It was William Likely's day.
The Richmond Spiders traveled up to College Park on Saturday and put up a fight against a talented Big-10 team before allowing 37 unanswered points and losing 50-21. Their new quarterback, Kyle Lauletta, played fairly well. Their defense could not stop the run. Their punt and kick coverage were horrendous. Richmond will dissect film and try to learn from its performance, but no one else is likely to remember how the Spiders played because it was William Likely's day.
Likely, a cornerback who doubles as a kick returner, had a record-setting, jaw-dropping day returning kicks. He finished with 233 yards on eight punt returns, which broke a Big-10 record set in 1939. He also had two kick returns for 63 yards, four tackles, two pass break-ups and played a crucial role in virtually shutting down talented Richmond receiver Reggie Diggs.
Each time Richmond punter D.J. Helkowski kicked the ball away, the fans expected the ball to fly out of bounds because Likely was dominating the game. He was instructed to punt out of bounds most times, Richmond coach Danny Rocco said after the game. But he never did, and each time Likely caught the ball and began awing thousands of spectators with sharp cuts, broken tackles and unmatched speed (unmatched by Richmond's punt coverage unit, at least).
Eventually, everyone watching knew he would make a big play. His performance drew laughter, impressed laughter, the same way Steph Curry on a hot shooting night might or Tiger Woods during a great round might draw a head shake and a small laugh. Even Richmond linebacker Omar Howard chuckled about it after the game.
"He was just really shifty," Howard said. "He was pretty fast too, so it was hard to get the contain on him."
Likely wasn't the only player on the field though, even though it felt that way at times. Richmond's special-team units were the victim of his success. In fact, his 296 yards on returns was more than the Spiders' 276 yards on offense.
Still, the offense didn't look too bad. Lauletta was under pressure all day and sacked four times, but that was expected against a Big-10 defensive front. At times, Lauletta and his offense looked to be in midseason form. Jacobi Green found some holes to run through, Lauletta was completing short pass after short pass, and he even found Brian Brown for a 52-yarder down the middle of the field. Richmond's two first-half touchdown drives were efficient and effective.
Outside of those drives, though, the offense struggled. The offensive line failed to protect Lauletta, and when they did he had trouble getting rid of the ball at times. He tried to use his legs and run away from the pressure, but that didn't work too well either.
"If your first, second, third read isn't there, definitely tuck it and get some yards if there's a lane open," Lauletta said. "But definitely as my first start I think that's something that I was a little bit antsy, and I should've been more under control and more comfortable back there."
The difference in the game was Maryland's physicality wearing down the Spiders defensively and failure to earn first downs on offense in the second half, Rocco said. "Our inability to move the ball in the third quarter really nailed it," he said. "The momentum and the physicality took over."
The Spiders will have a much easier task next week when they go to Hampton to face the Pirates.
Contact Sports Editor Charlie Broaddus at email@example.com