Confused Terrapins are left defenseless by Mountaineers' relentless ground game

`We've never played this poorly on defense,' Friedgen says after defeat

College football

September 18, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - For three hours yesterday at Byrd Stadium, University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen watched the Terrapins surrender ground to West Virginia in every way imaginable.

The Terps got knocked off the ball routinely up front, leaving their second level of defenders to make tackles, which they often missed. Maryland looked confused while failing to stop the same, double-reverse play a handful of times.

The Terps gave up numerous long runs, an occasional long pass and wore down completely. Getting off the field on third down proved to be a nearly impossible task, as was stopping the Mountaineers in the second half.

The offense deserved plenty of criticism in the wake of a 31-19 whipping, but Maryland was a badly beaten group on the other side of the ball.

Friedgen had gone 4-1 against West Virginia before yesterday, and in his three previous victories over the Mountaineers, the Terps had allowed 31 points combined. Since 2001, Maryland had earned its keep partly by stuffing the run and holding opponents to an average of 18.3 points per game.

But, one week after watching a youthful Maryland team blow a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead and lose at home to Clemson, Friedgen endured something worse. Total domination at the point of attack.

West Virginia plowed its way to 301 yards net rushing on 64 carries, sometimes gaining huge chunks of yards on simple dive plays to fullback Owen Schmitt (six carries, team-high 80 yards, one touchdown).

Despite the way Maryland loaded up its defense at the line of scrimmage, the Mountaineers made it look easy while scoring 24 points on their last four possessions and rushing for 217 yards after halftime.

"We've never played this poorly on defense in the time I've been here," Friedgen said. "We're not getting off blocks up front. That used to be one of our trademarks. We used to be able to control the line of scrimmage, and we're not doing that right now. Our linebackers are ineffective because they've got [opposing offensive] linemen right in their face.

"I don't think we're tackling very well. I see us trying to block people instead of wrapping our arms around them. You're not going to arm-tackle a good back. You've got to go up and hit him, put your hat on him and wrap him. I saw guys come free [on defense] who didn't make the play."

It didn't help that Maryland had the ball in the red zone once early and two other times started a possession inside the West Virginia 40 in the first half, yet came away with nothing. It didn't help that the Terps had the ball for only 24:20, leaving the defense to wilt down the stretch on a hot, humid afternoon.

Senior linebacker D'Qwell Jackson did not want to hear about the weather or the time of possession disparity. Maryland's defensive leader, who led the team with 15 tackles but made the majority of them downfield, was too busy addressing his wounded pride.

"Guys get winded, but that's the game. You're used to playing when you're tired," Jackson said. "[West Virginia] pounded the ball right down our throats. It's tough to say that. We've never been a team to give up points like that or have a team run the ball and run the ball when we know they're going to run the ball.

"You've got to win the one-on-one blocks. When the offense is able to block each and every one of us one-on-one, we don't have a defense. We just couldn't seem to win the battle up front. The D-line and the linebackers just couldn't get a feel."

"The last three games we've been struggling to get stops when we need it," added junior cornerback Josh Wilson. "[Yesterday] it seemed like we let the pain and [being tired] take us over."

With so much youth - the Terps start two sophomores and a freshman on the line and have three freshmen in backup roles - Friedgen said his personnel options are limited. But changes appear to be on the way.

"I have some pretty creative coaches who usually find a way to get people in the best spots at the best times," he said. "The thing we have to look at is if we have the right people on the field."

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