Defense hopes control replaces chaos
Unit preparing for Gophers QB Rhoda ‘as if we’re going up against the No. 1 guy’
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.”