COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Terrapins had a bye week to gear up for a gauntlet of teams that put the ‘Big’ in Big Ten. The 5-1 Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0 in conference) roll into Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium Oct. 18 at noon, and they’re big believers in it’s what’s up front that counts.
“They are a bigger line and you’ve got to out-quick them,” said Maryland linebacker L.A. Goree at the Terrapins’ Tuesday press luncheon. “At the end of the day, though, it’s just football. If they’ve got a back that’s 240 pounds, I hit him a little lower.”
Well get ready to get lower, L.A., because Iowa has a 240-pound running back, Mark Weisman, who is averaging 82.5 yards per game in two Big Ten contests and may lead the league in bruises inflicted from the position.
The Hawkeyes average 298 pounds per man up front on an offensive line that likes to get rolling on the ground and control the game. “What you have to do is look at teams and what they do and then look at who you are and put (your players) in the best possible situation you can,” said Maryland coach Randy Edsall. “For us to be successful defensively, we’ve got to play with good technique and good fundamentals. We’ve got to keep our pad level down and use our hands, and make sure we stay in our gaps.”
So guess what the Terrapins used their extra time in the bye week to do?
“We practiced on our fundamentals and technique,” said Goree, second on the team with 52 tackles.
For Goree and a battered linebacking crew, the bye came at a particularly perfect time. The Terrapins (4-2, 1-1) had a chance to lick their wounds after the 52-24 loss to Ohio State and get healed up a little. Before returning to a normal schedule this Sunday, Maryland practiced just twice last week.
“I spent as much time at home as possible,” said Goree, from Bowie. “I don’t really get to go home too much and my Mom is always calling, asking when I’m coming home. I went to the mall with her and my sister. I hadn’t really got to relax since the beginning of the season.”
Goree pointed out that Maryland won’t have another week off until after this three-game grueling stretch of Iowa, at Wisconsin and at Penn State. “I wasn’t really worn out seeing as how I had to sit out the West Virginia game with a bad back,” he added. “It was very important, though, to have this week. There’s a difference between being hurt and being injured. As a linebacker I just see it as part of my job to play and be reckless.”
As for facing big, bad Big Ten bully Iowa this week, Goree again dropped his position into the answer. “As a linebacker, I respect that,” he said of the Hawkeyes’ straightforward, smash-mouth approach to offense. “That’s just saying, ‘Our guys are better than your guys.' They’re lining up their offensive line and tight ends against our front seven and it’s on us to stop them.”
“Their offensive line is very disciplined and they make key blocks,” said outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue. “This is going to be a big challenge for us this week. They’re one of the best offensive lines we’re going to see, very physical.”
Ngakoue, the next man up for the injured Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, has been a big-play specialist so far. His 1.42 tackles for loss per game lead the Big Ten despite Cudjoe-Virgil returning recently. The two split time now, at least one spot left on the defense where there’s veteran depth.
The bigger issue for Maryland is that in the last four games, the Terrapins have given ground – 183 yards, 370, 206 and 269 yards rushing in those contests. “It’s definitely a problem,” said Ngakoue. “I feel like the effort is there, we just have to execute better.”
Edsall agreed. “Usually when you give up yards it’s because people aren’t executing. Guys aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities the way you need to. It might be a guy missing a gap here or missing a tackle there. It’s a combination of everybody not doing the things you need to do. Those are the things we’ve just been working on.”
Edsall said for the most part, despite that pile of yardage, the Terrapins have been able to keep folks out of the end zone, well, except for Ohio State. Then again, the Buckeyes, now shooting back up the national rankings, do that to a lot of folks.
Brown and Bullpen Help
An exasperated Edsall compared his changing of quarterbacks in game to a baseball manager going to the bullpen Tuesday, as he got several questions about whether C.J. Brown or Caleb Rowe would start Saturday. Rowe has come off the bench to finish the last two games.
“We have a philosophy here that we’re going to play guys that are the best guys that give us the best opportunity to win, and the guys know that,” Edsall began. “Everybody makes too much of quarterbacks and everything else. It’s like a starting pitcher. A starting pitcher goes out and some days he doesn’t have it, you gotta go with the bullpen and get someone to come in an relieve him. Not everyone is going to have a great day.”
