Terps run­ning game tries to re­bound

Health of of­fen­sive line, sus­pen­sion of Har­ri­son have af­fected pro­duc­tiv­ity

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

COL­LEGE PARK — What be­gan as a run­ning back com­pe­ti­tion and then a run­ning-by-com­mit­tee ap­proach in coach DJ Durkin’s first sea­son at Mary­land has be­come — be­cause of in­jury, per­for­mance and one high-pro­file re­cent off-field in­ci­dent — a bat­tle of at­tri­tion.

Af­ter start­ing with five play­ers jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion on the depth chart, then adding a sixth when se­nior Wes Brown re­turned from a four-game sus­pen­sion against Penn State in early Oc­to­ber, the Terps are down to what is ba­si­cally a three- or four-man ro­ta­tion.

Go­ing into to­day’s fi­nal road game of the sea­son at No. 18 Ne­braska (8-2, 5-2), Mary­land (5-5, 2-5) will try to re­bound from its low­est pro­duc­tion of­fen­sively both over­all and, more glar­ingly, in its run­ning game dur­ing a 62-3 loss at home to then-No. 5 Ohio State.

In the af­ter­math of fresh­man Lorenzo Har­ri­son’s in­def­i­nite sus­pen­sion af­ter be­ing charged Wed­nes­day in a BB gun in­ci­dent on cam­pus, sopho­more Ty John­son is now the team’s No. 1 run­ning back. His 656 yards put him only 23 yards ahead of Har­ri­son, but 498 ahead of se­nior Ken­neth Goins Jr. (Gil­man).

“We missed [Har­ri­son] and ev­ery­thing, but it just pro­vides op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­body else back there,” Goins said this week. “We all were play­ing a lot ear­lier in the sea­son and ev­ery­body in the back­field is pretty tal­ented, so who­ever gets in the game makes some type of im­pact.”

Sta­tis­ti­cally, fresh­man Jake Funk (124 yards on 26 car­ries) ranks third among the avail­able run­ning backs in yardage this year and Brown (13 yards on 22 at­tempts) is a dis­tant fourth. Af­ter re­turn­ing from the long sus­pen­sion, Brown has yet to find the same suc­cess he had his first three sea­sons. In ad­di­tion, se­nior Trey Edmunds, who car­ried the ball 26 times for 158 yards and a touch­down, has not played since he broke his foot in Oc­to­ber.

While cred­it­ing the Buck­eyes for the way they held the Terps to 176 yards of to­tal Af­ter re­turn­ing from a long sus­pen­sion in Oc­to­ber, se­nior Wes Brown (5) has yet to find the same suc­cess he had his first three sea­sons at Mary­land. of­fense and just 43 yards on 40 rush­ing at­tempts, John­son said, “Ex­e­cu­tion-wise, we could have been a lit­tle bet­ter on ev­ery­one’s part as a unit. But we can’t dwell on that. You’ve got to get ready for the next game.”

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Walt Bell said that last week’s lack of pro­duc­tion in the run­ning game was not just a re­sult of Har­ri­son’s ab­sence. Bell said the lack of pro­duc­tiv­ity — aside from play­ing the Big Ten’s sec­ond-stingi­est rush­ing de­fense — also had to do with the col­lec­tive health of the of­fen­sive line.

Mary­land played with­out guard Mike Min­ter, and tackle Michael Dunn, who missed the Michi­gan game with an in­jury, and cen­ter Bren­dan Moore were a “lit­tle beat up,” Bell said. Fifth-year se­nior quar­ter­back Perry Hills was forced out in the first half for the sec­ond straight week and fourth time this sea­son.

“He’s the guy who’s kind of been our leader, so when he comes out, you kind of see the air come out of the foot­ball team. We’ve got to fix that as well,” Bell said Wed­nes­day.

But Bell couldn’t com­pletely over­look the loss of Har­ri­son.

