Game Strategy: Maryland v. Virginia

Terps shuffle linebackers to improve struggling rush defense

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Maryland and Virginia are two teams going in opposite directions. Winners of three of their last four games, the Cavaliers (5-3, 2-2 ACC) are coming off a Thursday night upset of Miami. Conversely, the Terrapins (2-6, 1-4 ACC), losers of four straight, including a defeat at home by Boston College.

The Terps' struggles begin with their poor rush defense, according to their head coach, and they're making changes. In the linebacking corps, Darin Drakeford, who began the season as the team's starting WILL linebacker, will shift over to the STAR position formerly occupied by Kenny Tate.

In Drakeford's place, true freshman Alex Twine draws the start as the third linebacker, his second of the season.

"We just felt with some of the production, or lack of production, that we had at two of those positions, we felt this would be the best way to go based on what we've been able to evaluate out of all five of those young men," Edsall said. "We just feel that Alex, [Demetrius Hartsfield] and Drakeford are the three guys that give us that best opportunity this week."

Drakeford, who missed four games due to injury, still ranks among the top 10 tacklers on the team. He's also tied for the team lead in forced fumbles.

Filling in for Drakeford against Clemson, Twine recorded eight tackles, including combining for a tackle for loss. On the season, he has 13 tackles and one fumble recovery.

The shuffle comes after allowing 42 points per game in their past three contests. During that span, teams have averaged 299 yards on the ground, including a 372-yard combined effort from the Eagles' Rolandan Finch and Andre Williams.

The Terps rank last in the ACC in rush defense, 118th in the nation, yet Edsall cannot explain why the team just can't tackle.

"If we as coaches could answer that we could patent it and make a ton of money, because I think every coach will tell you the same thing: their tackling is not as good as they would like it to be at times," he said. "We're trying to take our pieces that we have and get them in the right places based on what the other teams are doing. You'd like to be able to make them one-dimensional and we haven't been able to do that so far."

Edsall wouldn't make any excuses about the seven potential defensive starters that have been sidelined this year, including Tate, Isaiah Ross, Matt Robinson and Justin Anderson, all of whom are out for the season. Nor would he blame the infusion of youth he's plugged in to replace those starters. Four or more freshmen have started for the Terps in four games this season, the most of any other team.

He doesn't have time to. Instead, he has to shift his attention towards another talented running back coming to College Park.

Perry Jones, Virginia's leading rusher, ranks 53rd in the nation with 643 yards. In addition, he's totaled 314 receiving yards, which is third-best on the team. Edsall said the Cavs are finding ways to get Jones into favorable matchups – through zone runs, power runs and stretches – as well as in the passing game – getting one-on-one matchups in space, putting him in motion and matching up with linebackers.

Last week, Jones had 145 total yards against the Hurricanes, including a 78-yard touchdown reception. In Virginia's past three wins, Jones has surpassed 100 total yards. And when Virginia faces Maryland, they are 22-8 when rushing for more than 150 yards.

The Terps, however, believe they're ready. Senior defensive tackle Maurice Hampton, who's preparing for his last home game, said while they have good players, Maryland can match up with them talent-wise. Defensive back Trenton Hughes, also a senior, said they're definitely prepared.

"We're ready," Hughes said. "We're going to bring the enthusiasm and get after them. We're bringing a lot of defensive packages and we have a lot in store."

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