COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The next big thing is, well, the next B1G thing at Maryland.
The Terrapins officially kickoff Big Ten Conference play Sept. 27 at 1:36 p.m. in Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., and it’s not just something for the TV talking heads to commemorate. The 3-1 Terrapins mean business in their first big B1G game.
“What we really want to do is prove we can definitely play in this league, seeing as how a lot of teams don’t think we can,” said Terp tailback Brandon Ross, who not only carries the ball, but apparently a chip on his shoulder. “As far as the history, that’s what we’re talking about in the locker room. We want to play well.”
Maryland coach Randy Edsall doesn’t like to get bogged down in the big game talk. “It’s very significant and it is historic but it’s also the fifth game on the schedule for us. That’s the thing I want our kids to know. I’ve told them it is historic. It is a special moment because it is the first game. We want to go out and play well, and we know it’s going to be difficult. But we also have to understand it’s still just another football game that we’re playing.”
Edsall sees the game more in terms of the practical. The Hoosiers are a challenge offensively because they play so fast, faster even than warp-speed West Virginia, which racked up 694 total yards against Maryland and handed the Terrapins their only loss. The Hoosiers (2-1) feature a power running game and can wear you down because they don’t allow opponents to substitute very often.
Defensively, IU is a 3-4, 4-3, mix-it-up front that is adept at creating pressure. And oh yeah, the Hoosiers are coming off their first win over a Top 20 team in eight years thanks to last weekend’s 31-27 upset at No. 18 Missouri. And here’s another number – Saturday’s game marks the opening of Indiana’s 115th season of Big Ten football.
“We’ve got a chance to be part of history, it’s definitely something special, “ said linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, who is expected to make his first start of the season. “We want to practice well and go out there and play well. Indiana is coming off a big win and they’ll be our biggest challenge yet.”
Cudjoe-Virgil returned from his foot injury last week to get in on about 25 plays, he said. It was just in time because the Terrapins are about to put out an all points bulletin for linebackers after losing Cavon Walker for the season with a foot injury.
Cole Farrand, Cudjoe-Virgil, L.A. Goree and Avery Thompson have all been playing nicked up. Matt Robinson’s nagging shoulder problem has reoccurred, Abner Logan was suspended earlier this season and the Terps are pretty thin at linebacker. Redshirt freshman Jalen Brooks made his first career start last week and true freshman Jesse Aniebonam has already played this season, as well.
Syracuse pounded the Maryland defense on the ground last week to the tune of 370 yards rushing, and Indiana, which averages 310.3 yards per game rushing, is going to come right at them.
Goree said the films show Indiana likes to spread defenses out to create space for junior running back Tevin Coleman, who racked up his fifth straight 100-yard game with 132 at Missouri last Saturday. Coleman is big and fast and adverse to being brought down
“We have to tackle well, and we have to practice that way this week,” said Goree, who leads the Terps with 9.7 tackles per game. “(Coleman) can’t be arm-tackled. He goes through them so we have to definitely put some pads on him.”
Defense Battling Injuries
Those pads won’t include those of junior defensive end Quinton Jefferson, who is out for the year with a knee injury. His surgery timetable hasn’t been set but Edsall is already talking about a medical redshirt year.
Senior Keith Bowers started in his place at Syracuse, moving back to end from nose tackle where he and Darius Kilgo split time. Senior wrestler Spencer Myers, who is having more and more moments and takedowns, uh, tackles, backs Bowers.
True freshman David Shaw backs Kilgo, and will see more duty now. The other end is Andre Monroe, who just keeps making big plays, and his understudy is Roman Braglio.
Edsall talked about redshirt freshman defensive end Malik Jones getting more work with the first two units in practice these days, and also said another redshirt freshman end, Kingsley Opara, was sitting in more meetings and had to be ready, if needed.
“He’s only one or two plays away from playing,” commented the coach. “As I talked to our team (Tuesday) morning after practice I told them that every guy that travels, all 70 guys, have to be ready to play and the scout team guys, they have to work really hard because if somebody else gets injured, they’re going to have the opportunity to move up.”
There may be one of those opportunities brewing in the secondary, too. Alvin Hill, who has played well as the “other” corner opposite budding star Will Likely, was spotted in a boot after the game. The Terps have sophomore Jarrett Ross listed behind Hill on the depth chart but don’t be surprised if Jeremiah Johnson, the senior coming back from missing nearly all of last season with a toe injury, gets a lot more work.
