Game Strategy: Maryland v. Notre Dame

Terps' rush defense faces huge task in Woods, Grey

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Saturday will mark just the second-ever meeting between Maryland and Notre Dame, but it will be the fourth time Brian Kelly and Randy Edsall face off.

Kelly's Cincinnati Bearcats team was 2-1 against Edsall's Connecticut Huskies, including a 47-45 win in 2009, the coach's last meeting. Now, that cumbersome offense has been taken to South Bend, where the Irish own the 36th-best offense in FBS. And while the uniforms have changed, it's the same offensive approach.

"He's going to give you some problems in the passing game," Edsall said. "It's an offense that tries to utilize all [of] the field against you."

Notre Dame features 11-personnel, a set that features a three wide receiver, one tight end and running back; not to mention the athletes on this squad are among the nation's elite.

Starting wideout Michael Floyd is second in touchdown catches (34) and receiving yards (3,371) among active FBS players, and will be the focal point for Maryland's new-look secondary. True freshman A.J. Hendy will earn his first career start at safety over Titus Till, who became the starter with the season-ending injury to Matt Robinson. Trenton Hughes will start for cornerback Cameron Chism, who led the team with 32 consecutive starts and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

Quarterback Tommy Rees, making his 12th career start, became Irish's starter after Dayne Crist was benched at halftime in game No. 1 against South Florida. Rees ranks among the top underclassmen in the nation in terms of completions (6), completion percentage (7), touchdowns (9) and yardage (12).

The biggest concern for the Terps, though: the running back tandem of Cierre Wood and Jonas Grey. Together, the Notre Dame backfield has rushed for 1,469 yards and 17 touchdowns. And it appears as a huge mismatch for Maryland's rush defense, which ranks 116 out of 120, allowing 233 yards per game.

"As everyone's seen," linebacker Darin Drakeford said, "We've had problems stopping the run the entire season. That's going to be our biggest challenge because they have two backs to keep [each other] fresh."

Drakeford credits the Irish's offensive line for the team's success running the ball. Up front, the unit includes three seniors and two juniors and averages 306 pounds. In contrast, the Terps defensive line consists of just two upperclassmen and averages 270 pounds.

More than just the explosive offense, the Irish boast a well-rounded attack. Notre Dame is one of 10 FBS schools to rank in the top 40 on offense, defense, scoring offense and scoring defense.

The Irish's 3-4 scheme has limited opposing rushers to 149 yards per game and 200 yards through the air. The scoring defense, ranked 27th in the nation, is allowing less than 21 points per contest.

"They move a lot up front. They show us one look then give us another look and I think that's the biggest challenge they present," offensive lineman R.J. Dill said. "They're pretty good up front, they're a national program and they're able to recruit at a national level, so they have some pretty darn good players."

Notre Dame's defensive standouts include leading tackler Manti Te'o, who has tallied 87 tackles, including 11 for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Safety Harrison Smith, second on the team in tackles, leads the team with nine pass breakups and is the only player in school history to record 200 or more tackles, 15 or more tackles for loss and 15 or more pass breakups.

For Maryland, it's a daunting task. Coming off their fifth loss in a row and eliminated from bowl contention, it's not easy to stay motivated for a meaningless three games.

However, Drakeford said that perception of the team is not valid – that despite the win-loss record, this team is focused on making a statement Saturday night with a national audience on hand.

"The bowl game is out of the question, but for confidence – we have lost five straight. This is on national television and we know everybody is going to be watching. That puts more intensity in the game," Drakeford said. "We're playing for ourselves now."

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