LOADING THE BOX
Maryland and Penn State will both stay focused on stopping the run game
“It’s not so much what they do, it’s executing what we need to do with our offense,” Terps quarterback Perry Hills said. “We’re going to have to beat them passing the ball and beat them over the top,” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said.
It doesn’t take a football savant to figure out how Maryland and Penn State plan to stop the other team’s offense today at Beaver Stadium.
Even the quarterbacks, fifth-year senior Perry Hills for the Terps and redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley for the Nittany Lions, know what to expect in their matchup in State College. Hills and McSorley will see defenses stacked to stop the running game.
The Nittany Lions will be trying to slow Maryland’s six-man wrecking crew that tore through Purdue for 400 yards last week en route to a 50-7 win in College Park. The Terps have been rushing for 300 yards a game during the team’s 4-0 start.
Maryland hopes to limit Penn State sophomore
several chasing defenders to the pylon to score a 5-yard touchdown.
That scenario was repeated about eight times during Houston’s 52-31 win, which determined the West Division representative in the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game.
Play after play, the Midshipmen would have solid pass coverage downfield and put pressure on Ward, only to see the elusive quarterback avoid an apparent sack and take off.
“We had him dead to rights quite a bit and he somehow escaped. A couple times we had our arms around him and he got out,” Navy defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson recalled.
Pehrson has reviewed film of every Houston game this season and has seen a mix of defensive game plans designed to disrupt or contain Ward.
None has succeeded in slowing the trigger man of an explosive offense that is averaging 44.2 points and 506 yards through five games.
“Connecticut rushed three and he picked them apart. Oklahoma brought pressure and he escaped it. Cincinnati rushed four and that didn’t work,” Pehrson said. “Texas State tried to put a spy out there and he just outruns the spy.”
It will be interesting to see whether Navy (3-1, 2-0) plays umbrella coverage and attempts to prevent the big play in today’s AAC West showdown with sixth-ranked Houston (5-0, 2-0).
Under previous defensive coordinator Buddy Green, the Mids used a bend-butdon’t-break philosophy that emphasized keeping the play in front of the secondary and having 11 defenders rally to the ball. Pehrson implemented a more aggressive style that incorporates more blitzes and other methods of pressuring the passer.
“We have to take some shots. We can’t just sit back the whole time. We have to Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr. has completed 99 of 140 passes for 1,325 yards and eight touchdowns. The Houston offense scores 44.2 points per game. pick our spots to come after the quarterback,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Under the tutelage of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite, Ward has developed into a proficient passer. He has demonstrated command of the offense and done a good job of going through progressions while completing 70 percent of passes (99 of 140) for 1,325 yards and eight touchdowns.
Ward also has a wealth of weapons at his disposal. Linell Bonner leads a talented receiving corps with 33 catches for 439 yards. Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar have 21 and 19 receptions, respectively.
“They’re absolutely loaded at the skill positions,” Pehrson said.
Pehrson is particularly concerned about the versatility of tight end Tyler McCloskey (6 feet 2, 245 pounds), who is often used in the backfield as a lead blocker for Ward or tailback Duke Catalon (225 rushing yards).
“The tight end is one of the best blockers I’ve ever seen at that position. He is very physical and tenacious,” Pehrson said. “Basically, they always have numbers because they use a lead blocker with the quarterback. That’s the one guy you can’t really account for. When the quarterback runs, it becomes an even bigger threat because you have to dedicate one more guy to take on the blocker.”
Houston possesses outstanding size along the offensive line and will play smash-mouth football with Catalon running the power play. But it’s the ability to make big plays in the open field that makes the Cougars so dangerous.
“They are very physical for a spread team and will pound it. They can also sit back there and throw the ball around. They’ve really got the best of both worlds,” Pehrson said.