Edsall pointed out that he makes changes like that at every position and the thing he liked about his team is the competition at each position, including what Rowe has done pushing Brown this season. While Brown leads the team with 1,067 yards passing, 263 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns produced, Rowe has been the more accurate passer (63 percent versus 57.5), and Edsall inserted the junior gunslinger against Ohio State when it was obvious the Terps would have to go up top to have a chance to come back.
"I think any quarterback knows that if you don’t produce they’re going to go to the next guy,” said Brown. “Any time you don’t have momentum or things aren’t going your way, they’re going to make that change. I understand that. It goes with the role. It goes with the territory.”
That doesn’t mean Brown necessarily likes the situation of someone looking over his shoulder pads. “We’ve always said there’s competition everywhere,” he said. “Caleb has been pushing me and we’re going to continue pushing each other. Obviously you don’t want to be looking over your shoulder. You don’t want to know that if you make a mistake you’re going to get pulled but at the same time, you just have to go out there and play ball.”
Brown, who threw that crushing interception against Ohio State just before the half, used the bye week to refocus on his strong suits. “I think the biggest thing is trying not to force things but understanding not to get away from my athleticism, the ability to still use my feet. I think that was the biggest thing going back and looking at the film. I was kind of leaving some plays out there.”
Brown said he used the bye week to recharge, too. He went to see his brother play at James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., in the rout of Towson. “We’ve been going hard since camp so it felt good just to get away. I think the whole team feels rejuvenated and ready to go for this next three-game stretch.”
Brown talked about Iowa’s size up front and said “they’re not real fancy scheme-wise,” but that they are very fundamentally sound out of their 4-3 gap-control alignment. They don’t blitz much but they’ve had success, getting eight interceptions so far and allowing just 330.7 yards per game.
“We’ve played plenty of good defenses,” Brown said. “You just have to make the right reads and execute. It all comes down to that and putting the ball in the hands of playmakers.”
Brown still had a black, semi-soft cast on his left (non-throwing) wrist from the injury that knocked him out at the half of the Indiana game. He said the injury had no affect on his game and that he would take himself out of the lineup if it did.
Rush to Judgment
The Maryland run game – considered a preseason strength with Brown running the read option – hasn’t been over 200 yards since the opening game against James Madison. In fact, in two of the last three contests the Terrapins have been below 90 yards total rushing offense, and that’s not their winning formula.
“Teams know what we do in the zone read so we’ve got to space them out a little more,” said tailback Brandon Ross, who has less than 39 yards in four of the last five games. “Ohio State got a lead and that kind of took us out of running the ball.”
Edsall wouldn’t fault the offensive line though he knows there’s room for improvement. Brown said the offense’s biggest issue thus far was consistency.
“The biggest thing for us is just playing smart and protecting the football,” said the quarterback. “We’ve had a bunch of big plays some games and then we don’t. Sometimes we move the ball and sometimes it’s just a roller-coaster.”
Brown said running the football would make the passing game easier. Edsall has often noted how Maryland opponents are stacking the box – filling the area near the line of scrimmage with defenders to stymie the running game.
Iowa will do the same and trust a veteran secondary to clamp down on Maryland’s receivers. Look for Brown to use some play-action and try to make some plays down the field.
Maryland has also compensated for the lack of consistent running game with more big plays from backs in the passing game. Ross had the 90-yard touchdown at Syracuse and then a 36-yarder at Indiana, both on safe, low-risk, high-reward screen passes.
It’s Homecoming Saturday but just what does that mean to the players?
“It’s huge,” said C.J. Brown, ever the cheerleading team leader. “A lot of ex-teammates are coming. Everyone’s hitting me up for tickets so we’re looking forward to a great crowd, a great environment.”
Edsall said that advance sales indicate a crowd of at least 45,000 on hand Saturday.
“I’m giving a ticket to my old fullback Jeff (Hernandez),” said Ross. “I think a lot of the guys are coming back. He always blocked for me and played hard as (heck).”
The Terrapins are counting on playing that way, too, after the week off. Goree summed up the Maryland mentality, “Moving forward, we’re trying to get that swagger back that we started with this year.”
Terps Toughen, Take on Iowa To Start Stretch
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