Loss of linemen leaves depleted Maryland defense in deep trench

September 04, 1994|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

DURHAM, N.C. -- By the end of the first half, Maryland's defensive line consisted of a redshirt freshman walk-on, a true freshman, a junior who had never played a down of college football and a converted linebacker.

No wonder the Terrapins gave up 49 points yesterday to one of two teams they beat last season. No wonder a blocking back, Robert Baldwin, ran for a school-record 238 yards and scored four touchdowns. The Maryland defensive line is just as inexperienced as the one devastated by injuries a year ago. And it showed.

"There's a confidence factor that we're battling," new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "We've got to get to the point where the players believe in themselves, believe in what we're doing and can overcome some situations where, perhaps, you run into a tough spot."

Coyle's biggest problem is keeping his defensive linemen on the roster. Junior Sharrod Mack was dismissed at the start of preseason practice. On Friday, Coyle lost sophomores Jason Brown, Johnnie Hicks and Tim Watson to academic difficulties.

Hicks and Watson, who were projected starters, took their lumps last season as part of the worst defense in the nation. Yesterday, Maryland did not have the benefit of their increased wisdom.

Yet, Maryland coach Mark Duffner refused to use the absence of Mack, Hicks and Watson as an excuse for giving up 531 yards to Duke.

"The guys that played today are the guys that we have and that's what matters right now," Duffner said.

But the players on the field noticed a difference, especially after a few sloppy tackles.

"We weren't bothered by that, but as the game progressed I guess it hurt us," sophomore outside linebacker Ratcliff Thomas said. "We weren't too strong up the middle."

The defensive line could not stop Baldwin, trying to bring him down with high tackles instead of cutting him down at the knees. On Duke's first scoring drive, Baldwin carried three Maryland defenders on his back as he struggled for a first down on third-and-one on the Maryland 31-yard line.

Coyle, after looking at film of last season, attributed two-thirds of the yardage allowed to poor tackling. It didn't get much better in Coyle's debut as the defensive coordinator.

"Obviously, we did a poor job of tackling," Coyle said. "That was evident to everybody in the stadium."

The poor play cannot be blamed solely on an inexperienced defensive line, which at one point featured walk-on Mitch Watkins (Salisbury), true freshman Cornelius White, untested junior Tim Fosque and former inside linebacker Jahmal Webster.

Converted wide receivers Jermaine Stewart and Wade Inge made their first starts in the defensive backfield.

Stewart made some nice stops, finishing with eight tackles, but Coyle did not recognize the bright spots of yesterday's dismal defensive performance.

"There's not much to be positive about when you play like that," Coyle said.

Brown, who played last year as a backup at defensive end, will miss the entire season.

There is hope for improvement. Hicks and Watson, out indefinitely, are appealing their academic suspensions.

Thomas, who led the team with 13 tackles, says he knows the defense can play better -- especially if it gets Hicks and Watson back.

"We showed in preseason that we can play 100 times better than that," Thomas said.

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