COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Coach Randy Edsall opened his weekly Tuesday press luncheon with a weather forecast.
The 1-0 Terrapins head south to Tampa and a first-ever meeting with South Florida Saturday, and while the heat isn’t on Maryland (yet – that comes later in probably colder climes), the heat will be on at Raymond James Stadium.
“It’s good to get some heat here (in College Park) since they’re predicting 89 degrees, about 72 percent humidity, winds out of the south-southeast at about seven miles an hour Saturday,” said Edsall in opening. “This weather is good for us to practice in as we head down to Tamps.”
Edsall was referring to the timely temperature climb locally, expected possibly to hit 100 degrees Tuesday afternoon. Of course, the Terrapins had already practiced in the morning and the heat was just starting to become a topic among the Terps.
“It’s tough, especially the tempo we’re going at, the amount of plays we’re getting at practice,” said quarterback C.J. Brown, who put heat on himself after a lukewarm passing performance in the win over James Madison. “This morning was a rough one for us but it was maybe one of our better ones, getting adjusted to the heat.”
The Terrapins turned up the heat on James Madison last Saturday in a 52-7 whomping that served as a coming out party for the offensive line and a trio of tailbacks. Even Brown, who was just 11-of-24 passing for 111 yards, ran for 61 more stripes and three touchdowns.
“We were really in-sync Saturday, we really communicated well and we had the game plan down,” said sophomore left tackle Michael Dunn of he and his linemates. “We just do our best to help out the team.”
That offensive line kept Brown clean (no sacks) and pounded the Dukes to the tune of 5.7 yards per carry for the backs. Brandon Ross started and ran 16 times for 86 yards, and Wes Brown, in his return, was dominant, picking up 84 yards in 13 carries. Albert Reid got 24 yards on five carries but also caught a touchdown pass. Fullback Kenneth Goins, Jr., even got in on the act with 31 yards on three rushes and a touchdown catch.
“I thought all our backs did a great job,” said Dunn. “Wes was really excited to be back after missing last year (due to suspension) and he had some tough runs. You like blocking for guys like him and B-Ross and Albert because you know they’ll fight for every yard. All you have to do is make your blocks and let them run.”
Edsall said he thought Wes Brown played better than he practiced last week, a none-to-subtle nudge of the sophomore back still listed third on the depth chart. “I think we’ve got three tailbacks we can utilize,” said the coach. “And we’re going to utilize all three of them to try to keep them as healthy as we can for the long haul.”
That trio of tailbacks could be important in the Florida sun this week, too. Kickoff is 3:30, and it’s going to be hot in 65,857 Raymond James Stadium, also the home of the Tampa Bay Bucaneers.
The Bulls run a three-man front on defense like Maryland. In their 36-31 win over Western Carolina Saturday, the Bulls held the Catamounts to just 80 yards rushing on 29 attempts but that might not be the right way to phrase it. Western Carolina attempted 67 passes and was sacked another four times so they found something they liked going up top. WCU had 454 yards passing on 46 completions.
“From what they played last week, they were a lot of three-down (linemen), four-down, and there were just a lot of opportunities for receivers to get open,” said film-study maven C.J. Brown of the Bulls defense. “We just have to execute. If we go out there and do our jobs we should be able to take care of business.”
The Bulls had four senior starters listed on defense but the word is first year coach Willie Taggart is playing a lot of new guys, his guys. Seventeen players saw their first action last week, including five true freshmen. Four newcomers started on defense.
If Maryland can pound the ball on the ground again, the Terrapins will do just that. They may even slow down the hurry-up a bit to shorten the game and take the heat off, so to speak. The offensive line was a big story in the first game – gameballs to all five starters and tight end Andrew Isaacs.
Beyond Dunn, fellow tackle Ryan Doyle, guards Silvano Altamirano and Andrew Zeller, and the most noted of the linemen, center Sal Conaboy, there were a lot of plays for the backups in the second half. Guys like Jake Wheeler, Stephen Grommer, Mike Minter, Maurice Shelton and Joe Marchese all got some work and did a good job. They may need those guys again this week if the heat is as much of a factor as Edsall – who was an assistant coach in Jacksonville in the NFL – thinks it could be.
Either way, hyper-speed offense like last week or just warp drive, the Terrapin players don’t seem as concerned about the hot topic.
