COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Excuse the Terrapin defenders if they seem a little testy this week.
That will happen when get hit hard for 694 yards – the most in the Randy Edsall Era -- last week and the result was a 40-37 loss to West Virginia at the final gun. The Mountaineers went up top early and often and now there’s a whole different challenge this week with an undefeated Syracuse team that’s averaging 212.5 yards rushing.
“We’re ready to go,” said Terp cornerback Will Likely. “What happened is behind us. The past is the past. We’re looking forward to Syracuse.”
And the chances are good the 2-0 Orange will come right at Maryland Saturday at 12:30 in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse ground out 242 yards rushing in a 20-3 win over Maryland in College Park last year, and while they seem to have a little more ability to travel by air this season, there has to be and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality” coming into this one.
This game is going to be an awful lot about what happens in the trenchs.
“They’re a very efficient offense,” said Maryland nose tackle Darius Kilgo. “They’re very consistent. They’ve got a pretty good quarterback and I think their offense runs through their quarterback.”
That would be senior Terrel Hunt, who has 617 career rushing yards, including 117 so far this season. He has 10 career rushing touchdowns and in 40-3 win at Central Michigan last week, he became the first Syracuse quarterback since Donovan McNabb to throw for three touchdowns in a game.
Hunt, along with the tailback tandem of Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore, are among four Orange runners all averaging over 6.0 yards per carry and have five rushing scores in two games.
“Prince-Tyson Gulley is a guy that’s quick, can make people miss,” said Edsall. “Moore is somebody who is a powerful guy. They have the ability to run the ball and throw the ball. They pounded us pretty good last year.”
The Orange beat Maryland to a pulp with 45 rushing attempts but it was nothing like last week when West Virginia got off 108 plays and threw for 511 yards. How does the defense bounce back this week against another talented albeit different style of offense?
“It gets back to the basics,” said Edsall, basically, speaking of West Virginia and Syracuse. “If you do the basics the right way, a lot of that stuff would have been taken care of.”
Edsall pointed to some instances when his defenders didn’t bat balls down, were not looking at the right things to get into position, closing up the right gap. Kilgo agreed.
“I think it’s fixable,” he said. “I think on some plays we weren’t all on the same page. When guys on offense see that, it’s something they want to take advantage of. As a defense, we want to make sure we’re all on the same page. We all know our responsibilities. It’s one of the things that can be worked on. It all starts with technique.”
Kilgo and Likely were on the right page, and certainly technically sound. The senior nose tackle had four tackles, including a sack, recovered a fumble and blocked a field goal. Likley was perhaps even better with eight tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, a pass break-up and a 69-yard punt return for a score.
Likely, a man of few words and many big plays, wasn’t consoled by his stat line. “At the end of the day we lost so that doesn’t mean anything. I might feel different if we had won but I didn’t make enough plays.”
The Terrapins got a lift at practice today with the return of senior weakside big-play linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, a virtuoso pass rusher who hasn’t played this season because of foot injury. If he can go, that will be a boost against an offensive line that is one of four FBS teams (along with Baylor, Texas Tech and New Mexico) that haven’t yielded a sack yet this season.
That’s why Hunt is hitting 64 percent of his passes for 269 yards through two games.
Maryland, among national sack leaders last year, is again off to a good start this season with seven quarterback traps (to go with four interceptions and four fumbles recovered). Likely has one of those sacks but defensive end Andre Monroe leads the team with two, and the senior sack-master has 16.5 for his career, among national leaders (second in the FBS at 0.66 per game).
Kilgo got his first one last week but Quinton Jefferson and Cudjoe-Virgil’s backup Yannick Ngakoue also have one apiece. Spencer Myers and Roman Braglio shared one sack. Ngakoue leads the team with six tackles for loss.
Likely was unlikely to comment much more about Syracuse, and didn’t care that they would attack the Terps differently. It will still be in a hurry-up, just not at West Virginia’s warp-speed. “We’re still going to play our defense, whatever they do,” he said.
In addition to praising Likely at his Tuesday press conference, Edsall also cited junior kicker Brad Craddock, who is 5-for-5 on field goal attempts this year, including three beyond 40 yards. “It’s not surprising Brad is having the kind of year he’s having,” said Edsall. “It’s easy as a coach to be able to watch young men and be able to tell how well they’re going to play by how much effort they put into it, how they conduct themselves. You see how much pride they have.”
