzo Harrison III, who hasn’t seen much time this season due to a lingering hamstring issue, will help fill the void in the backfield and on special teams.
“We see [Harrison’s] role increasing as he comes back from the hamstring with Jake being out,” Locksley said. “He’ll be a guy that we’ll lean on, not just on offense but also in some special teams situations.”
Penn State’s defense has been stout through three games. The Nittany Lions are allowing 1.91 yards per carry, which is fifth in the FBS and fourth in the Big Ten, and are coming off of a game two weeks ago where they granted a total of 24 rushing yards against Pittsburgh. Two weeks earlier to the matchup between their in-state opponent, Penn State held Idaho to just four rushing yards, which is the second fewest under head coach James Franklin.
The Nittany Lions’ front seven is loaded with talented, headlined by linebacker Micah Parsons and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos. Parsons, who was the first freshman in program history to lead Penn State in tackles (83) last year, is second in the team with 20 total tackles and has four tackles for loss. Gross-Matos leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss for a total of 26 yards.
Both of these dynamic players will be ones to watch for in Friday’s matchup, but the Terps will be experiencing their first game without their most experienced offensive lineman.
Davis will be replaced by senior Ellis McKennie, who was listed as a co-starter with redshirt freshman Jaelyn Duncan at left tackle. McKennie has a total of four starts under his belt but has been a rover for the offensive line, appearing in multiple positions throughout games this season.
Nearly two weeks after the offensive line appeared to get pushed around by the Owls, McKennie, along with the rest of the offensive line starters, will have a much tougher test against one of the premier Big Ten defenses. If Maryland is going to have any success on offense against Penn State, it will start in the trenches.
“We already were thin there, but when you lose a player of Terrance’s caliber — he’s a three-year starter for the most part, was playing at a high level for us — it’s still a next man up mentality,” Locksley said during the bye week. “The depth is not necessarily where we want it to be, but we still have enough able bodies. And now we just got to get these guys again playing fundamentally, a little cleaner than what we played on [against Temple].”
The Terps will also have some extra motivation, eager to make the teammate they lovingly call “Coach Funk” proud as he watches from the sidelines.
“Jake, he puts his life on the line, literally, in practice and in the game. And I think every player on the team can attest to that,” linebacker Shaq Smith said. “So to see Jake go down like that, it hurt the team a lot. [But] we definitely got that next man up mentality. ... Everybody on the team wants to step their game up a little bit more just for Jake.”