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Maryland has ground to a halt

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Photo - Nick Wass/AP
Maryland running back Justus Pickett has rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns on 61 carries this season.
Nick Wass/AP Maryland running back Justus Pickett has rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns on 61 carries this season.
Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

At Virginia on Saturday, there was nowhere to run for Maryland back Justus Pickett, nowhere to hide.

On 15 carries, the sophomore rushed for negative-8 yards. He wasn't alone. The other Terrapins netted 6 yards on 14 carries. Considering their lack of success on the ground, the Terps were lucky to escape Charlottesville with a 27-20 victory.

Oddly enough, as the fortunes of Maryland have risen, the running game has ground to a halt. In their last three games, the Terps have more carries (107) than rushing yards (97). In the 120-team FBS, Maryland has sunk to 118th in rushing offense (71 yards per game) and 119th in total offense (267.5). In both categories, the Terps are the only team in the bottom 10 with a winning record.

Up next
N.C. State at Maryland
When » Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where » Byrd Stadium
TV/radio » ESPNU, ESPN 980

When Maryland (4-2, 2-0) plays host to N.C. State (4-2, 1-1) on Saturday, the top priority is to establish the run.

"We do have to run the football, and we won't give up on it," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said.

The Maryland back with the best combination of size and speed, freshman Wes Brown (33 carries, 150 yards), has averaged 4.5 yards per carry, but his playing time has been limited by inexperience, fumbles (three) and a shoulder injury, which sidelined him for the Virginia game. He is expected back Saturday.

None of the other backs has averaged more than 2.3 yards per rush, including Pickett (61 carries, 129 yards) and freshmen Brandon Ross (25 carries, 53 yards) and Albert Reid (24 carries, 55 yards). Overall, the Terps are averaging 1.9 yards per rush.

Maryland's lack of success on the ground isn't a mystery. With a true freshman at quarterback in Perry Hills, opposing defenses are stacking the line, blitzing often and forcing the Terps to play through the air.

"Sometimes people are going to try to take stuff away," Edsall said. "You don't want them to take away as much as [Virginia] did, but that happens in the game of football. You find a way to make plays in other areas to overcome those deficiencies."

The Maryland offensive line has struggled. Two first-year starters were replaced two weeks ago by freshmen Andrew Zeller and Mike Madaras. On Saturday, senior guard Bennett Fulper (turf toe) will be replaced by Josh Cary, a starter last year who began this season on the injured list.

"The running game's our emphasis every week," senior tackle Justin Gilbert said. "It's gonna come. We see it. There's ways that are there. We see it on film. We just have to execute a little better."

Making it happen against N.C. State won't be easy. The Wolfpack rank fourth in the ACC, allowing 114 yards per game on the ground. Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley says it will take a collective effort.

"If it was just one guy, we'd find a way to replace that guy," Locksley said. "The execution isn't at a high percentage. When you look at some of the guys we're playing -- a true freshman at left tackle and major extended time with a guy like Mike Madaras -- there's going to be times when they get exposed. All we can do is continue to pound the fundamentals."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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