COLLEGE PARK, Md. – An unfathomable rash of injuries has turned a once-promising season into a disaster for Maryland.
With a linebacker at quarterback and their leading tackler out for the year, the Terrapins are limping to the finish line with little chance of winning another game.
Maryland (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) is a 31½-point underdog Saturday on the road against No. 10 Clemson (8-1, 5-1). The Terrapins then host eighth-ranked Florida State before traveling to North Carolina.
It looks hopeless, but Maryland intends to make the best of the situation.
"We're not going to fold the rest of the season up," defensive end A. J. Francis said Tuesday. "We're not going to down to Death Valley and tell them, 'You guys can have this game.'"
The rash of injuries includes three quarterbacks with torn ACLs — C.J. Brown, Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe. Hartsfield also has the same injury, leaving one to wonder what the Terrapins can do to prevent such a devastating mishap.
Coach Randy Edsall waved it off as coincidence, insisting that the knee injuries have drawn extra attention because three of the victims are quarterbacks.
"I hear all of this stuff about strength and conditioning and turf, all of these things," Edsall said. "It's unfortunate that these injuries happen, but that happens in the game of football. There is nothing that you can do to strengthen the ACL. Some years you are just a bit luckier than others."
According to Maryland officials, three members of the football team in 2011 had torn ACLs. There were four ACL tears in 2010, two in 2009 and five apiece in 2008 and 2007.
None of that is going to make the Terrapins feel any better about their current plight. Not too long ago, Maryland was 4-2 and needing only a couple more wins to become bowl eligible. But Hills tore his ACL and backup Devin Burns broke his foot in a 20-18 loss to North Carolina State on Oct. 20, and Rowe was hurt in a loss to Boston College one week later.
Now the offense is being led by true freshman Shawn Petty, a converted linebacker who struggled last week in a 33-13 loss at home against Georgia Tech.
The defense, which yielded 370 yards rushing last week, faces a potent Clemson team without Hartsfield, a senior whose skills and leadership are sure to be missed.
"I feel terrible for Demetrius," Francis said. "We came in here together on signing day and we've been working together since George Bush was president. And now to see his last year end like that, it's tough. I love him like a brother. It's sad the way things ended up, but I know he wants us to move on. He knows the train can't get derailed by one passenger."
"What gets you through all of this is the fact that you have a philosophy and you build the team concept and guys understand that there is going to be adversity that strikes during the season," Edsall said. "We probably didn't expect this much adversity to strike. But again, it's all in terms of how you approach adversity. And we have the mindset here that we can only control what we can control."
L.A. Goree, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, will take over for Hartsfield at middle linebacker.
"It's a collision sport and people get injured," Francis said. "Some injuries hurt your team more than others, but we've just got to get back up. We've got the next-man-up mentality. L.A. is up, Shawn Petty is still up, and we're getting ready to go play."
Tackle Justin Gilbert, who missed parts of two seasons with injuries, said, "The biggest thing is, it's football and it happens. You hate to see it, me especially because I know what they're going through. You just have to keep pushing, adjust, adapt and keep playing."
Although 19 freshmen have been pressed into action this season, Edsall believes it will not impact the future of the team.
"We have the opportunity to play some guys, maybe a little earlier than we would have liked to, but it helps because it gives them experience," he said. "I do not think it is going to affect our program negatively in any way. It's just one of those things where we get knocked down but we have to keep going forward."
Edsall has some sympathy from Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
"I've heard of having one or two (season-ending injuries), but the injuries they've had, as many as they've had, especially at the quarterback position and now this — with one of the best defensive players in the conference — I hate that for him," Morris said.