Terps look for options vs. Mids

UM hopes to shut down Navy offense in opener

Teams' 1st meeting in 40 years

September 03, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Black leather chairs with high backs surround a conference table in the cramped meeting room for Maryland's defensive coaches. It looks more like a room designed for men in suits, not bright red Under Armour shorts. A projector is mounted to the ceiling to review game film on a large screen. Navy's schedule and results from last year, along with dozens of numbers, averages and formations filled a dry-erase board earlier this week.

Regardless of what the Terps have planned, Navy coach Paul Johnson said, the Midshipmen are ready for the blitz packages expected to come at them in tonight's season opener at M&T Bank Stadium. It will be the first time in 40 years the two programs have met.

"They aren't going to do anything that we haven't seen," said Johnson, whose program leads the series 14-5 over a span of 100 years. "It's just a question of can we execute. There's no magic wand that you can wave or no magic defensive alignment to stop the option, just like there's no magic defense for us. You have to get off blocks, tackle people and play with fundamentals. That's what it will come down to. I'm not too worried about getting schemed."

Johnson, whose team is coming off a 10-win season that included a victory over New Mexico in the Emerald Bowl, hasn't exactly had the same "worries" as his colleague, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. Friedgen is trying to rebound from his first losing season in his four years as a head coach, a 5-6 mark last year. He had not been associated with a losing team in 17 years.

He said a major key to winning will be Maryland's ability to control the football - something it struggled to do last year.

"If they cross the 50-yard line, they're going for it on fourth down," Friedgen said. "If we're on the field and not doing much with it, then the advantage goes to Navy."

Friedgen is counting on quarterback Sam Hollenbach to spark an offense that ranked ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense with an average of 298 yards per game. Hollenbach started only one game last year - the season finale 13-7 win over Wake Forest - but he didn't throw any interceptions in the Terps' two summer scrimmages.

"This is my fourth year at Maryland, and I haven't seen a defense like this yet," Hollenbach said. "They're small, athletic kids. I think it's going to be a different experience than what we've had. When we get out there, hopefully we'll be able to adapt to it."

To prepare for Navy's triple-option offense, with its misdirection and fakes, Maryland freshman receiver Terrell Skinner wore a yellow No. 2 quarterback jersey at practices, the same number as Navy's Lamar Owens. Skinner successfully ran the option at Boca Ciega High School in Florida, where he rushed for 917 yards and 13 touchdowns on 97 carries. Those going against him said he gave them some legitimate looks at what they can expect.

"At first it was a little complicated, but when it comes down to it, it's just simple football," said Maryland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who led the ACC with 123 tackles last year. "Every guy has to play their responsibility. With Navy, they bank on having successful drives when there's a breakdown in defense."

There's no question Navy has won by running the ball - not throwing it. For the past two seasons, the Midshipmen have fared no worse than third in the country out of 117 Division I-A teams in rushing offense, but ranked 116th in passing offense in both 2003 and 2004.

Gary Blackney, Maryland's defensive coordinator, already has two wins against the Midshipmen. As a head coach at Bowling Green (1991-2000), Blackney faced Navy three times.

"They match up with the intangibles, with that esprit de corps, that togetherness, that, `I'm going down with the ship' mentality," Blackney said. "Their system is a system you don't face, even sometimes once a year. Because they're very disciplined and very intelligent young men, and their coaching staff has been together so long, they know precisely what they want to do, when they want to do it, and they know how to counter what you're going to do defensively because they've seen every defense."

Still, the Midshipmen have the fewest returning starters of any team in the country. They're also the smallest. Six players expected to start for Navy are 5 feet 9 or smaller, including the entire starting backfield.

On paper, Johnson said, Maryland should win.

"They are bigger, faster and stronger," he said. "They should win. It doesn't always work out that way. We'll see."

Maryland vs. Navy

Site/Time: M&T Bank Stadium/6 tonight


Radio: 1090 AM (will break away for 7:05 p.m. Orioles-Red Sox game), 1300 AM, 97.9 FM, 105.7 FM

Line: Maryland by 11 1/2

Tonight's game

Maryland (0-0) vs. Navy (0-0)

Site/Time: M&T Bank Stadium/6

TV/Radio: CN8/1090 AM (will break away for 7:05 p.m. Orioles-Red Sox game), 1300 AM, 97.9 FM, 105.7 FM, 1430 AM

Line: Maryland by 11 1/2

Series: Navy leads 14-5

Last meeting: Navy beat Maryland, 19-7, in 1965 in Annapolis.

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