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It's becoming redundant – playing 60 minutes of football – and Randy Edsall knows it. Each week, consistency is preached. Yet each game, the only consistency is inconsistency.
A week after rallying from an 18-point deficit against Georgia Tech, Maryland blew an 18-point lead in the second half against Clemson. Tajh Boyd tossed three touchdown passes and true freshman standout receiver Sammy Watkins returned a kickoff 89 yards, leading the No. 8 Tigers to a 56-45 victory.
It was a defensive disaster for the Terps, and it was sealed with a special teams collapse.
"The big plays are going to happen, but it's how you react to those plays," cornerback Dexter McDougle said. "If you don't react with the right state of mind, you're not going to be consistent. You're going to dwell on the last play and it's going to affect your play. We just have to shake off the big play if it happens and just come back ready to go on the next play."
The next test comes in the form of Florida State, a team that was ranked sixth in the nation entering the season and has been a thorn in the side of Maryland. The Seminoles own a 19-2 record in the match-up, 10-0 in the friendly confines of Doak Campbell Stadium.
More importantly, Florida State received an offensive boost with the return of quarterback E.J. Manuel, who missed the team's previous two games due to a shoulder injury he suffered against Oklahoma. Sweeping the rust off his shoulder, Manuel returned to his mid-season form, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more against Duke. And of course, he'll be the defensive focus come Saturday.
"When you have people have that ability [to run the ball], it puts a little bit more pressure on your defense," Edsall said. "It creates match-up problems, and you got to be very good in terms of knowing that to take something away, you might be giving up something somewhere else. You got to make sure you have a balance in what you want to do against a guy like E.J. Manuel."
The Seminoles quarterback will be the fourth mobile quarterback in a row the team has had to deal with in as many weeks. The Terps struggled against Boyd, who leads the ACC in total offense. Manuel is No. 2.
Defensive tackle Joe Vellano, whose 8.2 tackle-per-game average ranks first among defensive line in FBS, said it's frustrating playing mobile quarterbacks because their athleticism allows them to elude sacks.
"It's tough because it's another whole dimension you really have to factor in. If you get through, it's not like you got him. You got to get through and then chase him down," Vellano said.
Like Florida State, Maryland will also start a mobile quarterback. For the second straight week, C.J. Brown gets the nod behind center, a week after a record-setting 162-yard effort. Brown is one of five ACC quarterbacks to run for more than 150 yards in a game.
Overshadowed by his running ability, though, Brown completed 17 passes for 177 yards, including three touchdowns. Brown's presence in the offense sparked a 468-yard outburst. Maryland had averaged 303 yards in their previous three outings.
"I thought we were productive on Saturday," Edsall said. "I thought we really did some good things. We want it to be even better. We can be even more dynamic than what we saw Saturday."
Brown said that the offense can move even faster, saying "it's scary to think about" how productive the unit can be once he develops more chemistry with the wide receivers and improves his coverage reading.
In their way, the always stout Seminoles defense. This season, the Noles defense ranks 11th in the country (ninth v. the rush, 30th v. the pass). And led by ACC sack leader Bjoern Werner, they're a quarterback's nightmare.
"They're experienced. They're fast, they're going to fly to the ball, they're going to pursue. They're going to be a tough defense," Brown said. When asked if he thought defenses would adjust to his running abilities, he added, "If they're going to put someone to spy, I'll just sit back there and run the offense."
Special Teams Adjustments
After allowing Watkins to take a go-ahead kickoff to the house last week, Edsall said he will make no changes to the kickoff team. It's not a personnel issue, he said, it's about execution.
"What it basically goes down to is we just have to get better at what we're doing," Edsall said. "Sometimes when you get outstanding return people like we've seen, especially Saturday, you can't be wrong because if you are they have that God-given athletic ability and speed to hurt you."
Edsall said he talked with the unit prior to the Clemson game and made a point when analyzing the film that there needs to be safety valves in case an assignment is missed. On Watkins' return, that was the case.
Due to the injuries throughout the roster, the Terps can't afford to make personnel changes. The scheme is fine. And for the team ranked 118th in the country in kickoff return defense, allowing nearly 28 yards per return, Edsall said it's a concern, but there's not much he can do.
"Players are trying, the scheme is okay, but we all have to do it a little bit better."