Through his first three games, Perry Hills has primarily faced four-down fronts, with a three-down front occasionally thrown in there on nickel situations. West Virginia, however, runs a true 50 defense, with five linemen and two linebackers. Structurally similar to the 3-4, the scheme focuses on pocket penetration and clogging run gaps.
Consider it an opportunity for Hills to check off another box on the list of collegiate defenses, Terrapins offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said Wednesday.
Locksley and Hills spoke on the phone Saturday night, after the true freshman suffered his first loss as Maryland’s starter, a 24-21 decision at Byrd Stadium to Connecticut. Locksley told Hills that, despite his age, teammates will be looking to him for leadership. Putting the loss behind him will take top priority.
Then it’s on to scheming against the 50.
“It’s going to be a process,” Locksley said. “It’s what I’ve tried to tell him, having gone down this road of coaching freshmen quarterbacks in this system, every week is a new challenge for him. Facing a 50 defense, he will have to deal with some form of pressure, because everyone wants to make the freshman quarterback uncomfortable.”
The quicker Hills can handle adjustments, Locksley said, the better off he’ll be in Maryland’s pro-style scheme. Pre-snap decisions have been placed in Locksley’s hands; Hills checks to the sideline from the shotgun on every play.
“Once the ball is snapped, he’s got to get himself protected from a protection standpoint and then number two, know where to start his routes and progressions and execute,” Locksley said. “He’s gotten better each day, he’s gotten better each week. A young quarterback’s going to make mistakes and we’re going to have to live with them. We’re happy with the way he’s progressing.”
Having his family around after the U-Conn. loss, Hills said, helped take his mind off things.
“Then just getting through the film, seeing the mistakes, just knowing that next week you have an opportunity to get through it instead of moping around or anything,” Hills said. “It’s been a challenge. But this is a great opportunity for me, it’s something I’ve dreamed about. I just have to keep working hard. I know the curve, I have to learn a lot faster than I was a backup right now. But that’s life. Sometimes it happens differently, you just have to keep going and keep living the dream.”
Now, Hills faces his stiffest challenge yet, a trip to the raucous, jam-packed environment of Mountaineer Field, where delay-of-game penalties abound because centers can’t hear quarterbacks bark the snap count. Hills’s sister lives five minutes from the university, so when the Mountaineers were recruiting him – he never received an offer because he committed to Maryland 35 minutes after they offered – he drove by the stadium.
Throughout practice this week, the Terps will be blasting music – Locksley wasn’t sure which kind – to prepare the team for the atmosphere.
“We’re a no-huddle offense so we’re in the shotgun, silent count so that doesn’t affect us,” Locksley said. “Obviously when we go under center the quarterback needs to be loud. I’m more focused on not letting the music affect Perry’s decision making.”
Assorted notes from Locksley’s Wednesday availability.
●Still no hints from Maryland on its running back situation, with four co-starters listed heading into Saturday’s game at West Virginia. “It’s a great situation to have,” Locksley said. “That’s the type of situation you’d like to have at all the positions along the offensive side of the ball. We’re very fortunate to have four backs who are capable of carrying the load for us day to day and throughout the course of the game week.”
●The Terps installed their run game during Tuesday’s practice indoors on hardwood floor while thunderstorms blanketed the DMV area. Passing will come Wednesday, and the two-minute drill will be installed over the next two days.
“It’s been an Achilles’ heel for us,” Locksley said of the two-minute drill. “Games are won or lost in the two-minute situation. Last week was [Hills’s] first opportunity to have it live, with live bullets flying, and obviously we didn’t’ do a good job because we didn’t come away with the win. Some things to build on that I thought he did ok.”
●Locksley hinted that fullback Tyler Cierski (concussion) will be back in action this week. Cierski left the Temple game and did not play against Connecticut. “It’s great to have all your weapons available,” Locksley said. “It gives us the extra element of getting under center, have some downhill and direct runs that we didn’t have last week. We’ll find some ways to implement him and do some things to get him involved.”
●Locksley praised the efforts of tight end Matt Furstenburg, who has just three receptions through three games, for his run-blocking and protection skills in his absence from Maryland’s passing game. “We’ll find a way to get all those guys involved,” Locksley said.