All day Saturday, Maryland couldn't get anything going on offense. The four-headed running attack of Wes Brown, Justus Pickett, Brandon Ross, and Albert Reid was hovering at around two yards per carry, Perry Hills was looking bewildered at times, and the offensive line was letting Deacon defenders through on a fairly consistent basis. The Terps had committed three turnovers and eight penalties, were losing at home to a depleted Wake Forest team, and needed a spark.
They turned to the freshman.
Stefon Diggs, who has provided Maryland with that necessary boost time and time again in this young season, caught a second-and-18 Hills pass over the middle, and from that point simply mesmerized. He made the first defender miss with a quick move to the right, juked out a second and third tackler, picked up a block from Justus Pickett to run past two more, used a huge block from Marcus Leak to get past another, and juked Kevin Johnson out of his shoes before being brought down inside the five. That play turned into a Pickett touchdown, giving Maryland a lead they would not relinquish.
That's seven tackles missed on one play, in large part due to Diggs. The freshman wouldn't take the credit all to himself, and quickly deferred to his blockers.
"Without those blocks I wouldn't have went anywhere," he said. "There were some great blocks on that play. Just like last week with that Zeller block, that blocking downfield is crucial, it's crucial in a game. Marcus Leak had a great block, I tried to get outside of him, he did a great job, he got that block and I just did my job."
Diggs had been part of the struggle himself, muffing a key punt earlier in the game that turned into a Deacon touchdown. The Wake score gave them a lead that they held until midway through the fourth quarter.
"There was a little bit of wind, but there's no excuse at all; I should have squared it up," he said. "It drifted a little bit and got away from me, so I was more concerned about the ball than the hit. It happened, I tried to move forward from it. I got down on myself a little bit because that's how I play. I love the game and I believe stuff like that shouldn't happen."
Diggs' big run and miscue weren't the only big plays of the game for Maryland in a day that was filled with nearly as many downs as ups. On Wake's first drive, a blown assignment resulted in a long touchdown pass. Later in the game, Dexter McDougle came up with a huge goal-line stop on fourth down, where he jumped over the line to stop Josh Harris.
"That's just kind of the philosophy that we have around, you just play every play as hard as you can ," coach Randy Edsall said about the play. "And that was huge. That was huge. To stop people down there, that's heart, that's desire, that's strength - that's all those things combined. When you can do that for the team, that gives you a lot of momentum."
McDougle exploded in celebration after the play, perhaps the most memorable stop in the program's history since Kenny Tate's fourth-down game-winning hit against Navy two years ago.
"That was like one of the most hype moments of the year," McDougle said. "I ran out to the opposite 40, I think, just doing a little dance. I don't know what I was doing, I just couldn't control myself. It's a feeling I just can't explain, stopping a team on fourth down on the one-yard line, it was just crazy."
After the Pickett touchdown took the lead, it was Maryland's defense's turn to step up. On third-and-six on Wake's 27, Kenneth Tate broke through on a delayed blitz and brought down Tanner Price for a sack. On the next play, Demetrius Hartsfield got a sack of his own to seal it.
"All game we were getting very close," Hartsfield said. "All game we were a step away from hitting the quarterback and we just came through at the end."
After the game, Edsall said he was pleased with the win, but seemed to show serious concern about the mistakes made by the Terrapins on all three units.
"We've got a lot of things we've still got to clean up," he said. "But I'll take the win and know that the things that we've got to clean up are something that we can take care of."
Diggs had his own way of talking about the occasional mishaps.
"I get a little too charismatic on the field," he said. "I get a little too excited because I love the game."
For Maryland fans, the games get a lot more exciting when Diggs touches the ball. We'll see if he can continue his dynamic freshman season next week.