“We’ve been training in heat all year,” explained Dunn. “Like today it was really hot and we had an uptempo practice. We all understand the issue of heat, guys get tired. We’ve worked hard to get to a point like this. I think all of us are going to be ready for it. In the heat of battle, you don’t even feel it sometimes. You just keep going. I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
Over on defense, nose tackle Keith Bowers felt the same way. “Today was one of the hottest days of the entire summer and I think it’s definitely going to help us be ready. We’ve been training in heat so we’re ready.”
Bowers reinforced that the main focus was on South Florida’s newest star, freshman Marlon Mack who everyone is bullish on at USF. He tied a school record with 275 yards rushing and four touchdowns in his debut. He was the biggest part of 294 team rushing yards and the 36 points scored.
“Our main thing is stopping the run, establishing the line of scrimmage and making them one dimensional,” said Bowers, perhaps part of one of the Big Ten's top 1-2 nose tackle tandems with Darius Kilgo. “(Mack) had a tremendous game. He’s big and fast and physical. He’s low to the ground and makes good decisions. We have to wrap up, run to the ball and do what do as a defense.”
That Terrapin defense had a shutout until a turnover in the fourth quarter set James Madison up last week. The Terrapins had two sacks and three turnovers, and most impressively, allowed JMU just four conversions on 19 third down plays. Some of that credit goes to an impressive rotation of defensive players that can keep one another fresh. Please also see Edsall weather forecast.
As for those defensive numbers, Bowers sees that type of performance trending this year.
“As a unit, we know that we’re very seasoned, we’ve grown up together since freshman year until now,” he said. “We’re a close group, tight-knit and that’s going to benefit us all season. We are a pressure defense and we’re going to make plays in the backfield and get to the quarterback, just playing like our heads are on fire.”
Well, it certainly may be too hot in Tampa for that and the sentiment is understood. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s unit is likely to show sophomore quarterback Mike White all kinds of exotic blitzes.
Last week, cornerback William Likely got a sack and safety Sean Davis’ rush forced an interception. Maryland, ahem, will keep the heat on.
Anyway, after the weather report, Edsall did report some news, too. First, redshirt freshman wide receiver Taivon Jacobs, lost on a freak first quarter injury, will undergo surgery on his right meniscus Thursday. “It’s unfortunate for Taivon, he has worked extremely hard to put himself in a position to be a starter,” said Edsall. “But injuries are part of football…he was just running down the field and got his feet caught up with the defender’s and that causes the injury.”
The injury is to the same knee Jacobs had hurt in high school and caused him to sit out last year. Edsall said the Terrapins would pursue the paperwork to petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Jacobs.
Edsall also mentioned that true-freshman Juwann Winfree “had to be ready to go at any given time.” Winfree, of course, was working scout team, but in all the receiver meetings and is an attractive option at 6-2, 195 pounds of stud-athlete. In the meantime, Maryland made a move.
Jacobs’ injury means Maryland has lost three receivers since the start of camp, including Jacobs’ brother Levern being suspended last week and Nigel King transferring.
Freshman quarterback Will Ulmer out of Laurel, the athletic prospect promised by Edsall that he would stay at quarterback until he came to the coach and said he wanted a change, came to Edsall and said he wanted to change positions to wide receiver.
Edsall was already thinking the same thing.
“I had a chance to sit down with Will (Monday) and we talked through the situation and it was ironic that he was ready to come in and see me about what I wanted to talk to him about,” said Edsall. “We’re moving him to wide receiver so he’ll start going into the meetings and learning everything as a receiver.”
Ulmer was “doing some receiver on scout team last week,” according to the coach, just because of a numbers situation.
“He was all for it,” Edsall said of Ulmer. “He feels that will be his best position going forward, and again, it was a very good conversation, one that was on his mind even before I mentioned it to him.”
Two weeks ago, tailback Jacquille Veii moved to wide receiver and saw a lot of action out of the slot Saturday. He caught one pass for four yards.
Edsall also lauded Mack and the South Florida pro-style offense. He stressed the importance of tackling and defenders taking good angles to prevent long runs. He said Mack had two runs of 60-plus yards last week.
The coach also again defended his quarterback. “He didn’t throw as well as he is capable of throwing and producing in the passing game but he did so many other things well. It’s hard for the quarterback. Unless he plays a perfect game he’s always going to be criticized. That’s the understanding you have to have when you play quarterback. You’re going to get too much credit when you win and too much blame when you lose.”
C.J. Brown was cool and confident Tuesday, maybe even determined. Apparently he wasn’t really feeling the, well, you know.
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