It's Senior Week, but so far senior offensive tackle Jake Wheeler didn't exactly have a ton of fond Maryland memories to fill his Terps scrapbook.
Well, that was until Nov. 22, when the 6-foot-7, 310-pound career reserve out of Hollywood, Fla.'s American Heritage High School, who signed with a bit of fanfare back in the day, cracked the starting lineup at Michigan at left tackle. And helped boost a moribund Terps run game, while also protecting resurgent quarterback C.J. Brown, in the 23-16 victory at the Big House to improve Maryland to 7-4 (4-3 Big Ten) and notch another compelling road win in the new league.
Wheeler, who had played in every game as a reserve this season, had a strong practice week, was inserted for Michael Dunn (who was flipped to the right side), with former starting right tackle Ryan Doyle moving to reserve. And in his Nov. 23 teleconference with beat reporters, Terps head man Randy Edsall said the new lineup will stick, with Wheeler as the new starter.
Wheeler gave the Terps a more physical, mauler type on the left side, and Maryland had been looking to get more aggressive up front. His help with protection helped keep Brown upright for most of the day, helped clear some running lanes for the dual-threat Terps quarterback, and he was out on the lead blocking on the left side when Brown took an 8-yard quarterback sweep for a score to tie the game in the second half. It seemed like yesterday the man-mountain from Florida was trekking up to College Park with his even bigger family in a camper to visit the Terps.
And seemingly with each game this year the Terps have gotten a lift from an unsuspecting source (see receiver Daniel Adams last week). And this week it was Wheeler, who will now cap his Terps career with some more highlights.
"Jake will start again. I thought Jake played well," Edsall said. "I told the team, here's a guy that has kinda bided his time and fought out there and worked hard. An example of a guy that kept working at practice and maybe getting some other people....opened up the opportunity to give him a chance. So that was good from that standpoint. But I thought Jake played well and I am happy for him."
Meanwhile, Edsall awarded game balls to C.J. Brown (offense), Anthony Nixon (defense) and Will Likely (special teams) following the Michigan game. Edsall led his Nov. 23 comments with the 5-7 mighty-mite corner Likely, who had six tackles, 1 pick, a pass breakup, saved a score on the fake punt by the Wolverines, and helped keep 6-5 Michigan receiver Devin Funchess to just five receptions for 30 yards. He also had big kick and punt returns.
"I thought that we did some really good things yesterday," Edsall said. "I thought Will Likely played a really good game. The play there on the fake punt, which Michigan did a good job with in terms of scheming that, him making that tackle down there allowed us to line up and play again. And we held them to a field goal, and that was huge."
The junior free safety Nixon, who's mostly had a quiet season, also came from out of the shadows a bit to register 7 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss and a half-sack, while stonewalling some Michigan run plays at the line late.
"I thought that he probably played his best game of the year," Edsall said of Nixon. "He was all over the place, he did a great job communicating and doing the things that we expect out of a guy at his position."
And, of course, C.J. Brown, who finally seemed to have the kind of game the Terps had been waiting for all season from the wobbly six-year man, completing 13-of-24 passes for 165 yards and no picks, while rushing 18 times for 87 yards and a score. He also had at least five receiver drops on a day he was poised, in control and aggressive from the start, despite the first half receiver miscues.
"C.J. had his best game of the year," Edsall said. "And just really did a good job running the ball, throwing the ball, not getting down when guys had some drops there early on. I just thought he executed really well."
Meanwhile, Edsall said there were some little technique points the Terps didn't do as well on special teams as they usually do.
But he praised the late running by back Wes Brown (11-39 yards, 1 touchdown), with Maryland's line having its way to take, and then preserve victory, as it chewed up clock.
"The two drives there in the fourth quarter, you know 11 plays, 68 yards, and 10 plays for 78 yards for touchdowns," Edsall said. "And to outscore them 14-0 in the fourth quarter on the road, I thought that was big. And to be able to finish the game out the way that we did with our offense on the field, utilizing 4:16, I thought that was something we hadn't done this year."
He credited the defense with its fourth-down stops, and bottling up the Wolverines over their last three offensive possessions.
On offense, Edsall said receiver drops happen, while sophomore Jacquille Veii was trying too hard early and needed to relax, Edsall said he told him. Meanwhile, he said he approached C.J. Brown with similar thoughts in the pre-game but Brown told him don't worry, I got it, before he could get many words out.
Edsall said the Terps did some more things to help Brown Nov. 22, but mostly he looked and played comfortably "and he utilized his whole repertoire in terms of what he has available, in terms of his legs, his arms, all those things. It was good to see, and we need him to play that way all the time."
And as far as the week that was, including the new indoor facility announcement and another compelling win on the road in the Big Ten, now to include both the Big House and at Penn State, Edsall appreciated it all.
"We always thought that we would be able to do what we are doing on the field," Edsall said. "We never doubted ourselves. We had a lot of confidence, and like I said before, I think it is great the University is making that commitment. We're bringing the whole University community together with that facility project, and bringing in the University of Baltimore. And that's what it's all about, people working together for a common goal. And that's going to benefit student athletes.
"And then to get a win, that shows people that we can beat these teams in this league. But we still need some things, so like I said yesterday, it was a team effort, the facility is a team effort, and what's what makes it nice: everybody is working together for a common goal."
On winning three of four now on the road in the Big Ten, including at those two BIG venues with 100,000-plus fans, Edsall said:
"It's not every day you can go to the Big House and get a win," Edsall said. "It's not every day you can win at two of the toughest places in our league, Beaver Stadium and the Big House in one year on the road. It's one of the things we talked about with the kids, to go there and do it and be the first Maryland team to ever accomplish that in the same year."
Edsall said the team came out of the game healthy, including when asked about Matt Robinson and Marcus Leak, who were nicked up.
Senior Wheeler Ending on High Note
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