Terps' offensive line faces test against Pitt's defense Maryland adjusts to exploit secondary

October 02, 1991|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- The University of Maryland's offense is averaging only 13.7 points. The Terps have rushed for an average of 110 and passed for 145.7 yards. They have no long-ball threat or possession drives, and the quarterback has been sacked 10 times and hurried countless others.

And the Terps (1-2) haven't played the best defensive teams on their schedule yet. Maryland will get that chance Saturday when it plays No. 17 Pittsburgh (4-0) at Pitt Stadium (1:30 p.m.).

"Pitt is a very good football team, but the thing that sticks out about them is their defense," said Joe Krivak, Maryland's head coach. "This defense is as good as any we're going to play against. They're big, they run well and they have good athletes. That's a pretty good combination."

Thus far, an unbeatable one. The Panthers are allowing only 132.3 rushing and 183.8 passing yards. More impressively, Pitt's scoring defense is ranked seventh nationally, averaging 9.3 points.

Concerns? Maryland has plenty of them. Top on the list is controlling Pitt's defensive line. Panthers nose guards Tom Brandt and Jeff Esters are average players, and junior tackle Sean Gilbert (6 feet 6, 300 pounds) is excellent. But the real standout is tackle Keith Hamilton (6-7, 290 pounds), who is fifth on the team in tackles with 21, including four sacks.

Just how good is this defensive line?

"They don't blitz much because they rely on their linemen to keep on the pressure," said Jerry Eisaman, Maryland's offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. "They just try to avalanche you up front, penetrate and cause chaos."

Pitt already has caused the Terps to make an adjustment. Maryland's backs frequently are used in pass patterns. On Saturday, they will basically pass protect.

But ultimately, the responsibility will come down to the Terps' offensive line, which has been inconsistent on pass protection most of the year. Some of the lackluster play earlier in the season can be attributed to injuries, but not any longer.

"We're basically healthy now," said Mitch Suplee, Maryland's senior center and one of the tri-captains. "We have to play with the same intensity we had in the first two games. We've been together now for seven weeks, including summer camp, and it's time to put away the excuses like we're too young or injured. That stuff won't wash anymore. It's time to get it done, or get somebody else to do it."

Pitt is solid at outside linebacker with Ricardo McDonald (24 tackles) and Nelson Walker, both seniors. So if the Terps are to have a running game, it will be directed at inside linebackers Charles Williams (35), a sophomore, and freshman Tom Tumulty (44).

Maryland's biggest problem, though, this season has not been rushing, but the passing game. The three starting receivers only have nine catches between them. The Terps H-backs, Frank Wycheck (16 catches) and Chad Wiestling (11), have played well, but teams have started to shut them down by covering them with the strong safety instead of the weakside linebacker.

Also, Maryland senior starting quarterback Jim Sandwisch has yet to show he can throw deep consistently, and the offensive line hasn't given Sandwisch or one-time starter John Kaleo much time to throw.

Pitt's secondary is considered the weak spot of the defense and the Maryland coaching staff has apparently seen enough "soft spots" to think the Terps can throw. Maryland senior wide receiver Gene Thomas (four receptions, 18 yards) could be the key.

"There's no question we would like to get him the ball more, and we'll try to get it to him this week," said Krivak, who will also try to isolate Wycheck more on single linebacker coverage with motion.

Now, if only the Terps can become less conservative. Maryland has rarely thrown on first down. Trick plays, which Maryland used frequently last season, have yet to be brought out of the playbook.

"We're going to need great play-calling, mix it up a little bit," said Wycheck. "We just can't run on first down. Maybe we need to throw in an option pass every once in a while. I guarantee we won't be as bad as when we played West Virginia. We're due."

NOTES: Pitt has lost 17 players from its 1990 preseason roster who still had eligibility left for this season, including 8 starters. Reasons vary from academically ineligible to injuries to violating team rules. . . . Wiestling experimented as strong safety last week, but has been moved back to H-back. He is still suffering from a quadriceps injury but is expected to play Saturday. So are reserve DT Darren Drozdov (rib injury), TE Brett Stevenson (knee) and starting RB Troy Jackson (ankle). Starting CB Scott Rosen (hamstring) will not play. . . . Krivak said he is giving true freshman RB Raphael Wall (Wilde Lake High) a lot of repetitions this week in case the Terps have to use him. . . . The Maryland-Georgia Tech game in Atlanta has been rescheduled from 1 p.m. to noon on Oct. 12 so that it can be televised.

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