Terps Defense Frustrates Cal

Early in the week, defensive coordinator Chris Cosh gives his players a homework assignment: watch film of the opponent and prepare a report on a certain aspect of its offense, whether it be tendencies such as screen passes or situations such as third downs.

On Friday the players present their findings, and that's when the surprise comes. "A lot of the things they see some of the coaches don't see," coach Ralph Friedgen said.

With that knowledge and what they felt was a good understanding of California, there were no mass overhauls to Maryland's defense, no strategy changes. The game plan was not much different from last week, when Middle Tennessee racked up 402 yards of total offense.

What, then, did the defense do that frustrated California for most of Saturday's game?

Turns out it was simple: "We were just doing our jobs better," said defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre.

It was clear coming in that Maryland had to stop Cal's explosive running backs and force its first-year starting quarterback to make plays. Watching Cal's first two games on film, Maryland's players noticed that Kevin Riley didn't face much pressure and, in fact, didn't have to do much at all as Jahvid Best and Shane Vareen carried the load.

Things went almost exactly as planned. In the first half Maryland held Best to -1 rushing yards on five carries and Vareen to just 19 yards on four carries. The Terps created constant confusion for Cal's offensive linemen, who became uncertain on blocking assignments, said linebacker Dave Philistin.

"You'll see a lot of the times they don't know who to block and sometimes they're bumping into each other. We love that," he said.

They created plenty of confusion as well for Riley, who often looked unsettled in the pocket and was off target on throws. He was 13 of 23 for 123 yards with an interception in the first half, and was sacked twice--Maryland's first two of the season. It would finish with five sacks.

"Everything's based off their running game," said defensive back Nolan Carroll. "[Riley] was really just trying to throw it up because the pressure was so much for him."

When Cal was able to get positive yardage, Maryland seldom missed a tackle, a stark contrast of the last couple seasons. Friedgen said he has put an added focus in practice on tackling because there was once a time when they "couldn't tackle a guy in a five-by-five square," he said.

A lot of that could be attributed to the defense's newfound energy, which it lacked the first two games. Players swarmed to the ball and the defensive line--remember, there were minimal strategy changes--got consistent pressure on Riley. Cosh said they added some twists to free linemen up, but that was the extent of the changes.

"We had the same system of four-man, three-man, five-man rush combinations," he said. "I think we got a pretty good jump on the football that helped us a little bit."

Said Friedgen, "I think we did a better job of disguising things today--showing one thing and move into another. I wanted us to do more of that last week."

The Terps were also particularly strong on third downs--Cal's first conversion came with 6:49 left in the third quarter.

Maryland's defense tired towards the end of the game, especially in the secondary. Safety Terrell Skinner was out with an ankle injury and cornerback Richard Taylor went down early in the game and didn't return. Cornerback Kevin Barnes battled cramps and Carroll was fighting a knee injury. Friedgen said it forced him to play fourth-string guys in the secondary who weren't expecting the play.

Whether the defense's performance for most of the game was a flash in the pan, it at least knows it's capable of shutting down opposing offenses. But Cosh, who has faced plenty of criticism in his two-plus years at Maryland, didn't gloat, even if he might have earned the right to.

"It's just one game," he said. "One day they put your face on a stamp, the next day they spit on the wrong side. You're only as good as your last win so next game's bigger and bigger. We can build off this, gain confidence with this."

TerrapinTimes Top Stories