With the Maryland football team currently on their bye week, we decided to take a look at the season, and hand out an defensive report card.
The Terrapins have tallied a 2-4 record to this point, and are currently on a three-game winning streak with losses to Michigan, Ohio State, and West Virginia. They’ve had three quarterbacks play under center, and even fired coach Randy Edsall.
Let’s start on the offensive side of the football:
Defensive Line: B
Maryland’s defensive line has been one of the bright spots. Despite losing Darius Kilgo and Andre Monroe to graduation last spring, the Terps really have gotten after the quarterback at a successful rate despite a less-than-stellar record. Maryland is currently ranked fourth in the Big Ten with 3.3 sacks-per-game. They’ve accumulated 20 on the season, which only trails Penn State (27), Michigan State (24), and Ohio State (24). One of the biggest reasons for the strong pass rush is Yannick Ngakoue moving down to the defensive end spot. After two solid campaigns at linebacker in Brian Stewart’s 3-4 defense, new defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski decided to change Maryland’s scheme and Ngakoue is playing the best football we’ve seen him play since arriving in College Park. Ngakoue’s 6.5 sacks rank third in the conference, which is just behind Carl Nassib (Penn State) and Joe Schobert (Wisconsin).
One of the other reasons for the success has been the return of defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, who missed all but three games during the 2014 season. Jefferson is a very opportunistic player that always seems to be around the football. For example, against Michigan, Jefferson dropped back to help out in pass coverage. Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock attempted to throw across his body, but fullback Sione Houma bobbled the ball and it fell into the waiting arms of Jefferson. It was Jefferson’s second career interception, which was part of a host of defensive plays that Maryland made to keep themselves in that game in the first half.
Going forward, Maryland is definitely going to need an effective pass rush in order to keep them in games. Having a pair of pieces like Jefferson and Ngakoue certainly will strike fear in opposing defenses. For a team like this week’s opponent Penn State, who struggles to protect their quarterback, it’s going to be essential.
Despite losing all four starters at the position from a year ago, Maryland’s linebacking group was supposed to one of talent and depth. Before training camp even broke, Abner Logan was lost for the season due to a torn ACL. After six games, the likes of Jefferson Ashiru and Brett Zanotto are on the shelf indefinitely. However, even with that tremendous loss of talent, this unit still has done an adequate job. One of the biggest reasons for that is the play of middle linebacker Jermaine Carter. Carter is a very instinctive athlete that is always around the football. Much like Cole Farrand was in years past, Carter is a tackling machine. The Friendship Collegiate Academy product is second in the Big Ten in tackles with 63 (40 solo) to Steve Longa of Rutgers. Jalen Brooks has also been a nice surprise on the outside. Brooks is also not afraid to stick his nose in there and make the key play. He also has made several plays downfield.
Considering what Maryland has to work with in terms of depth, the job they’ve done is remarkable. Do they have to be better in pass coverage? Sure, but the experience that is being acquiring early in the season is going to essential to their development in the years to come.
Defensive Backs: C
This is the most surprising grade to be honest. Entering the season, most of the talk was that one of the key strengths for the Terps would be their experienced secondary. As Maryland and college football fans alike know, cornerback Will Likely is one of the most exciting and talented players in the nation. However, we’re six games into the season and Likely has yet to come up with an interception. In 2014, Likely led the Big Ten with six interceptions. Likely is still playing at a high level. despite not getting a takeaway. He leads Maryland with eight passes defended and is second on the team with a pair of forced fumbles. Safety Sean Davis has had an up-and-down season as he struggled during the first few games of the 2015 campaign. However, his play has improved as he leads the team in forced fumbles (4) and interceptions (2).
As a whole, Maryland is surrendering 260.8 yards-per-game through the air. The Terps have also allowed 290-plus passing yards in games against Bowling Green, Ohio State, and West Virginia. The secondary simply has to be better in coverage. The front seven is certainly doing its job as it has been one of the most effective teams in the conference in rushing the passer. Pass coverage has to get better if this team wants to win some games in the second half of the season. Whether it means linebackers dropping back to help out or just a stronger commitment to the basics, Maryland has to improve.