Defensive Keys To The Game: Maryland

Darryl Cato-Bishop and the rest of NC State's defense will try to shut down a young but improving Maryland offense. Here are some defensive keys to the game for the Wolfpack.

NC State Defense vs. Maryland Offense

First down will definitely be the critical down for NC State's defense today. The Wolfpack comes in to the game as one of the league's best on third down, but it all starts with limiting the opposing defense on the first down of a series.

State has to be able to stuff Maryland's ground game early and put true freshman quarterback Perry Hills in obvious passing situations. Once they've done that, defensive coordinator Mike Archer can utilize his different blitz packages that make the Pack's defense so tough.

"The key to the game is we've got to be good on first down," said Archer earlier in the week. "They run the ball on first down. Now, I'm sure they are going to self-scout themselves, but first and 10 they are heavy run... they are going to run it on first down because they know they have a young quarterback. They want to get four or five yards and put him in a plus situation.

"If we can put them in predictable throwing situations on second and third down that plays in our hands because we can try to put pressure them with our blitz packages. If you look at he games we've played well, we've been good on first and third down. To me, those are the most important downs."

Maryland has struggled this year on third down, converting just 32.9% of the time, which ranks No. 102 nationally. State has been outstanding in getting off the field, ranking No. 4 nationally in third down defense (26.2%). However, none of that matters if the Pack defense can't put Maryland in obvious passing situations. The best way to do that is to win on first down, and they must do it today.

State's defense must make Maryland sustain long drives and earn every point they score. They can't give the Terps points through turnovers or explosive plays offensively or on special teams.

Maryland's offense isn't overly productive... the Terps are No. 119 nationally in total offense, No. 118 in rushing offense, and No. 96 in passing offense. But, they have been able to produce big plays that led to scoring opportunities.

In the last three games Maryland has totaled at least 12 passing plays of 20+ yards, including five against Virginia (by five different receivers).

Maryland has versatile weapons who can make big plays in the passing game, and the top option for Hills has been true freshman wideout Stefon Diggs. Diggs, who is averaging 21.6 yards per catch, has a team-high 21 catches for 453 yards and ranks first in the ACC in receiving yards per game (75.5) among freshmen and fifth nationally. Oh, he's also dynamic in the return game... he opened the win against Virginia with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown.

"They play him in the backfield, in the inside slot, they play him outside, they play him all over on offense," Tom O'Brien said of Diggs. "Each week is a little different on how they try to do things so we've got to adjust and find where he is.

"The good thing for us, we played Miami, Florida State, who also have guys who are dynamic in the kicking game. I know our defensive coaches, they're hollering every day at practice pointing out where No. 1 is. He certainly has our attention."

Two years ago State's ACC title hopes were dashed in College Park by the big-play ability of Maryland wideout Torrey Smith. The Pack defense can't allow the same explosive plays to do them in this afternoon.

It's a common theme each week for NC State, but the Wolfpack must be able to apply consistent pressure on Hills.

The Terps come in ranked No. 114 nationally in sacks allowed and last in the ACC, yielding 3.50 sacks per game. NC State comes in second in the ACC, behind Maryland, in sacks per game, recording 2.67 per game. The numbers seem to suggest that the Wolfpack could have some success at reaching Hills.

Also, Maryland comes into the game with major issues along the offensive line, as hree starters could potentially miss the game. Left guard Bennett Fulper was listed as out on the latest injury report and starting center Sal Conaboy was listed as doubtful. If he can't go, Evan Mulrooney will make his first start. Finally, starting right tackle Justin Gilbert is listed as questionable.

So, Maryland currently has two healthy offensive line starters available and both of them, left tackle Mike Madaras and right guard Andrew Zeller, are freshmen. That's certainly not an ideal situation for the Terps.

This game sets up well for State's defense. Maryland has struggled to run the ball all season, and their top rusher, freshman Wes Brown, is questionable for the game with a shoulder injury. Maryland has major injury concerns along the offensive line, and State comes into the game relatively healthy, and deep in its front seven.

State should be able to apply pressure on Hills and the rest of the Terp offense. It will definitely be a concern if they aren't able to do so.

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