Colby McDonald found a crease through the right side of Maryland’s offensive line. He raced to the second level, bounced off a would-be tackler before being shoved out of bounds a yard shy of the pylon.
He leaped across the end zone for a touchdown one snap later — his fifth carry of the six-play drive — to give Maryland football an insurmountable lead over Virginia.
Coach Michael Locksley gave the junior a team-high ten carries against the Cavaliers a week after he ran for 73 yards on eight attempts versus Charlotte.
McDonald totaled 140 yards on the ground over 10 games last season. He’s already surpassed that mark three games into the 2023 season. His emergence along with Roman Hemby and Antwain Littleton II give the Terps a rushing attack as deep and talented as any in the Big Ten.
“I love being in this backfield,” McDonald said. “We compete everyday, we [make] each other better.”
Hemby is the star of the trio. The redshirt sophomore finished 11 yards shy of a 1,000-yard campaign last season and leads the group in both carries and yards this year.
The headliner of Maryland’s backfield is the “smart, tough, reliable guy that consistently makes plays,” according to Locksley. That was on full display in Week 2 against Charlotte, as Hemby surged the Terps to victory with a 162-yard performance.
Hemby got his offense going to start the second half with a 40-yard run that showed his elusiveness. He weaved through blockers and slipped through a multitude of attempted tackles. The redshirt sophomore eventually tallied three more runs of at least 10 yards in the second half.
Littleton has worked as Maryland’s short-yardage back over the past two seasons – six of his eight career touchdowns came within the 5-yard line. Locksley refers to him as a power-runner and a “third-down back” due to his physicality in pass protection and ability to win in space as a route runner.
The redshirt sophomore has been a key reason why the Terps are tied for 13th among all Division I schools in third-down conversion percentage.
Littleton ran for three yards to avoid a three-and-out on a third-and-1 against Towson. On a third-and-2 on the brink of the red zone against Charlotte, Littleton avoided a loss and powered his way for a first down to keep the drive alive.
McDonald is the Terps’ “changeup,” according to Locksley. He is averaging a career-best 7.9 yards-per-carry through three games. He was the star of Maryland’s ground attack against Virginia last week, averaging more than seven yards per rush while Littleton and Hemby averaged only 3.1 and 2.6 respectively.
“I’ve been working on finishing all of my runs to the best of my abilities,” McDonald said. “Whether it’s third-level cuts or just finishing forward and not just giving up on runs.”
Despite playing the fewest snaps among the trio, McDonald leads the Terps with five rushes of 15 or more yards, per Pro Football Focus. He is tied for third-most among all Big Ten running backs in the stat, per Pro Football Focus.
McDonald registered one such run last season.
“I feel like last year I was getting in my own head,” McDonald said. “I feel like this year, I just left all of the bad stuff and all of the things that was going on out [of] my head and just kept my head down and worked as hard as I can.”
Maryland’s coaching staff has created ways for each runner to see the field.
Hemby and Littleton started this season as the Terps’ one-two punch in the backfield. Then Hemby controlled the ground attack in Week 2, with a Littleton personal foul penalty opening the door for McDonald carries in the second-half. Week 3 was a near-even split — McDonald led with 10 rushes, while Hemby and Littleton recorded nine attempts a piece.
“Anytime we can create roles in our offense or defense for players to play and create value for themselves, it helps us as a team,” Locksley said. “It’s great to see guys be unselfish and know that you’re not gonna play 60 plays, you’ll probably play 40, but you’ll get opportunities because it’s all about the touches for us with the skill guys on offense.”
Maryland holds a top-five rushing offense in the Big Ten because of its excellent trio. All three rushers will need to keep their production steady as the Terps begin a strenuous conference schedule starting this weekend against Michigan State.