COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) – Judging by its performance in the season opener, Maryland’s defense is vastly improved from a year ago.
Further evidence will be required before that assessment can be accepted as fact.
The Terrapins limited Florida International to 59 yards and three first downs before halftime last week in a 43-10 victory. The only points scored by FIU came on short drives following Maryland turnovers.
That compares favorably to last year, when Maryland yielded at least 20 points in 10 of 12 games.
A good indication of the unit’s improvement could come Saturday, when the Terrapins (1-0) face Old Dominion (0-1). Junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke completed 38 of 51 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns for the Monarchs last week in a 52-38 loss to East Carolina. He also ran for a team-high 52 yards and a score.
Maryland had five sacks last week, but getting a grip on Heinicke could prove far more difficult.
“The quarterback is very athletic, very elusive,” Terps coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “He can extend plays.”
Old Dominion is currently a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, but that doesn’t make the Monarchs any less of a threat. In their first-ever game against a Football Bowl Subdivision team, they trailed by only four points entering the fourth quarter.
That’s because ODU has a relentless offense that features four wide receivers, one running back and a very talented quarterback.
“Their offense is going to try to spread us out,” Maryland linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil said. “We’re just going to have to bring our A-game. Everybody’s going to have to stay busy. We’re just going to have to play pass defense, basically rely on what we do best, and that’s rushing the passer.”
In the first half last week, FIU had seven three-and-out drives helped along by a pair of sacks.
“That’s very big,” Maryland lineman Darius Kilgo said. “We had to come out and execute early and it was good that we were able to establish three-and-outs immediately. We felt pretty good about it because we were able to allow the offense to come out and put points on the board.”
Maryland also did a pretty good job of defending the pass. FIU completed only 10 passes for 80 yards in 22 attempts.
“I was pleased with how they played,” Edsall said of his secondary. “They’re going to be tested more this week than last week.”
Although the Maryland defense lost six starters, the returning group has built a rapport with coordinator Brian Stewart, now in his second season at the school.
“It’s like basically the same system, same coaches,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “We have a relationship where we can be coached well. Coach Stewart’s system is easy to learn.”
If necessary, Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown will get in a shootout with Heinicke. But the preference is clearly a game like last week, when the Terrapins excelled on both sides.
“They have a very high-powered offense,” Brown said of ODU. “They proved themselves last year and even last week. I have all the confidence in the world in our defense but we can only control what we can control on offense, and we’re going to go out there and try to put points on the board.”
(Note: Story published by the Associate Press on September 3rd)