Mids’ hopes vs. Hous­ton de­pend on stop­ping Ward

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

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.”

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