Mids’ hopes vs. Houston depend on stopping Ward
Perhaps the defining moment of last year’s meeting between Navy and Houston came late in the second quarter.
Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. dropped back to pass and was quickly swarmed. Navy nose guard Bernie Sarra had clogged the middle while ends Will Anthony and Amos Mason had beaten their blockers off the edge. Linebacker Josiah Powell blitzed and had a free run at Ward.
Ward darted left to avoid Powell and turned 360 degrees to escape being sandwiched by Anthony and Mason. The speedy signal-caller then outraced
running back Saquon Barkley, as it did last year, and as Minnesota did last week before he ran for a 25-yard touchdown on his team’s first offensive play in overtime to beat the Golden Gophers, 29-26.
Without giving away their game plans, both quarterbacks said this week that it’s more about how their offenses execute than what the defenses do to try to limit the respective running games, including their own ability to scramble.
“They do a couple of things — they bring a lot of zone pressures, they’ll play middle field closed, middle field open — but at the end of the day it’s not so muchwhattheydo, it’s executing what we need to do with our offense and what your job is,” Hills said.
Said McSorley: “I wouldn’t say it puts more pressure on me as a quarterback trying to force things in the passing game or feel like I have to run to get our running game going. Just have to trust the system, trust the offense, trust the call … and make sure guys are on the same page so we can execute [the plays].”
Asked this week what it will take for teams to stop concentrating on Barkley, McSorley said: “We’re going to have to beat them passing the ball and beat them over the top. I think that’s the only real way if teams continue to do that.
“It’s kind of a high-risk, high-reward deal. Saquon’s our main threat. You want to take him away and force us to beat you another way. If they decide to do that, we need to beat them over the top … and continue to find other ways to get Saquon the ball where he’s in space.”
Maryland did that a year ago at M&T Bank Stadium. In a 31-30 loss, the Terps limited Barkley to 65 yards on 20 carries, with no run longer than 10 yards. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns.
“Last year they kind of did a little different kind of approach to what we’d seen all year, loading the box with a linebacker and extra safety help trying to stop Saquon and our run game,” McSorley said. “It’s something we need to be ready for again if they do it again this year.”
McSorley, who threw for 335 yards on 19-for-41 passing and rushed for an additional 73 yards while Minnesota was limiting Barkley to 63 yards on 20 carries, has noticed a difference in Maryland’s secondary this season.
“They’ve done a really good job of keeping guys in front of them, and not giving up that big play and not giving up those explosive plays,” McSorley said. “It’s something we’re going to have to work on in practice to make sure we can create those explosive plays, kind of those fun plays that can get guys going and get you momentum.”
While McSorley was mostly a spectator in Baltimore, getting in for one play that resulted in a sack, Hills had one of his most productive games as a Terp. He was 19-for-28 for 225 yards and a touchdown passing, along with 124 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown running.
But after keeping Maryland in the game for more than three quarters, Hills committed three of his four turnovers on his team’s last four possessions.
“It was definitely a heart-wrenching game. I wish I could have back some of those mistakes,” said Hills, whocommitted Maryland’s first two turnovers of the season last week against Purdue. “It was a really fun game. Even my [current] roommate, [freshman] Jake Funk was in the stands, and he said the crowd was ecstatic. But we came up one point short and we hope not to let that happen this year.”
Maryland coach DJ Durkin had his team work this week on protecting Hills better than it did at times last week, giving him time to make plays with his feet and his arm if the Nittany Lions take away the running game.
Durkin said in a teleconference Thursday that there’s enough “run-pass options” in the game plan to keep opponents off balance.
“We’re prepared for a lot of different looks,” he said. “I definitely believe Perry is up to the task. I feel very strongly about the way he can deliver the ball down the field, and I think our receivers will do a good job when they get it.”
Hills seems confident the Terps can continue their early-season success despite a Homecoming crowd in a stadium that holds around 107,000.
“Honestly, we like playing in environments like that instead of one where there is no fans at all,” Hills said. “It gets you energized to say, ‘We’re going to prove all these people wrong and make them shut up.’ Guys are going to be really excited about it.”