Expect a Physical Game
The Terrapins took the narrow lost to West Virginia hard but are bouncing back as a team, said tailback Brandon Ross. “Everybody was in pretty high spirits for the fact we got down by a lot and came back. We should have never got down that much in the first place. Really, the thing that hurt offensively, was that when the game was tied we had the ball in our possession and had a chance to put it away and couldn’t do it.”
Ross was part of a tailback tandem with Albert Reid, who made his first start, that accounted for just four yards rushing on seven carries. In fact, other than quarterback C.J. Brown, who had 161 of Maryland’s 163 yards rushing, the ground game was non-existent. Though Ross did catch five passes for 50 yards, and Reid, three for 22 yards. Many of the plays were screens, something at which the Terrapins are becoming quite proficient.
“When you hit a screen perfectly you can possibly hit a home run with it,” said Ross, admitting he smiles when he hears that call. “You get the right spacing and you can go, but running, pass blocking, whatever I can do.”
Ross and left tackle Mike Dunn said the thing they both remembered most about the Syracuse defense from a year ago was how physical the Orange were. “They like to bring a lot of pressure,” said Dunn. “That’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to be blitzing, sending a bunch of their guys in. They’re big and athletic. We’ve got to be prepared.”
High risk, high reward. With all the slobber-knocking in the running game, it could be one of those tailbacks – and yes, Wes Brown is back in good graces – or Stefon Diggs or Deon Long that make a big play to help decided matters.
Dunn & Co., will be looking to get a hat on senior linebacker Cameron Lynch, the ACC’s current leader with 11.5 tackles per game, and one of seven returning starters for Syracuse on that side of the ball. Syracuse’s 9.0 tackles for loss average is eighth in the nation, and it’s a category in which the Orange have finished nationally ranked each of the past two seasons.
Dunn said it’s important to stay ahead of the chains, not have negative plays. “We’ve got to be a lot more consistent, that’s our biggest issue right now,” he said. “Every now and then we might hit a great play but the thing is just staying on track. We can’t afford to get caught with a penalty or a play that keeps us off track.”
Dunn also said he’s looking forward to playing in a dome for the first time. “It’ s a new environment for me, it’s going to be loud. But we’ve played ‘away’ before so we’re used to it. It’s just a matter of coming out strong and executing.”
The Terrapin offense didn’t execute very well last year against Syracuse. They had four turnovers and rushed 36 times for just 81 yards. They fumbled five times, losing two, and after dropping the ball seven times at South Florida two weeks ago, the Terps seem to have a handle on that problem with zero fumbles against West Virginia.
Dunn said he and his line-mates “were not too pleased” with their performance against the Mountaineers. “We talked about it. We’re back out here practicing hard, trying to get better. We’re going to get better week-to-week. Overall, it was just not where (the performance) should have been whether it was missing a block or not being physical enough. We can get a lot better and we will be a lot better.”
Dunn said that disappointment has translated into a higher level at practice, the offensive line on point to make things happen this week in the Carrier Dome.
“Right now, the Syracuse game is the most important game on our schedule,” said Dunn. “We’re really focused in this week. None of us want to feel like we felt last week after West Virginia.”
“Three and one sounds a lot better than two and two,” added Ross. “We definitely want to go win and get some momentum heading into the Big Ten schedule.”
Edsall, when asked pointblank, admitted he had sent tape to the Big Ten offices of the officiating from Saturday’s game. How many plays was he questioning?
After a 40-37 game, a 173 plays between the two teams and a hurried postgame session where there was no way for Edsall to go into detail on many aspects, nor would he have expanded much on officiating, to be honest, Tuesday Edsall got a little off his chest.
“I haven’t gotten responses back yet,” said the coach of sending the tape.
The one play which he was asked about was play No. 173 when WVU kicker Josh Lambert booted the game-winning field goal from 47 yards, a play on which Lambert looked to false start before the ball was snapped and he went into his kick. “He moved,” said Edsall. “It was a false start but that didn’t lose us the game.”
The Terrapins were whistled seven times for 71 yards in that contest, uncharacteristic of Edsall’s typically disciplined teams. It was the most flags for Maryland in eight games, dating back to the Clemson game and 10 penalties (for just 59 yards) last season. The 71 yards were the most since the Terps racked up 75 in 2012 against NC State.
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