When Maryland's defense opposed Central Florida's McKenzie Milton in September 2016, the young quarterback threw for 260 yards and gave the Terps fits with his ability to make throws on the run. But he also lost three fumbles, and his last one -- with the game tied at 24 in its second overtime -- was especially costly.
Facing a third-and -goal from the Terps' 3-yard line, Milton lost control of the ball while being pressured by defensive lineman Kingsley Opara and linebacker Jalen Brooks. Opara chased after the ball while others thought Milton had thrown an incomplete pass. Maryland won the game two plays later.
"One of my best memories of my career so far," Opara said during the Terps' media availability Sept. 20. "I think it was hot and it slipped out of his hand. I just saw the ball. I just tried to listen to what Coach [DJ] Durkin says -- play through the whistle. And I didn't hear a whistle, so I just kept running to the ball and recovered it and made a play that put us in position to win the game."
Milton, whose start against the Terps was the first of his college career, made 10 starts last season. Central Florida went 4-6 in those games, as Milton narrowly missed throwing for 2,000 yards. Milton's sophomore campaign got off to a good start when he threw for 360 yards and four touchdowns during a blowout win against Florida International Aug. 31.
Central Florida hasn't played since then due to Hurricane Irma.
Terps defensive coordinator Andy Buh said it's been easier to prepare for Milton this time as opposed to last year, when Maryland had no college film on him.
"We kind of know what we're going to get," Buh said. "Dynamic guy with the football, really good outside the pocket, runs the offense really well, seems like he feels more comfortable in the offense since the last time we played them. It looks like their coaches feel more confident in their personnel, and they've been able to open some of the offense up and we've seen a lot of different things since we last prepared for them."
The Terps' struggles in containing Milton last year stood out on one play in particular. On third-and-16 in the first overtime, Milton scrambled to his right and directed receiver Tre'Quan Smith to run down the sideline. He threw a beautiful touch pass on the run to Smith for a touchdown that extended the game.
"Keeping him in the pocket is going to be one of the keys to victory," Buh said when asked about the balance the Terps have to strike in trying to put pressure on Milton without playing into his strengths. "When we put our packages together, whether we're going to bring three or four or five or even six at times, those discussions come up. Those have all been well thought out, and we'll keep that in mind in terms of how well he escapes the pocket and how well he keeps his eyes down the field and throws the ball in opportune times."
More notes from Maryland's media availability:
- Opara said he took advantage of the Terps' bye week with extra cryotherapy in Rockville, Md. Athletes have taken to cryotherapy, which treats pain with extremely cold temperatures, for recovery purposes. Opara explained that "you just stand there" in a chamber that's negative 220 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a full body treatment and only takes a few minutes. Opara said a lot of his teammates do it, too. They were introduced to it by former teammates who were training for their pre-draft Pro Day this spring.
"I swear by it," Opara said. "I'm very superstitious, so I go about it every week the same way -- bye week, game week, I've got to do the same thing. I get a massage on Thursdays and cryo on Friday morning. If we're playing a road game, I switch it up."
- Central Florida head coach Scott Frost runs an up-tempo offense that's not dissimilar to the Terps' offense, though Buh said the familiarity of facing the same kind of offense in practice won't offer much help on game day. The Knights ran 91 plays against the Terps last year.
"It really just depends upon our depth, how many guys that we can roll in," Buh said. "… That's always the big thing going into the games like this. To think that we're going to keep all 11 starters on the field for 80, 90 snaps is crazy. That's where the strategy lies."
- Junior Darnell Savage Jr. and sophomore Qwuantrezz Knight are listed as the starters at the safety spots ahead of the game against Central Florida, but senior safety Josh Woods (McDonogh) has seen significant time at the position, as well. Woods struggled last year with an increased role after Denzel Conyers suffered a torn ACL, particularly in run support. So far this year, an improved Woods has eight tackles, including one for a loss.
"[Woods] felt like he underperformed last season; that's what he told me," Opara said. "He was like, 'I'm not going to put that on film this year. I'm coming out a whole new person.' And it started with camp. He came out with the right mindset and he's carrying it on. He's playing the best football I've ever seen him play, and I'm proud of him. You root for guys who work hard like him."
- Sophomore running back Lorenzo Harrison was stopped short on a fourth-and-goal from Towson's 1-yard line Sept. 9, but Terps offensive coordinator Walt Bell indicated the play broke down through no fault of Harrison. Kenneth Goins Jr., at 5-foot-9 and 233 pounds, was Maryland's go-to option in short yardage situations last year, but he's graduated and it remains to be seen if a similarly reliable option surfaces in those spots this year.
"I don't buy into the fact that you have to be a big guy or a little guy," Bell said. "The best short-yardage back I've ever had in my entire life was a 5-10, 170-pound walk-on. Some people can find the crease and some people can't. Some people operate in really small spaces, some people can't. I think we've got three or four backs that can, and then I've got a 235-pound quarterback [Kasim Hill] that's a big man, too."
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