Defensive Veterans Key To Success Of Maryland Football
By Chris Garman
Several defensive mainstays helped the Maryland Terrapins win their season opener against the College of William & Mary, 7-6, in College Park last Saturday. For the Terps to continue winning in 2012, the defense will need to have several performances like this.
During the game, the Terps played seven true freshmen at non-defensive positions (four on offense, three on special teams). The offense struggled throughout, but partially because of the defensive leadership of senior linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield and defensive end Joe Vellano, the Terps hung tough.
The inexperienced offense had three first-half turnovers, two of which gave the visiting Tribe excellent field position, but the Terps defense stood tall and allowed only a pair of field goals.
"I was definitely happy with how we handled those situations," Hartsfield said following the win. "They could have scored touchdowns in every one of those situations, but we didn't let them score one touchdown, and letting them come away with a field goal isn't a bad thing."
Although it was missing a couple players because of injury during the William & Mary game, the defense returns 10 starters from last season, some entering with high expectations. Vellano was a 2011 second team All-American and led the FBS in tackles for a defensive end, with 7.8 per game.
"Joe Vellano is a football player that every coach loves, because he gives it to you all the time," Edsall said during his postgame press conference on Saturday. "He's a coach on the field. He can come off the field and tell you exactly what's going on and some things that can work."
Hartsfield and Vellano combined for 23 tackles and two forced turnovers against the Tribe. Vellano had a first-half interception and Hartsfield picked up the game-sealing fumble during the closing minutes.
The secondary features two new starters, but the unit also has two veteran holdovers. Senior Eric Franklin and junior Dexter McDougle started every game for the Terps last season, and both figure to make a major impact this season. In 2011, Franklin led the team in solo tackles, with 64, and McDougle had three interceptions, tied for the team lead. McDougle did not have his best game on Saturday, as he committed three pass-interference penalties and was beat on a few deep balls, but Edsall said he still had confidence in him.
"I don't think Dexter had his best game, but Dexter is a competitor and Dexter is a guy that will learn," Edsall said. "I'm not worried about Dexter McDougle at all. … Dexter McDougle will end up making a lot of plays in the secondary."
The defense can't have too many struggles the rest of this season, because the offense is inexperienced and can't be counted on to produce many points.
Next week's opponent, Temple, scored 38 points against the Terps last year, and if the Owls repeat that performance this year, it's hard to imagine Maryland's offense matching that output.
Follow Chris on Twitter at @Garmelo10.
Posted Sept. 4, 2012