“It’s more than just him, but yeah, when you’ve got a dy­namic piece like that, where you don’t have to be per­fect all the time,” Bell said. “He can make a guy miss. He can ex­tend plays and he can ex­tend drives, es­pe­cially in those third-and-4 and 5s, and get to the [first-down] stick. That’s what makes him spe­cial and that’s what you miss more than any­thing else.”

Durkin be­lieves Brown is ready for an ex­panded role the last two weeks of the sea­son.

“He cer­tainly pre­pared and prac­ticed well, and he’s ob­vi­ously an older, ex­pe­ri­enced guy, he’s been through it,” Durkin said Thurs­day. “He’s men­tally in the right place and phys­i­cally in the right place.”

John­son cred­its Brown for much of the suc­cess he has had this sea­son.

“He def­i­nitely laid down the blue­prints for me. He’s the one who showed me how to watch film and as a re­source on the field when we run a play and maybe it’s not so suc­cess­ful, he’ll be like, ‘Did you see what hap­pened?’ He sees a lot of things and he’s been here for a long time. Even when we do have a good play, I don’t even talk to the coach first, I talk to him,” he said.

How Durkin ro­tates his run­ning backs in Lin­coln could have a lot to do with the suc­cess John­son has in find­ing holes against a rush­ing de­fense that has al­lowed just one run­ning back, Ore­gon’s Kani Benoit, to get at least 100 yards, and has given up over 150 yards in the Big Ten to only Ohio State and Wis­con­sin.

Af­ter nurs­ing a ham­string in­jury for sev­eral weeks, John­son said he is ready to carry the load if needed.

“I feel pretty fresh,” he said Wed­nes­day. “Coach Durkin and the rest of the staff, they do a great job of light­en­ing up prac­tice with cer­tain reps and drills we do at prac­tice so by the time gameday comes around, we’re feel­ing pretty good.”

Durkin doesn’t think he has to make any sig­nif­i­cant changes to the team’s game plan or of­fen­sive iden­tity de­spite the loss of Har­ri­son and the ques­tion of whether Hills is ready to play.

“Our of­fense is set up to be ef­fec­tive both run­ning or throw­ing, de­pend­ing on what’s there and what the de­fense is giv­ing us,” Durkin said. “We’ve been ef­fec­tive at both dur­ing dif­fer­ent times in the sea­son. It’s just a mat­ter of us ex­e­cut­ing and get­ting back to do­ing what we do well no mat­ter who’s at quar­ter­back or run­ning back or what­ever else. Who­ever’s in has to step up and play.”

Mont­gomery said the Mids’ style causes op­pos­ing of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors to change their game plans.

“There will be some strat­egy that is dif­fer­ent from a nor­mal game. You need to have re­ally, re­ally good first-down calls on of­fense,” he said. “I think we have to be very ef­fi­cient when we have the ball as well. We def­i­nitely have to score by any means nec­es­sary. When you don’t score against Navy, you def­i­nitely have to end ev­ery pos­ses­sion with a kick.”

Mont­gomery pre­vi­ously served as an as­sis­tant at Duke and faced Army West Point, Navy and Ge­or­gia Tech dur­ing his ten­ure. He be­lieves the Mids are run­ning the triple op­tion at a higher level than any other pro­gram.

“I think they kind of stand alone. They have the purest form of what they do. They know all your ad­just­ments to it and they have the an­swers,” Mont­gomery said. “The ball car­ri­ers make it re­ally tough for you to get them on the ground. What I think they have that a lot of other teams don’t have is true tough­ness with run­ning that of­fense.”

East Carolina has al­ter­nated quar­ter­backs with Min­nesota trans­fer Phillip Nel­son the starter and Gard­ner Min­shew com­ing off the bench in re­lief. They have com­bined to throw for 3,547 yards and 20 touch­downs.

Isa­iah “Zay” Jones is the top tar­get with 139 re­cep­tions for 1,473 yards and six scores. Jones can set the FBS record for ca­reer catches with eight to­day.

James Sum­mers, a for­mer quar­ter­back, is the lead­ing rusher with 683 yards. The wide re­ceiver will of­ten line up in the Wild­cat for­ma­tion and take di­rect snaps.

GRE­GORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES

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