To counterbalance an offense that ranks among the worst in the entire FBS, Maryland has turned to a veteran defense that has seamlessly adjusted to Brian Stewart’s 3-4 scheme and locked down opposing offenses through the first two weeks.
For most of Saturday’s game against Connecticut, it was more of the same. The Huskies mustered little more than a punt return for a touchdown and a 36-yard scoring drive. They sputtered in the second half too, with five drives for 72 total yards, including a trio of three-and-outs.
But then Connecticut wound up winning the game on a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, far and away Maryland’s worst defensive series this season.
The Terps gave up more yards on that touchdown drive than they did in the rest of the half. Even when the Huskies took over following a fumble by Perry Hills at the Maryland 23-yard line, they wound up with just a field goal. But that lone drive proved the difference. The Huskies had four second-half first downs. All four came on that possession.
“I just wanted to go out there and quiet the crowd a little bit,” Connecticut quarterback Scott McCummings told reporters after the 24-21 victory. “Everything just really clicked: the line, running back, all did great.”
McCummings, who entered with just nine carries for nine yards this season, took over Saturday after starter Chandler Whitmer fumbled on the opening possession. He had a key 21-yard rush on second-and-nine from the Maryland 40 that brought the Huskies into the red zone, setting up Lyle McCombs’s 11-yard scoring run.
Twice on that drive, however, the Terps had Connecticut backed up to third-and-long, and twice gave up first-down completions from Whitmer.
On third-and-seven at the U-Conn. 27, Whitmer found Michael Smith for an 11-yard gain. Tight end John Delahunt was wide open over the middle on third-and-seven from the Connecticut 41, picking up 18 yards and setting up McCummings’s crucial run.
In the opener, William & Mary had eight drives of at least five plays, but none went over nine plays and more than 39 yards. Temple had touchdown drives of 65 and 51 yards, but those came on just two and three plays, respectively.
Terps defensive lineman A.J. Francis credited Connecticut with “great play calls” and mixing in multiple quarterbacks — Whitmer to pass, McCummings in Wildcat formations — but acknowledged that the defense let one get away.
“We gave up two touchdown drives on defense when we had them in third down,” Francis said. “We couldn’t get a grip on what they were about to run. My hat’s off to them. They won the game, and we just have to get better for next week.”
Regrouping won’t exactly be a cakewalk. West Virginia ranks third in the nation with 612 yards per game, or a little less than three times what Maryland’s eighth-ranked defense has allowed. Quarterback Geno Smith is second nationally with 408.50 total yards per game, including 411 passing yards and five touchdowns against James Madison on Saturday at FedEx Field.
Something will give. Maryland hasn’t exactly faced juggernaut offenses, but the Mountaineers haven’t faced strong defenses either. Facing a top-10 team affords the Terps little time to dwell on last week’s shortcomings.
“We really let that win get away,” safety Matt Robinson said. “When we watch the film, we’re going to see a lot of plays that we left out there on the field to be made. I think that’s why this hurts. We’ve just got to get back at it tomorrow and go from there.”