LOAD­ING THE BOX

Mary­land and Penn State will both stay fo­cused on stop­ping the run game

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

“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.

JUSTIN K. ALLER/GETTY IM­AGES

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

JOE ROB­BINS/GETTY IM­AGES

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