De­fense hopes con­trol re­places chaos

Unit pre­par­ing for Go­phers QB Rhoda ‘as if we’re go­ing up against the No. 1 guy’

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Don Markus don.markus@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/sport­sprof56

The ques­tions that fol­lowed the Mary­land de­fense into the 2016 football sea­son ap­peared to be si­lenced, at least in part, when the Terps nearly shut out Pur­due two weeks ago at home in their Big Ten Con­fer­ence opener.

A run de­fense that had shown some de­fi­cien­cies two weeks ear­lier against Cen­tral Florida limited the Boil­er­mak­ers to 10 rush­ing yards.

A pass rush that had not put much pres­sure on the elu­sive Knights quar­ter­back sacked Pur­due’s David Blough six times af­ter Blough had been sacked just once in his team’s first three games.

The steady growth was to be ex­pected. First-year coach DJ Durkin, as the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at Michi­gan last year, turned an av­er­age unit into one of the best in the na­tion. His im­pact at Mary­land seemed to be tak­ing shape.

But last week’s game at Penn State, a team some thought the Terps could shut down, rep­re­sents a di­ver­gence from any path of im­prove­ment.

The Nit­tany Lions tore through Mary­land’s de­fense for 524 yards, in­clud­ing 372 on the ground. Penn State en­tered the game av­er­ag­ing just over 108 rush­ing yards and was ranked next to last in the Big Ten in that cat­e­gory.

Durkin and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Andy Buh said this week that many were at fault for the Terps’ per­for­mance.

“One guy makes a mis­take, we can fix that, but when sev­eral guys make mis­takes and you’re try­ing to cover up for some­one else’s mis­takes, that’s chaos,” Buh said.

As Mary­land (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) pre­pares for Saturday’s home game against Min­nesota (3-2, 0-2), the doubts about a de­fense that lost three starters to the NFL — as well as other con­trib­u­tors — are resur­fac­ing. Buh hopes con­trol re­places chaos against the Golden Go­phers. Terps de­fen­sive line­man Ro­man Braglio, right, sacks Pur­due’s David Blough on Oct. 1. Mary­land sacked Blough six times af­ter he had been sacked just once in his team’s first three games.

“Look­ing back at last week’s game, we could have played a lit­tle bit bet­ter tech­ni­cally. We could have tack­led bet­ter,” Buh said. “Min­nesota, I’m sure af­ter watch­ing that game, sees some things that they may like in their pack­ages. We’re see­ing the same things, and we’re di­aled in and fo­cus­ing on those things.”

Said Durkin: “It was a whole list of things. That’s how it goes; one thing leads to the next. If some­thing gets screwed up, let’s trust that we’re go­ing to get it fixed. Not try to do some­thing out of the or­di­nary to try to fix it, be­cause that’s when you start break­ing down ev­ery­thing else.”

In red­shirt ju­nior Conor Rhoda, the Terps will face an untested quar­ter­back mak­ing his first col­lege start.

A former walk-on who has thrown two passes in his ca­reer, Rhoda will re­place fifth-year se­nior Mitch Lei­d­ner, who has been ruled out af­ter suf­fer­ing a con­cus­sion in last week’s 14-7 home loss to Iowa.

As they did pre­par­ing for McKen­zie Mil­ton, the Cen­tral Florida fresh­man quar­ter­back who made his de­but against Mary­land, the Terps have watched high school game tape of Rhoda, who has played only in mop-up duty in col­lege. Un­like Mil­ton, Rhoda is not ex­pected to run Mary­land ragged.

“Ev­ery­thing we read on him says that he’s well-liked by the team, so they’ll be root­ing for his suc­cess,” Buh said. “Sounds like he knows the of­fense in­side and out, prob­a­bly as well as any­body on the team. Sounds like he’s a tough guy. We’re pre­par­ing as if we’re go­ing up against the No. 1 guy.”

Given what Penn State sopho­more Saqu- Saturday, noon TV: ESPNU Ra­dio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Line: Mary­land by 61⁄ on Barkley did against the Terps last week, rush­ing for a ca­reer-high 202 yards on 31 car­ries, Mary­land ex­pects to see a trio of Min­nesota run­ning backs who have each ex­ceeded 100 yards in a game this sea­son. The leader is red­shirt sopho­more Rod­ney Smith (446 yards, 4.8 yards per carry).

“These guys are elu­sive. They can break tack­les,” Buh said. “Sev­eral teams that they’ve played had a hard time tackling them af­ter first con­tact. These guys are pretty dy­namic.”

As for what Mary­land can do to stop Smith, sopho­more Shan­non Brooks (240 yards, 6.5 yard av­er­age) and 235-pound ju­nior Kobe McCrary (213 yards, 7.6 av­er­age), Buh said, “A lot of hats to the ball, keep­ing our eyes up, wrap­ping them up with good fun­da­men­tals, swarm­ing to the ball … elim­i­nat­ing the times we’re in one-and-one sit­u­a­tions.”

To im­prove on tackling, Buh had the de­fense go back to one of its fa­vorite pre­sea­son ex­er­cises, “Terp Drill.” It’s a one-on-one bat­tle “just to hype things up … to com­pete a lit­tle bit more,” sopho­more de­fen­sive end Melvin Keihn (Gil­man) said.

That drill played into the theme com­ing off the lop­sided loss at Penn State.

“The whole week is just about bounc­ing back,” Keihn said. “We are not go­ing to sit here and [think] about that loss. It’s new week, it’s a new team, and we’ve got to let that go and we did. Our goal this week is just to move on and get ready for the next op­po­nent.” Buh thinks the loss will serve its pur­pose. “Ad­ver­sity in­tro­duces a man to him­self,” he said. “We had ad­ver­sity in that game, we lost that game and it brings ad­ver­sity into the week. … As far as we’re con­cerned, it’s 0-0 and we’re on to the next game. That’s what’s great about this game — press the re­set but­ton, get back to your fun­da­men­tals and go play the next game.”

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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