Veteran defensive leaders continue to step up for Maryland

October 7, 2012

Wake Forest is stuffed at the goal line. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Keep blasting the West Coast rap music, Brian Stewart. It seems to be working.

Save one early 73-yard bomb on some blatantly blown coverage, Maryland’s defense once again carried the day against Wake Forest. The Terrapins allowed just one drive of more than 10 yards in the second half, and Wake Forest mustered just 45 yards after the break. There was a goal-line stands and tipped passes, near-interceptions and fumble recoveries, and consecutive sacks from players nicknamed “Meat” and “Six” that clinched the 19-14 victory. Maryland almost had an offensive friend unexpectedly show up in the box score, too.

“We put [wide receiver] Kevin Dorsey back there to get an interception and he dropped it,” Coach Randy Edsall said of Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price’s last-second Hail Mary attempt that landed by midfield. “We were trying to get him on the stat sheet.”

Dorsey would have had plenty of company. Demetrius Hartsfield had a team-high 10 tackles and one sack. Dexter McDougle had six tackles, and teamed with Hartsfield to secure that goal-line stand. Hartsfield and Kenneth Tate each sacked Price deep in Wake Forest territory on a fourth-quarter drive that secured Maryland’s third win of the season.

This is a defensive unit that has undergone a total turnaround since last season, thanks in part to Stewart’s new 3-4 scheme. Darius Kilgo, Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis are big-bodied linemen who clog running lanes, allowing linebackers like Hartsfield and Darin Drakeford to blitz in the gaps and off the edge.

The front seven starts four seniors, three of whom have already gotten their University of Maryland degrees, which says plenty about how long this unit’s leaders have been around the program. The Terps have spoke at length about their goal to become the ACC’s top defense, which at this point doesn’t seem too far off.

“We just wanted to go out there and do our job today,” McDougle said. “Defense just played our hearts out. We just wanted to make sure we didn’t make mistakes, play how we know how to play.”

Alex Twine may have started at outside linebacker, but Tate again made his presence felt. Edsall said the Terps had a specific number of plays for Tate to limit the impact on his injured knee, but at one point during the game told Stewart just to leave him in. Tate was simply playing too well to warrant removal.

“When he’s out there, there’s a steadiness and fluidness,” Edsall said. “When you have a guy out there with the intelligence that he has and just understands the game, it helps you as a defense.”

But Hartsfield, who walked off the field with Tate together, relieved they finally got to Price after spending all afternoon frustrated with the seven-man protection, described Tate’s impact in the best possible way.

“It’s a great feeling having Kenny back,” Hartsfield said. “He just adds another element to the game, another comfort level, knowing you have another playmaker on the field. He’s just another hell-wrecker for offenses.”

Perhaps most impressively, the defense has gotten stronger as games progress. They’ve been downright stingy in the second half, especially in crunch time. West Virginia never scored in the third quarter. Wake Forest had just its third-quarter touchdown, set up by Stefon Diggs’s muffed punt. Temple mounted a second-half comeback, but Hartsfield came up with a game-sealing interception on fourth down with 2:05 left in Philadelphia.

“Teams prepare their first 10, 15 plays against a defense,” Francis said. “Those are the plays they’re going to run the most and have the most success on. Once you get out of those first plays, we feel like we can get down and dirty and play how we play.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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