Terps O-line still needs work, but patchwork group held firm with injuries

October 14, 2012

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The Terps were held to negative rushing yards for the first time since 2010, a disconcerting smudge on an otherwise feel-good win. Justus Pickett got dropped behind the line of scrimmage, consistent penetration spoiling his ground game before it even got going. But behind a patchwork offensive line, Maryland moved the ball when necessary. Perry Hills’s six-yard touchdown run came after a timeout, during which Coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley plotted out their next move. They guessed Virginia’s defensive look, and guessed right. Hills ran the red option perfectly and marched in with minimal contact, propelling the Terps to a 27-20 victory over the Cavaliers.

Pickett was virtually absent, save that 20-yard juke-and-scoot touchdown reception in the first quarter. Expected to shoulder a heavy rushing load with Wes Brown (shoulder) sidelined, Pickett finished with minus-eight yards on 15 carries. Hills led the team in rushing. Stefon Diggs and Devin Burns, who entered for two plays, was second with one carry for three yards each. Albert Reid, the short-yardage back, finished with two carries for minus-one yard. Redshirt freshman Brandon Ross never saw the field. As a team, the Terps finished with negative rushing yards and won for the second time since 2010, an altogether impressive feat in itself.

Perhaps even more impressive? An offensive line fielding two Terps, each starting their second career games, and necessitating extensive substitutions at center and right tackle held firm. Maryland had just one penalty, a five-yard delay of game that looked like a miscommunication between Hills and center Evan Mulrooney. No false starts. No holdings.  Nothing more for the bearded group protecting Hills.

“It was awesome, seeing guys like that step up,” said right tackle Justin Gilbert, among the walking wounded to got subbed for Nick Klemm. “You never want to see guys get hurt, but to know now that, if somebody goes down, we’ve got guys with playing experience who can come in.”

Every Thursday, Edsall meets with his offensive, defense and special teams coaches. They scheme worst-case scenarios, plotting out plans of attack in case injuries occur. Minutes before practice, Edsall’s staff decided that, if something happened to center Sal Conaboy, they would just plug Mulrooney, a redshirt freshman, into the mix.

Bennett Fulper has played there before, and in such situations Josh Cary would slide into the left guard spot. But based on Mulrooney’s practice performance, Edsall let him go when Conaboy went down against the Cavaliers.

“He’s elevated himself,” Edsall said of Mulrooney, a Delaware native widely known among the Terps as the offensive line’s most flexible, yoga-savvy member. “Sal, give him credit, he tried to sneak himself back in there in the fourth quarter and I pulled him out.

“It really wasn’t much of a problem. We anticipate, we practice certain ways during the week, in terms of scenarios that could possibly happen.”

Fulper also went down during the game, and was seen on the sidelines, helmet off, working on explosiveness. Add Gilbert, who had a massive bag of ice on his left knee postgame, and Conaboy to the mix, and the Terps could be working with a group of reserves along the offensive line against North Carolina State too.

Edsall shuffled the offensive line before the Wake Forest game, replacing Klemm with Madaras and De’Onte Arnett with Andrew Zeller, so such change certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented along the front five. Perry Hills was only sacked twice against Virginia, a small number in comparison, but a rushing game that ranks 118th nationally still leaves much to be desired. At the very least, the depth of experience should help matters.    

“Mulrooney did a great job out there making calls, picking things up,” Gilbert said. “That’s awesome for us, knowing that we have guys who can go in if people need a rest or go down.” 

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt | October 14, 2012