Five starters were out with injuries and four players were making their starting debut. For the injury-plagued Maryland defense, Saturday was challenging start to the season, even if it was against FCS team William & Mary.
On a day when the Maryland offense committed four turnovers, keeping the Tribe out of the end zone was no small feat. The Terrapins’ 7-6 victory was all about clutch defense.
Sophomore cornerback Jeremiah Johnson had two fourth-down sacks to stop drives in the final seven minutes. Senior defensive end Joe Vellano stopped another incursion deep in Maryland territory with an interception and had 11 tackles, including three for losses. And senior linebacker Demetrious Hartsfield had 13 tackles and sealed the game, recovering a fumble, forced by Johnson with his second sack.
While the win lacked artistry, it might have given Maryland some much-needed identity. If they are to succeed this season with a true freshman quarterback, they will have to do it with defense.
Since he arrived in the offseason, defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has talked of his unconventional brand of defense which he runs out of a 3-4 set. It is hard for offenses to prepare for, high-risk, and full of surprises.
Saturday in the fourth quarter, when William & Mary had two chances to get in position to kick the go-ahead field goal, Maryland came with high risk/high reward corner blitzes, which paid off.
“Coach Stewart does a great job of calling great plays,” Hartsfield said. “One of the things about the 3-4, you don’t really know who’s gonna come. There so much disguising. You can trick everybody with your alignment.”
The bad news about the Terps’ defense is that it is prone to surrender big plays. William & Mary receivers were running free on deep routes all afternoon, but inexperienced Tribe quarterbacks Raphael Ortiz (7 of 16, 100 yards) and Brent Caprio (3 of 7, 25 yards) couldn’t get them the ball.
In one-on-one situations senior cornerback Dexter McDougle was exposed, committing three pass interference penalties.
“We’ve opened up a can of worms with the deep ball, to be sure,” Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said. “We gotta get better playing the ball in the air.”
But when they needed them most, the Terps defenders made big plays.
“I thought our defense was playing great, a lot of speed out there,” Vellano said. “Coach Stewart had some great calls, especially at the end those last two.”
Notes: Edsall said that defensive end Keith Bowers is expected back for Saturday’s game at Temple (1-0). But don’t expect much more help for the ailing Maryland defense. End Andre Monroe is out for the year. Cornerback A.J. Hendy (ankle), safety Matt Robinson (shoulder), and linebacker Kenny Tate (knee) are the other injured Terps who hopefully will be in the lineup by the end of the month … In his first career start, sophomore linebacker Cole Farrand had six tackles, including two for a loss.