The outlook for the rest of Maryland's football season took a major blow on Tuesday.
After Dontay Demus Jr. suffered a gut-turning knee injury on Friday night, Terps football coach Mike Locksley confirmed on Tuesday his top receiver will require surgery and is ruled out for the season.
Demus, who had four receptions for 61 yards vs. Iowa, returned a kickoff early in the second quarter before taking a hit to the side and twisting his planted right knee in the wrong direction. Demus showed his strong character while being carted off.
"I'm coming back!" Demus shouted to his teammates.
Locksley did not specify whether or not Demus suffered an ACL injury, per the Washington Post's Emily Giambalvo.
The Terps had a packed "blackout" crowd of more than 45,527 fans in College Park to witness what could have been Maryland's first 5-0 start to a season since 2001. Instead, the now third-ranked Hawkeyes trounced the home side 51-14 in a turnover-prone outing from quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.
Demus started the 2021 season just how finished off the truncated 2020 campaign, leading the Terps in receptions (28), yards after the catch (18.1), and average yards per game (101.4). His 507 receiving yards leads the Big Ten and ranks 11th nationally. In Maryland's five 2020 games, Demus caught 24 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns.
With three TDs to his name this season, Demus has caught a TD the past six games and has a reception in each of his last 27 contests.
“[Demus] was the best player on our team so when that happens, it’s bound to affect the team,” Terps junior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo said postgame on Friday. “It hurts me knowing how great of a season he’s been having so far.”
With eyes toward the NFL as the clear best player on Maryland's roster, Demus' absence will most certainly be felt. Locksley will have to turn to other options in his receiving corps to pick up the slack for the 6-foot-4, 215-pound star.
While Tagovailoa could opt to keep the ball in Tayon Fleet-Davis' hands on the ground more with Demus out, he does have other threats in the passing game. Local product Rakim Jarrett (St. John's College High School) emerged as a scoring menace the first five weeks with four receiving touchdowns, good for 22nd in the country and fourth in the conference.
The man who replaces Demus as the starting receiver in Locksley's Week 6 depth chart is junior wideout Jeshaun Jones, who enjoyed a stellar freshman season before tearing his ACL in preseason ahead of the 2019 campaign.
Jones scored seven touchdowns, caught 22 passes for 288 yards, rushed for 173 yards on 18 carries, and even threw a touchdown himself in 2018. After starting four games in 2020, Jones has proved productive with 17 receptions for 218 yards. Converted backup tight end Corey Dyches also has shown glimpses of promise with 10 catches for 112 yards and a TD.
That trio will have to be the catalysts in revitalizing the post-Demus aerial threat. Add in reserve receivers Darryl Jones, Isaiah Jacobs, and Brian Cobbs to the mix and Tagovailoa has no shortage of options to lean on now without his favorite target.
"I think the biggest thing is just the versatility we have in the whole entire offensive room. We know that anyone we put out there can make a catch and make a play, so again I feel like the versatility is the biggest thing and we knew that was going to be a big positive with our offense," Cobbs said last week ahead of the Iowa game.
"We have great depth, as everyone knows, at the wide receiver position," Tagovailoa said Sept. 28. "The biggest thing is we have to continue to work hard."
This week, Jarrett continued along the same "next man up" mentality.
"I don't really think you can fill the void that he left," Jarrett said. "It's going to take all the other receivers to step up, including myself, to collectively do it. ... He was one of a kind."