As Maryland prepares to face No. 8 West Virginia at Mountaineer Field on Saturday, The Post caught up with Mountaineers offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson to talk Terps, finishing strong and rivalries.
Thanks for taking the time, Coach. Reviewing the tape on Maryland’s new 3-4 defense, what stands out?
They’re a big, physical defense. Defensively, they’re going to be the biggest, most physical defense we’ve faced so far, by far. They’re going to look a whole different walking out on the field than anyone we’ve played. Schematically, defenses today are so multiple, you never know what anyone’s going to do.
[Joe Vellano] is a big physical guy who did a real good job last year. Number 9 [Demetrius Hartsfield] runs around well. Both their safeties are physical guys and 25 [Dexter McDougle] stood out to me as a corner that moves around really well.
Sticking with the Maryland secondary, what have you seen from that unit?
It’s really difficult, because the teams they’ve played so far, don’t look anything like what we do offensively or sets we run or the way we attack. I don’t know if they’ve ever been tested, nothing against them, just the scheme of football. U-Conn., Temple, those teams are more of tighter set, play-action, run-the-ball type of teams. Defensively, they’re giving up a little over 200 yards per game. So far, they’ve done a heck of the job.
Switching to your high-powered “Air Raid” offense, Maryland has talked this week about the need to keep your unit off the field. How important will it be to take advantage of those opportunities, however limited they may be?
I think every team probably goes in with the same game plan against us; I don’t know if it’s really unique. People will go in and keep the ball away from [quarterback Geno Smith] and the offense. We stress this with our players: Every possession is extremely important.
With that being said, it becomes crucial that you take advantage of your opportunities. I don’t really know the stat off the top of my head, but Maryland’s been averaging maybe 60 plays a game on defense, and that’s not a lot of plays. That’s a testament to their offense and to their defense, which is getting teams off on third down around 30 percent of the time.
Maryland’s defensive coordinator, Brian Stewart, spent some time at Houston, where the Cougars run a very similar offense. How much do you account for the fact that the Terps will be game-planning based on that familiarity?
We’ll bring our offense. We basically do what we do. It’s based on repetition and stuff like that. Our routine will stay the same. As game plans go, there are things that we stress some Saturdays that we don’t others. It’s more based on the fact of what they do defensively rather than who coaches them.
Obviously your offense has had plenty of success this season, albeit through two games. What’s been the biggest point of emphasis this week regarding improvements that need to be made?
I think we’ve started fast both games, Marshall and James Madison, we came out and scored on our early guys. Ultimately we hit a little lull offensively, whether it’s coming out at halftime, not playing fast in the second half.
We’re stressing to continue attacking through the course of the game, and if we start out good you need to continue doing good.
It’s probably because we were up 40 points both times. Typically, when things are going real easy and you score every time, you start thinking it’s easy and you start relaxing and continue what you’re doing. That’s probably got something to do with it. Against James Madison, they changed their philosophy defensively at halftime, they did a pretty good job of distracting us, their coaches did a really good job, so we didn’t really adjust with that. That’s one thing we’ll stress, that we have to be able to adjust.
(Bonus!) The question floating around Maryland this week: Are your players treating this game as a rivalry still?
It’s still viewed as a big game in all our players’ minds. It’s a deal where we recruit a lot of the same players. A lot of our guys were recruited by them, and some are from that area. When you have a regional game, a game that’s probably the closest regional game we play all year now, you’re going to have some situations where our players know their players and vice versa. It’s going to naturally be a pretty big game for those guys.