Questions Surround Terps Defense

The solutions offered by Maryland's defensive players to the unit's wide-ranging problems vary. Tackling better was one remedy. Making fewer mental mistakes and continuing to work in practice were others. There was also a blunt "I don't know," the most alarming sentiment as the team enters the home stretch of the season.

It's clear that something has to be fixed, one way or another. For the second straight year under defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, Maryland's defense ranks near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring defense (10th in 2006, ninth in 2007), total defense (10th, 10th), rush defense (10th, 10th), tackles for a loss (11th, 12th), sacks (11th, 12th), pass efficiency defense (10th, 10th) and passes intercepted (10th, 9th).

"It's not where we want it, obviously," Cosh said. "But we got to keep emphasizing it and hopefully we're going to get it together here soon."

The same issues that plagued Maryland's defense last year have not corrected through eight games this season. There has been no marked improvement in fundamentals such as tackling and pursuit angles. It has fans, players and coaches asking why. And for the fans mostly, who is to blame?

Why those fundamental problems are still prevalent is a mystery. The players said they go through tackling circuits everyday in practice, but for some reason it hasn't translated into the games. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen estimated they missed 12 tackles in the third and fourth quarters against Clemson.

"That's the most frustrating thing," linebacker Dave Philistin said. "I wish I had an answer to that. It's so frustrating. We just got to keep working on it."

Friedgen admitted it's a difficult situation because full-on tackling in practice could lead to more injuries for an already depleted group.

"We're getting better at it but we're not where I want us to be yet," he said. "I don't know if we'll be there Saturday. It's one of those cross your fingers and hope nobody gets hurt [situations]. To me if you stand pat and don't do it [in practice] you're going to get hurt Saturday."

When a team or unit struggles consistently, the focus then turns to coaching. The fans have put most of the blame on Cosh, who came to Maryland after a linebackers coach stint at Kansas State. Cosh was hired in December of 2005 following Gary Blackney's resignation. Friedgen said he was recommended by several big-name college coaches, including Alabama's Nick Saban and Lou Holtz, who was the head coach at South Carolina when Cosh was defensive coordinator there.

Maryland's defensive players, however, overwhelmingly said that the blame falls entirely on them and not on Cosh.

""He's calling the plays and putting us in position to make the play," defensive end Jeremy Navarre told the Baltimore Sun. "I really feel it's on our shoulders right now."

"Sometimes when you're not in the network almost, it's kind of easy to blame somebody because you don't see what's going on," Philistin said. "It would be one thing not to be prepped for the game, but I go in there with all the knowledge that I possibly can of the opponent."

Perhaps the most perplexing issue that has led to fans questioning Cosh has been the tendency of teams to beat Maryland with the same few plays. For West Virginia, it was the shotgun option. Georgia Tech's struggling quarterback Taylor Bennett nearly orchestrated a comeback through the air, throwing for 309 yards—79 more than any other game this year. For Virginia and Clemson, it was runs up the middle and screen passes.

Philistin said it's by no fault of the coaching, though, and goes back to fundamentals.

"We've seen those plays," Philistin said after the Clemson game. "We knew they were going to run screen because the game before that we had trouble stopping the screen. If you want count the people who are by the ball, there's a lot of people by the ball, but if you want to count the people who made the tackles it probably wouldn't be as much. That's the thing."

"I'm not frustrated at all," Cosh said. "There's things that we've done well and things we haven't done well. You build on what you do well and you try to emphasize on spending time to improve the things you're not doing well."

Friedgen said anytime such problems persist, he looks at what coaches in addition to players could improve upon.

"I think [coaching]'s a factor. I look at all those things," he said. "We all have our issues. I think Chris is doing the best he can. I listen to every call he makes and is every call the correct one? No. Neither [are mine]… All I feel like I can do as the head coach is identify what the problem is and set up practice to solve the problems."


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