Will Size Matter On Terps Defense?


October 1, 2011; College Park, MD, USA; Clemson Tigers running back Andre Ellington (23) runs past Maryland Terrapins tackle Joe Vellano (72) and linebacker Lorne Goree (53) during the game at Byrd Stadium. Clemson beat Maryland 56-45. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 Terps defense was a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy “what-could-have-been” season in College Park. The veteran-led defense, in their first season running the base 3-4 under Defensive Coordinator Brian Stewart, competed and kept the Terps in almost every game (apart from for the 45-10 loss to Clemson and the 41-14 loss to FSU). It’s comprehensible the job Stewart did in his first year in College Park was overshadowed by the results on the other side of the ball, where the quarterback apocalypse transpired. But take a second to remember the success that emerged on the defensive side through a strenuous 2012.

Stewart’s unit held five of their first eight opponents under 100 yards rushing before the quarterback injuries set in and defensive series became extended. They compiled 27 sacks in 12 games while holding six of the twelve quarterbacks faced under 200 yards passing, and eight under 300 yards. What is even more impressive is that despite the offensive woes (and the schedule getting tougher as the season progressed), offense’s third down conversion rate decreased each month (from 30% in September to 23% in November). Offense’s red zone scoring percentage went from 66% in September to 42% in October, before Perry Hills went down with a torn ACL against NCSU.

Moreover, despite Maryland starting a true freshman quarterback (who was recruited by the likes of Buffalo and Akron) and then having a true freshman linebacker-turned-quarterback start the last four games of the season, six of the Terps eight loses averaged a combined margin of…wait for it…7.5 points (if you remove the GT loss, that margin drops to 5 points per loss). That’s right; Maryland lost 6 games by an average of one touchdown.

These are impressive stats for a defense that was constantly put in tough situations due to the lack of offensive output. Stewart’s unit certainly held their own despite continuous 3-and-out series, turnovers, special teams giving opposing offenses great field position, etc. But as we get closer to August 31st, the question for the 2013 season will be – can Stewart duplicate his defensive unit’s 2012 productivity?

Stewart will have to replace six starters on defense, with the defensive line and linebacking core being hit the hardest. The front seven is losing stalwarts Joe Vellano and AJ Francis upfront, Demetrius Hartsfield, and homegrown Darin Drakeford and Keneth Tate behind them. That’s a combined 273 tackles, 45.5 tackles for a loss, 22 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles, and 13 passes broken up that Stewart will have to replace this upcoming season. The Terps return 6’3 310 lbs starting nose tackle Darius Kilgo, and he will have some serious athletic talent surrounding him. Kilgo will have sophomore Quinton Jefferson (6’4 275 lbs) lined up to his left and junior Keith Bowers (6’1 275 lbs) lined up on his right. Behind him will likely be standout juniors Cole Farrand (6’3 240 lbs) and L.A. Goree (6’2 230 lbs), and seniors Matt Robinson (6’3 230 lbs) and Marcus Whitfield (6’3 240 lbs).

So, my question is this; will size (or lack thereof) on defense be a factor in whether Maryland has a successful 2013 season? It’s a fair question, and here’s why. If you include departed safety Eric Franklin and replace him with either Sean Davis or AJ Hendy, the Terps defense will collectively be over 100 lbs LIGHTER than they were in 2012 (give or take). For a 3-4 defense, this could potentially be an issue for Stewart, especially against the run.

For instance, think back to the results of the scrimmages this spring and more importantly, the Spring Game. Running backs Brandon Ross and Albert Reid had fantastic performances, both rushing for over 120 yards averaging close to 6 yards per carry. As for the scrimmages, RS freshman Joe Riddle was seemingly unstoppable. Could this be an indication of the running backs and offensive line collectively getting better? Or could it be a (warning) sign of things to come for Stewart in 2013?

The answer is a mere 3½ weeks away when the Terps start suiting up on Saturdays. They may be smaller, but they will be more athletic; which could be a fair trade off for this unit to still be successful. But until they are on the field, we won’t know for sure what this defense will look like, or know what they are capable of accomplishing. We’ll see what Stewart and his defense has up their sleeves this season. The good news is we won’t have to wait much longer.