Terps Preparing for New Look Mountaineers

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland takes on WVU Sept. 13 at noon at Byrd Stadium

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It’s West Virginia week and well, to hear Maryland talk about it, they’re much more worried about another team.

And that would be Maryland.

The 2-0 Terrapins know they’ve got to tighten up the nuts and bolts, shore up the seawalls, pick a metaphor for strengthening up heading into Week Three. And the funny thing is one of Coach Randy Edsall’s big moves so far this week was calling in senior quarterback C.J. Brown and telling him to stop and smell the roses.

“I brought him in this morning and we talked before practice,” said Edsall at his weekly Tuesday press luncheon. “My whole thing with C.J. is we’re 2-0. He’s the starting quarterback. What do you get judged on? How many you win and how many you lose…I think he’s putting too much pressure on himself. What I told him is, ‘You just got to let it go, man. Let it go and have fun.”

Brown, who hasn’t thrown the ball particularly well in either game so far, was visibly miffed at his opening effort against James Madison, though he ran for three scores. Then he threw two interceptions Saturday in the win at South Florida, part of a six-turnover Terrapin nightmare.

For whatever reason, the offense hasn’t yet clicked and they may need to this weekend against high-flying West Virginia (1-1), the border rivals rolling into College Park for a 12:01 kickoff in Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.

Brown, in his sixth year of college football with two years off for major injuries, admitted he’s prone to over-think certain situations, something Edsall pointed out to him Tuesday morning. “I catch myself over-analyzing things and looking at things in more depth because I understand it. (Coaches) think it’s kind of taking away from the speed we’re playing at, and I’ve got to get back to just playing football.”

Brown said that involves just reading his keys and reacting. He’s such a good athlete that has always worked well for him, like to the tune of 25 touchdowns accounted for last year, the second most in a single season in school history.

A looser Brown could open up the offense. His read-option will put some more oomph in the running game and perhaps open things vertically for Stefon Diggs, who hasn’t had a reception longer than 17 yards so far.

Marcus Leak took up some of that slack last week, the junior receiver who sat out all of last year at the behest of Edsall, has suddenly moved to the top of the depth chart as the Terrapins’ third receiver and he came through in the South Florida sun. Leak caught three passes for 72 yards and two scores, including a 44-yard touchdown.

Edsall said he talked Leak into taking last year off to refocus and reinvent himself as a more mature person and player. “I just didn’t think he was living up to his potential, his abilities and just told him it was time for him to go home,” said Edsall. “He wasn’t living up to his potential as a football player. He wasn’t living up to his potential as a person. He wasn’t living up to his potential as a student. I had the blessing of his family. I told him he had to go home and find himself. He did that.”

Now Brown is finding him for more yards per reception (17.8) than any other Terrapin receiver.

“His whole attitude changed,” said Brown. “He’s in a key role, making big-time plays and playing big-time minutes. He’s a big-time playmaker.”

Brown knows his receivers well, despite that revolving door (since camp opened, Nigel King, Levern Jacobs and Taivon Jacob are gone from the depth chart). He mentioned off-handedly that he was meeting with Deon Long after class Tuesday “to go over some things.” It wasn’t part of any coach-mandated meeting, it was just a quarterback touching base with a wide receiver to get ready for Saturday and the biggest challenge of the season so far.

Playing Maryland Football Again

“This is probably the best team we’ve played so far,” added Brown. “We can’t play like we did last week and expect to win. The turnovers set us back. We shot ourselves in the foot. We’ll try to eliminate that completely this week.”

The Mountaineer defense, under new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, might have other ideas. West Virginia blanked Towson 54-0 last week, and the Mountaineers hung tough with Alabama in a 33-23 season-opening loss. Brown said he didn’t waste time watching last year’s game film – a 37-0 Maryland win in Baltimore – because the WVU defense is different this year. They run a 3-3-5, and can come at a quarterback from a variety of angles.

Brown said the thing he most remembers is how physical they play. The key, he added, is getting the entire offense on the same page, and then of course, hanging onto the ball this week. “We need to make sure we all see the same thing with the disguises they have whether it’s nickel personnel or a different front,” said Brown. “We have to understand where the blitzes are coming from and just execute our game plan.”

And that’s back to the Terrapin focus on Maryland. A big question was whether Edsall might replace starting tailback Brandon Ross, who fumbled twice last week. “We’re going to see how the week plays out but the good thing is we’ve got numerous guys that can go in and do the job,” said the coach. “Usually all three of (the tailbacks) play in the game. I have confidence in all three of those guys.”

Ross was still listed as the starter on the Tuesday depth chart and he leads the team in carries and yards (26 rushes for 142 yards, a 5.5 average). Wes Brown has looked great off the bench and has 111 yards on 22 carries (5.0 average) and tough-guy Albert Reid has chipped in 13 rushes for 57 yards (4.4 average).