Terps Want to Take Control Offensively
Defensively, the Hoosiers have nine starters who are either seniors or juniors and they are expert at disguising coverages and making quarterbacks trying to get a read miserable.
“We’re looking for them to bring pressure,” said Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown. “They’re experienced. The big thing is the disguising with the linebackers and the experienced secondary. Their d-line is pretty big and they clog up the line.”
Brown pointed out that new IU defensive coordinator, Brian Knorr, held the same post at Wake Forest the last three seasons. Last year, that defense held Maryland to 39 yards rushing on 23 carries and forced Brown and Caleb Rowe to throw it 51 times. Maryland didn’t win that one (a 34-10 loss in Winston-Salem) and they won’t win many this season if they get forced into going up top that often.
The Terrapin offense, despite some big plays this year, hasn’t really found its groove yet. Maryland’s running game has been most perplexing, the Terrapins winning at Syracuse with a season-low 89 yards rushing.
The week before C.J. Brown lugged the ball 18 times for 161 of the team’s 163 total yards rushing against WVU, and South Florida limited Maryland to 116 ground yards on 40 carries.
The Terrapins want to keep those quick-strike plays but hope to incorporate a little more ball-control, particularly this week against Indiana’s hurryin’ Hoosier style. The Terps put up 31 of their 34 points in the first half last week and didn’t do a very good job making plays to stay on the field in the second frame.
“The second half we only had one three-and-out,” said Edsall. “We just didn’t make some plays. They started blitzing a little more and a couple of times we got off the chains (with negative plays) and a couple of times we had some things that didn’t go our way on third downs.”
Edsall said that opponents this year are “loading the box and forcing us to throw. Seems like people are trying to make us throw the ball to win. Guess what? We threw the ball and won.”
Brown was 16-of-26 for 280 yards and two touchdowns, his most efficient passing day of the season. But the concern over the running game manifested itself in a new wrinkle against the Orange that will probably be a staple now.
Sophomore Jacquille Veii, moved to wide receiver in the preseason, went back to tailback at Syracuse, and he made some plays, rushing eight times for 42 yards, including a score. Veii’s quickness seemed to add another dimension to that already crowded backfield (Brandon Ross, Albert Reid, Wes Brown) but he got around the edge better than any of his more veteran cohorts and did spark the team.
“Jacquille brings a lot of speed to the table, and a lot of energy,” said Ross, who is still the starter. “When he’s in the game, I feel like he’s a guy that can break one at any time. He’s one of those guys that his competitiveness makes me a better player.”
Ross rose to the challenge, turning in his biggest play of the season, catching a quick screen from C.J. Brown, getting a great block from Stefon Diggs, and jetting 90 yards for a touchdown in the Carrier Dome.
“C.J. had the option to either run it or throw to me based on how the linebackers were playing,” explained Ross. “He saw that they stayed inside the box, so he just threw it to me. Our receivers did a great job blocking, Stefon and Marcus (Leak), they sprung two great blocks and all I had to do was split and then it was wide open.”
Edsall hopes such plays clear the box a little and open up more running lanes. Ross said that shouldn’t matter, that the running game has to find its way no matter how many defenders come up to stick a helmet into the fray.
“Sometimes you have to run the ball anyway,” he said. “The linemen will win their share of those battles and you just have to run it even with a loaded box, especially on third-and-one, third-and-two.”
Why, that sounds an awful lot like Big Ten football. Ross admitted he is amped for all that goes with this first trip into Big Ten turf as a member of the storied league. He even wants 52,929-seat Memorial Stadium filled with screaming Hoosiers.
“I kind of like going into the big stadiums, and seeing all the fans and all that,” he smiled. “It’s kind of like last year when we played Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium, a lot of fans. You could barely hear anything. I like that kind of stuff.”
You’re headed to the right place then, Brandon, the Hoosiers coming off the big win, their first on the road over a Top 20 foe since 1987. They’re not going to roll out the IU red and white carpet for Maryland.
But Edsall’s right about not putting too much into this game. “We treat them all the same. You only get 12 of these and if we don’t treat them all the same we’re doing a disservice to ourselves, the university, our fans, everybody.”
That’s right, Randy. Besides, the Big Ten home opener is next week, No. 22 Ohio State rolling into College Park. That might be a pretty big game, too, particularly if the Terrapins come in with a Big Ten win under their belts.
Big Game, Big Expectations, Big Challenge
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