Unit makes big strides after switching to 3-4
Considering there are 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, jumping 100 places in any statistical measure isn't easy. But that's what Maryland has done from last year to this in two key defensive categories.
In rushing defense the Terps have improved from No. 111 (219.7 yards per game) to No. 11 (83.5 ypg). In total defense, they've improved from No. ?108 (457.2 ypg) to No. 8 (261.2). The feat is even more impressive considering Maryland (2-2) has faced the high-powered offense of No. 8 West Virginia, which rolled up 70 points on Saturday against Baylor. Before last week's bye, Maryland lost to the Mountaineers 31-21 in Morgantown.
|Wake Forest at Maryland|
|When »||Saturday, 3:30 p.m.|
|Where »||Byrd Stadium,||College Park|
Forget incremental progress under first-year defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. In 10 months, the Terps have gone from feeble to formidable.
Last year's horror show on defense could be attributed in part to injuries. Maryland was forced to start 21 different players, including seven freshmen. Only three starters were injury free from start to finish.
"In any sport, injuries can kill a team," senior linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. "It's great to have people healthy, happy and back."
Maryland's fast start this year is a surprise considering Stewart oversaw an offseason switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4. In addition, the Terps incurred another rash of injuries in the preseason. Potential starters who missed the opener included linebacker Kenny Tate, safeties Matt Robinson and A.J. Hendy, and defensive ends Isaiah Ross, Keith Bowers and Andre Monroe.
Monroe (knee) is out for the season. But the rest have returned, including Tate, a difference-making linebacker/safety hybrid who flashed his array of talents at West Virginia in his first game in nearly a year.
"The things he can do, 99 percent of the players on the field can't do," defensive end A.J. Francis said.
Francis, a senior, compared Tate to a handful of the most-talented players he has played with or against including Tavon Austin (West Virginia), Da'Quan Bowers (Clemson), Sammy Watkins (Clemson), and past and current Maryland wideouts Torrey Smith and Stefon Diggs.
"There's a sense of calmness with everyone else when he's out there," coach Randy Edsall said of Tate. "When you have a guy that's very talented and very smart, and has seen a lot of things, he can react to it and maintains his poise and composure."
The returning players give the Maryland defense a chance to improve further as Stewart will have the ability to mix and match in situations. The focus now is to cause more turnovers. The Terps have forced only six so far.
With the switch to the 3-4, the biggest surprise has been the Terps' success against the run. In Week ?2, Maryland limited Temple to 52 yards on the ground. The previous season, the Owls rang up 285 yards rushing in a rout of the Terps at Byrd Stadium.
"It's hard to play against a defense that can stop the run with three down linemen," Francis said. "This year we've got great players out there who are making great plays."