The Terrapins rushed for just 116 yards last week but overall, the offense again moved the ball. “The biggest thing is they just got seven points off the (six) turnovers,” said Edsall. “That shows you we were moving the ball. When we turned it over we were down in the plus side. (South Florida’s) average starting drive was the minus-27, so they had to go 73 yards to score.

“We can’t expect to win if we turn the ball over that many times, even two or three times. You just can’t do it. It’s something we talk about and stress. You can’t take away 50 percent of your scoring opportunities because you’re turning the ball over.”

“They stressed holding the ball high and tight and not getting lazy,” said tight end Andrew Isaacs of the coaches’ reaction in practice so far this week.

“It was almost a kind of thing where you didn’t need to talk about it,” said C.J. Brown of the seven fumbles (four lost). “Everyone knew it was important. We can’t set ourselves back like that.”

‘The Money Down’

Meanwhile, there’s an interesting match-up setting up on the other side of the ball where the Mountaineers rank 12th nationally in third down conversion percentage (54.8 percent). Maryland is holding opponents to 32.5 percent success on third down, the fourth best mark in the Big Ten, and it’s part of a trend. The Terrapins were 21st in the nation last year at 34.2 percent allowed.

“Coach (Brian) Stewart always emphasizes third down and tells us how important it is because it’s ‘The Money Down,’ said weakside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue. “We treat third downs as a sacred down because it’s a chance to make a big play or create a turnover and get off the field.”

Ngakoue admitted the Terrapin defense saves some of their more exotic blitzes for third down but he said that’s not what makes the difference. “I feel like sometimes the offense knows what we’re going to do but they can’t stop us because of the pressure we apply. We haven’t brought all of our stuff yet.”

Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart is likely to dig a little deeper into his bag of tricks this week against quarterback Clint Trickett, who ranks number three in the nation in completions (32.0) per game. The redshirt senior, a transfer from Florida State, has 713 yards and three scores through the first two games in an offense averaging 43.5 points per game.

“He’s very comfortable in their offense,” said Edsall. “He’s up there making adjustments in their protection, getting the ball out quick, knowing where it goes to, reading the numbers in the box whether he’s going to run it or pass it. You see a guy who’s very comfortable and a guy who’s orchestrating everything.”

“Their quarterback executes very well, we’ve haven’t seen a quarterback like him,” said senior inside linebacker L.A. Goree. “You watch film and you have to be cognizant of him.”

The Terrapins will be. They already have four sacks this year and they’ve produced four turnovers, including three interceptions. Two of those interceptions have come on plays where blitzing safety Sean Davis – who is having a breakout year – hit the quarterback just as he threw. Maryland’s rush defense, led by Goree, has allowed just 3.0 yards per run so the Terrapins have been doing just what they like to – make opponents one-dimensional and force them to pass.

Goree has a team-high 20 tackles, including 11 solo. Davis also has 11 solo tackles and is second on the team with 16 total stops, followed by defensive end Andre Monroe (13 tackles). Monroe got a sack last week, No. 15.5 in his career, a career figure (0.65 per game) that leads all active FBS players.

Edsall credited the defense and special teams with stepping up last week when the offense faltered. “Our defense went out and did the things they needed to do, our special teams, that’s the neat thing about it, it’s a team,” said Edsall. “If we can win two out of the three (phases – offense, defense, special teams), we’ve got a chance.”

The Border War

Former Terps coach Ralph Friedgen used to get over-heated talking about West Virginia and Virginia. Edsall keeps his personal feelings more on the backburner though fans still get pretty heated in this contest.

“I’ve been playing West Virginia for a long time,” said the former Connecticut coach and Syracuse player. “I think West Virginia has a really good program. They have a great tradition and now being here at Maryland, it’s kind of a border rivalry. I know our fans, I think that’s probably the biggest rivalry I’ve seen since I’ve been here, with no disrespect to the teams in the ACC. I see this one being more intense…I think it’s good that we can get on a bus to go there, they can get on a bus to come here. The fans can go and travel to the games. I just think it’s healthy for both institutions and it’s healthy for football in this area.”

Nothing for the bulletin boards there and the Terrapin players at Tuesday’s press gathering were equally magnanimous about the Mountaineers, C.J. Brown and Goree both just talking about the “physical” nature of games with WVU. Brown went a little further:

“You just know it’s going to be a fight. At 12:01 here Saturday it’s going to be a fight. We know it’s going to be a hard-fought game. You have to come ready to go. It’s always been like that. Last year was a very physical game though the score didn’t show that. But they’re much improved this year.”

One Terrapin, off the record, talked about how he knew this would be a tough game because of the 37-0 licking Maryland put on them last year in Baltimore, a victory that snapped a seven-game WVU winning streak in the series. He opined that he knew how he and his teammates would feel coming into this game in that situation. They’d want revenge.

So here’s the first of many must-see games in Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. Strap up the helmets a little tighter and don’t be late.

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