Terps Retain High Hopes Despite Miserable Start
By Matt Zenitz
The season hasn't exactly started out as Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown had planned.
|Defensive coordinator Don Brown joined the Terrapins in January after five seasons as UMass head coach.
Brown's aggressive, attack-based defense is built around creating havoc for opposing offenses and making big plays on defense. However, through two games, Maryland has yet to force a turnover and has recorded a meager two sacks.
As if that weren't problematic enough, the Terrapins rank 108th nationally in total defense and gave up a combined 87 points to California and James Madison. Maryland was gutted for more than 240 yards on the ground in each of the first two games while giving up 11 total touchdowns (six rushing, five passing).
Be that as it may, the most surprising and disappointing factor has been the complete absence of pressure and big plays, especially considering how the defense dominated throughout spring practice and preseason fall camp.
"We have to tackle better and play our responsibilities better," Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen said. "We have to make more plays. We are not making as many plays as I thought we would be."
Maryland was actually expected to take a huge step forward this season under Brown, who joined the Terrapins in January 2009 after spending the last five years as head coach at UMass. He replaced Chris Cosh.
The defense had its moments under Cosh in 2008, shutting out Wake Forest and holding North Carolina scoreless in the second half en route to a 17-15 victory. However, the unit lacked many impact plays, tallying just 17 takeaways, second-worst in the ACC, while recording one or fewer sacks in six games last season.
That was all expected to change under Brown and his blitzing, attacking scheme that relies heavily on man coverage. But, a young defense that returned just four starters from last season has been plagued by mistakes and blown assignments, while failing to generate the same type of game-changing plays it consistently produced in preseason practice.
|Senior defensive back Anthony Wiseman (6), who ranked fourth in the ACC in pass breakups last season, brings experience to Maryland’s defense.
It also took a blow in a double overtime squeaker over James Madison, losing starting cornerback Nolan Carroll for the season because of a broken tibia.
"I think we're still just getting a feel for each other," junior linebacker Alex Wujciak said. "[The big plays] will come. We're going to keep progressing. Once we start playing the ACC and more pro-style teams, you'll definitely see a different type of defense and game plan."
While the defense has struggled, Wujciak still has faith in Brown's scheme and despite the gaudy numbers, has seen marked improvement over the first two weeks.
"I think we're [still] capable of a lot," Wujciak said. "We have a ton of talented players all over the field. I think everyone had that feeling that whatever play Coach Brown called was going to work. It worked in spring and camp, but we've just got to come out and execute it better, sharper, quicker and faster."
Senior safety Terrell Skinner shared in that sentiment.
"I think we can benefit from [the first two games]," Skinner said. "It has showed us our weaknesses and showed us our strengths. We have to stop giving up the big plays and we've got to get to the quarterback on our blitzes, but for the most part the scheme is right on track with where it's supposed to be."
While no one will argue that the defense has a long way to go, Skinner and the Terrapins still have lofty goals and confidence that the defense will eventually produce those game-changing plays and live up to the promise it displayed throughout the preseason.
"I'm still very confident in Coach Brown's scheme," Skinner said. "Obviously, everything is not going to work but we're going to continue to pound it out and be aggressive.
"We still want to be the best defense in the ACC [and] I still think we can do that."
Issue 141: September 2009