This comes via Mark Giannotto, esteemed Post colleague and U-Va. writer over on the Cavaliers Journal. Earlier this week, during his media conference call, Cavaliers offensive coordinator Bill Lazor apparently fawned over the Maryland defense, currently ranked seventh nationally in total yardage. Virginia will certainly have its hands full against that Terps front seven, an experienced unit that will put pressure on whichever quarterback the Cavs throw out there.
Lazor was previously the quarterbacks coach with the Redskins and Seahawks, so he’s encountered Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s 3-4 scheme at the NFL ranks before.
But enough from me. In lieu of my weekly “Five questions with an opposing coordinator,” I present Bill Lazor, on Maryland’s defense:
I think that they’re a very thick unit. When you look at them up the middle of the defense, their three defensive linemen are big, physical players who are good against the run. We know Joe Vellano very well from two years of him making plays against us. I think he’s as good a defensive player as we’ve played against. I’m not exaggerating. This guy makes tackles on plays to him, plays away from him, against the run, against the pass. He hustles. He’s tough. He’s smart. He reads schemes and adjusts to them. And so Joe Vellano is as good a player as we’ve faced now in two and a half years.
I think both inside linebackers are excellent players [Demetrius Hartsfield and Cole Farrand]. Not only are they big, but when they see the play and they hit, they go fast and hard. So there’s no surprise why they’re only giving up 2.3 yards per rush. To me, it’s because of the inside of that defense.
I know [Stewart] well. I respect him. I think he’s done an unbelievable job with this defense. To me, they’re just playing physical, very certain about where they fit on the run. I think with all the run blitzes that they run, especially with the inside stuff, it’s impressive how well the players know, especially being the first time in this system, the players know exactly where they fit on the run. I don’t know if we’ve played a more impressive run-stopping defense.
The thing that’s really good for them is they’re mostly stopping the run with their front seven. Last week we played Duke and the three leading tacklers were DBs for Duke. Now we’re playing this team and leading tacklers are the inside backer, Joe Vellano and an inside backer [Hartsfield is first with 43 tackles. Vellano (28), Farrand (26) and Dexter McDougle (26) are next]. So that just tells you right there that this defensive front is stopping the run and they’re real thick in the middle and I think it’s gonna be a heck of a challenge.
I just think that they’re playing really, really well and they look like they know what they’re doing. I think they understand this is an NFL-style 3-4, so what you got is these inside linebackers understand how to play with leverage and then try to keep the ball contained.
The big guys with their hand in the ground understand about eating up blocks to free up the inside linebackers and the inside linebackers play like you want 3-4 backers to play: Big, tough, physical. When they see something they go hard after it. I’ve seen this defense before and they’re playing it right. They’ve been coached really well. The players look like they understand how to do it and I think it’s going to be an impressive challenge for us because no one has quite figured out how to run the ball on them yet.
So there you have it. Facing Maryland’s defense will be an “impressive challenge,” a far departure from last season, when Perry Jones broke one loose on the game’s first play.