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Safety Josh Woods 'At The Top Of The List' Of Improved Terps

October 11, 2017
With Ohio State facing a third-and-4 on its opening drive against Maryland Oct. 7, Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett fired to his right to receiver Johnnie Dixon. Terps senior safety Josh Woods saw the play develop and broke toward Dixon, nearly intercepted the ball and might've returned it for a touchdown had he corralled it.

"I actually tipped that ball," Woods said. "It was something that I knew it was coming, but the ball kind of got up on me quicker than I thought. But, yeah, that was something that we watched on film. It was the perfect call against what they were doing. I just missed it."

Dixon made the catch and ran 35 yards to the Terps' 9-yard line, but Woods' nose for the football was rewarded later in the half. With Ohio State up, 20-7, and the Terps' offense desperately needing a short field, Woods forced a fumble by Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins that gave Maryland the ball near midfield early in the second quarter. 

Woods made two more big plays on the Buckeyes' next drive, dropping receiver Parris Campbell for a loss of 5 yards and stopping running back Mike Weber for a loss of 6 yards. The latter play eventually led to a punt. Woods finished the game with 11 total tackles, nine solo tackles. 

Woods, a Baltimore native and McDonogh School graduate, has 28 tackles and an interception through five games for the Terps, who are 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten heading into their home game against Northwestern Oct. 14. Woods has started all five games at safety this year, the same amount of starts he had his first three years combined.

"When you start measuring guys [by] who's made the most improvements, he's up there at the top of the list," Terps head coach DJ Durkin said. "He's done a tremendous job. He's made a real decision in his life to make football a priority and prepare the right way and play the right way. 

"I think he's done a great job [as] a leader and older guy in the room that has good leadership ability, and it's showing. He's playing well on the field. He's in on a lot of plays, making a lot of tackles, and I think he's steadily, week to week, gotten a little better. He's playing a lot more because of it."

Woods competed for a starting safety spot in fall camp last year but was beaten out by Denzel Conyers for the spot next to Darnell Savage Jr. Conyers, however, suffered a torn ACL during the third game of the season and Woods was the next man up. Woods started the next five games at safety, and he showed the athleticism necessary to make plays, but he struggled in run support.

Woods was benched during his fifth start, which was a loss at Indiana last October. Woods' struggles against the run were especially prevalent that day. Then-senior Jarrett Ross got the lion's share of the duties next to Savage the rest of the season. 

Terps senior defensive lineman Kingsley Opara explained last month that Woods wasn't fond of his film last year and dedicated himself to getting better. Woods elaborated on what he didn't like about his film.

"The same things I would think anybody else wouldn't like. I missed a couple tackles, dropped a couple picks -- game-changing picks, almost," Woods said. "Just wasn't the best that I could be. Any competitor is going to want to make their film better. It wasn't the best it could be, so I wasn't satisfied."

The key to Woods' improved playmaking, according to Woods himself, is confidence, which he started building during the offseason with strength and conditioning coach Rick Court. Woods quipped that "once you buy in off the field, it kind of just falls all into place on the field."

The strides Woods has made set a good example for the program, Durkin said.

"Josh played very limited snaps for us last year and, again, to see that transformation he made through an offseason and spring ball and summer and now into the season, it's like two different guys in many ways," Durkin said. "Those are the things we point out to the team and make sure guys understand and see that's really what it's all about. You always want to be developing and making all your guys the best they can be."

Other notes from Maryland's media availability Oct. 10:

- Terps senior linebacker Shane Cockerille (Gilman) didn't make the trip to Ohio State and his status is uncertain for the rest of the season. Cockerille was ruled ineligible for the Quick Lane Bowl last December and missed all of spring ball earlier this year because of what Durkin said at the time were "responsibilities he needs to fulfill to remain an active member of this team." Those same issues have come up again.

Durkin said Cockerille (26 tackles) is "day-to-day with the program." Durkin didn't say whether Cockerille's Terps career could be finished. Sophomore Isaiah Davis started in place of Cockerille at Ohio State.

"My point on this is, we're trying to help Shane for his life," Durkin said. "If he is in alignment with what's going on in the program and he's earned the right to be on the field and represent us, then he'll be able to do that, but when he's not, he won't be. Either way, we're helping. So Shane is still a part of the team. I'm, again, trying to help Shane for his life. Right now, he's not a guy that can represent our team on the field. He hasn't fulfilled his end of the bargain of what he needs to do."

- Northwestern will travel to College Park, Md., with a 2-3 overall record and 0-2 mark in the Big Ten. The Wildcats lost at Wisconsin, 33-24, to begin conference play Sept. 30 and lost at home to Penn State, 31-7, Oct. 7. Northwestern's defense held Penn State's Saquon Barkley-led rushing offense to 95 yards and held Wisconsin to 109 yards rushing, so it could be tough sledding for Terps running backs Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison and Jake Funk. 

Maryland's game against the Wildcats represents a key swing game in the schedule. With seven games remaining, the Terps need to win three more games to clinch bowl eligibility. The three most-winnable games are home games against Northwestern and Indiana – which may be toss-ups – and a road game against Rutgers at Yankee Stadium. The Terps figure to be sizeable underdogs in the rest of their games: road games at Wisconsin and Michigan State and home games against Michigan and Penn State.

"We definitely need to win this game," Woods said. "I wouldn't say our approach is any different from any other game, just off the simple fact that we approach every game like we're going to win it. But we definitely understand that this is a must-win game if you're talking about postseason hopes and things like that. But we really just want to get a win at home right now."

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox