COLLEGE PARK -- This was supposed to be the best defense in five years at Maryland, one with great linemen, outstanding linebackers and a mediocre secondary.
This group, composed of nine fifth-year seniors, was supposed to carry the team while the inexperienced offense perfected its timing for the second half of the season.
But the equation hasn't worked. Inexperienced offense plus inconsistent defense has equaled a 1-4 record.
"We played well the first two games and have played well for a half against Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech," said defensive coordinator Greg Williams. "We just haven't been consistent, plus we've had some injuries."
The Terps are last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in total defense heading into tomorrow's 1 p.m. game against Wake Forest (1-4) in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Terps are allowing 168.8 yards rushing per game and 235.4 yards passing yards per game.
"There really is no explanation," said junior inside linebacker Mike Jarmolowich, one of the few standouts. "There's no way I expected to be giving up this type of yardage, not with the experience we have.
"It's not just one thing you can put your finger on. Sometimes we're not properly aligned. Other times we're blowing coverages or not getting pressure on the quarterbacks. Sometimes I wonder if everybody is mentally prepared for the schedule we play. There's a lot of questions."
The first answer starts with the secondary, which has been hit hard by injuries. Senior starting cornerback Scott Rosen played only one game and is appealing to the NCAA for a medical redshirt because of extensive damage to his right hamstring. The other starting cornerback, senior Mike Thomas, has missed playing time with a concussion and leg injuries.
The other reason the group has faltered is inexperience. Junior cornerbacks Doug Lawrence and Brandon Bertha, used to fill in for Rosen and occasionally Thomas, didn't start a game until this season. Starting free safety Bill Inge, a junior, played only in passing situations last season, and his backup, Andre Vaughn, is a converted halfback. And Vaughn (knee sprain) won't play in tomorrow's game. Second-team cornerback Mike Hopson will miss the game because of a sprained ankle.
The injuries and experience have left Maryland vulnerable to the long pass. Georgia Tech scored on passes of 49 and 82 yards last week. Pittsburgh had a 58-yard touchdown pass the week before.
To help the secondary, which mostly plays soft zones, Williams has taken out a lineman and inserted an extra linebacker or defensive back.
That hasn't worked, either.
"Actually, there are two ways you can look at and handle a situation like ours," said senior defensive tackle Lubo Zizakovic. "You can try it the way we have by not blitzing and not playing high-risk defense, or you can blitz, be aggressive and try to move the quarterback before he throws. Coach Williams has chosen to add a player and help the coverage. Is that the right answer? I can't tell you because I'm not the coach, and I can't see the overall picture, just on the defensive line."
But Zizakovic says that the line of himself and fellow seniors Larry Webster (tackle), Ralph Orta (nose guard) and junior tackle Darren Drozdov has not played well.
Based on size, speed and experience, they should have been one of the best in the league. Webster, touted as Maryland's prime candidate for postseason honors, has 24 tackles but only one sack. Zizakovic and Orta only have 14 tackles each while Drozdov, the top reserve, has 18 despite playing only four games. The foursome have combined for a total of only three sacks.
In Maryland's defensive scheme, the linemen are supposed to keep the offensive linemen off the linebackers. The Terps' top four tacklers are linebackers, but they're making tackles too far off the line of scrimmage. Opposing teams are gaining 3.9 yards per rush.
"A couple of us have been nicked up, but we're playing through it," said Zizakovic. "No, I don't think we have played very well as a unit. Look at the statistics. Our tackle totals aren't impressive, and we need some more sacks. But you also have to consider that sometimes we're rushing only three players because of our coverage, and it's three against six in that situation."
If there is one group that is making the defense somewhat respectable, it is the linebackers. Jarmolowich leads the team with 63 tackles, and fellow inside linebackers Louis Johnson and Dave Marrone have 40 and 34 tackles, respectively. The outside linebackers have been less consistent, but not enough to drastically hurt the team.
NOTES: Vaughn is expected to have arthroscopic surgery Monday. . . . Maryland also will be without starting LB Greg Hines (knee sprain), starting OG Ron Staffileno (lower leg contusion), OG Kevin Arline (knee sprain) and RB Mark Mason (fractured right leg) for the Wake Forest game.
How Maryland's opponents have fared
Opponent.. .. .. Rushing.. .. .. .. Passing
Virginia.. .. .. .. 120.. .. .. .. .. 226
Syracuse.. .. .. .. .111.. .. .. .. .. 251
West Virginia.. .. . 334.. .. .. .. .. . 39
Pitt.. .. .. .. .. . 156.. .. .. .. .. 229
Georgia Tech.. .. .. 121.. .. .. .. .. 308