Game Strategy: Maryland v. Boston College

Terps aiming to fix third-down woes against Eagles

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The Terps are in the midst of a downward a slope, a trend the team is trying to reverse Saturday when Boston College comes to town. After suffering three consecutive losses, a team that had hopes of an ACC championship at the start of the season is now just hoping to win four of their next five games to become bowl-eligible.

But despite their 1-6 record, the Eagles have been anything but a pushover. The Eagles are 5-3 all time against the Terps, 3-1 at Byrd Stadium, and have four of the last six since joining the conference. And now they have a chance to spoil Maryland's postseason hopes.

"As a team, this is where we're going to find out what we're made of. Our backs are up against the wall a little bit," quarterback C.J. Brown said. "We can go 4-1 and get to the bowl game, but we want to win them all."

Head coach Randy Edsall has yet to name a quarterback for Saturday. Instead, it will be a game-time decision based on how Danny O'Brien and Brown fare in practice this week.

But whoever is at the helm of the Maryland offense, they will have the task of finding consistency. The team's scoring output has as steady as a bedside heart monitor -- 32, 31, 7, 28, 16, 45 and 16 since the start of the season, despite who's starting under center

Last week, Brown led the offense to just three points, a week removed from a 45-point outburst against Clemson. Brown was unable to muster a single rushing yard on 10 carries against Florida State, attributing his lack of success to the defense's ability to put a spy on him.

The same type of shortcoming occurred against West Virginia, when the O'Brien-led offense managed just 10 first-half points. A week later, against Temple, Maryland scored just seven points and 240 total yards, the lowest mark this year.

"When you look at the Miami, Clemson and the second half of the West Virginia game, you can see progress," Edsall said. "Is it as much progress that I wanted to see so far? No, there has been too much inconsistency. We put up 45 points against the number five team in the country. I think that shows that we have the ability to move the ball with what we are doing."

A key reason: struggling to move the chains. The Terps convert on third downs just 40 percent of the time. They primarily have difficulty later in games.

In the first two quarters, Maryland converts on third downs about 64 percent of the time, better than Georgia Tech, who leads the nation with a 53.2 percent conversion rate. In the second half, though, the team sputters, achieving first downs just 41 percent of the time.

Brown said that if the team can be successful earlier in games it should translate to the second half, but O'Brien blames the inconsistency on first- and second-down setbacks.

"It's pretty simple," O'Brien said, "typically, teams that aren't good on third down aren't good on first and second down. You put yourself in a lot of third-and-long situations you're not going to convert as many. Defenses can tee off on your and limit your playbook. Being consistent on first and second down will solve that problem."

O'Brien, who tossed three touchdowns in a win over Boston College last year, said the team should be aiming to be in more third-and-three to third-and-five situations. It does not help that wide receiver Kevin Dorsey, the team's leading receiver, will miss a second game in a row, and Tony Logan is questionable.

As inconsistent Maryland's third-down offense has been, their third-down defense is even worse. Ranked last in the ACC, Maryland is allowing the opposition to convert almost 53 percent of the time.

After facing the top three offenses in the conference the past three weeks, though, the Terps will get a Boston College team that has struggled offensively. Montel Harris, the school's career leading rusher, was lost for the year after reinjuring a left knee injury against Wake Forest. Since the loss of Harris, the Eagles have scored 14 points and averaged 109 rushing yards in their two contests.

For Maryland, it'll be about getting off the field on third downs. In the past three games, 34 first downs have come via the run, compared to just 22 through the air. And like O'Brien said, it stems from early-down success.

"It's really tough to pinpoint something, but I think it's more or less getting teams off track on first down to set up third-and-long," defensive tackle Joe Vellano said. "If you give teams third-and-short, you're setting yourself up for some tough third downs to stop. It's important to get them off schedule early, and making those third downs tougher."


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