It’s an unmatched thrill when Darin Drakeford finds open space. Swim moves get him there. Spins and speed, too. The senior linebacker relishes green grass, uncovering a clear path between the edge and the quarterback, a clear pathway toward crushing blows.
From takeoff to impact, it’s his favorite part of football. Sacks and knockdowns, those are for highlight reels, his 6-foot-1, 240-pound frame unloading from the blindside. Hurries bring that euphoria, too. Nothing like seeing the pupils of a skittish quarterback dilate as an unchecked two-legged rocket barrels barrels at full speed.
“I love it,” Drakeford said. “That’s what I love to do. I love hitting the quarterback.”
Of that, he’s done plenty. The second straight Maryland player to win the ACC Linebacker of the Week award, Drakeford had seven tackles in a 27-20 win over Virginia, including three for a loss. He had three sacks, and popped quarterback Phillip Sims from behind, forcing a key fourth-quarter fumble.
In the Terps’ new 3-4 defensive scheme, Drakeford essentially functions as a fourth-down lineman. A.J. Francis, Darius Kilgo and Joe Vellano rush from stances. Drakeford launches standing up. Opposite him on the outside, Kenneth Tate and Alex Twine are more coverage backers. Blitzing off the edge is Drakeford’s specialty.
Well, blitzing and messing with Demetrius Hartsfield, a fellow senior who won Linebacker of the Week for his performance against Wake Forest. During practice, while Hartsfield calls plays, checking with the linemen and the safeties, Drakeford will creep behind him and snap off his chinstrap.
Once Hartsfield gathers himself, Drakeford blitzes again. He’ll confuse Hartsfield in jest, distracting him with shouts that invade concentration like Drakeford does opposing backfields.
“I play around with it,” Drakeford said.
Maintaining that prankster side, Drakeford said, acts as a calming influence. There’s not much thinking at the line of scrimmage. He’ll go against a tackle or tight end, getting a down block or a base block. He’s usually blitzing. It’s what he loves.
Diggs wins ACC honor for third straight game
Stefon Diggs one-upped Maryland’s linebacking corps, earning an ACC honor for the third straight game. After winning the Rookie of the Week award for his performances against West Virginia and Wake Forest, Diggs took over the Specialist of the Week award after his 100-yard kickoff return on the game’s opening play at Scott Stadium. He finished with 239 all-purpose yards, overtaking Miami’s Duke Johnson for the conference lead.
The electric jaunt was Diggs’ first return touchdown of his true freshman season, despite a tantalizing array of teasers through the first five games.
“We all sat there, told Diggs, it’s about time,” offensive lineman Justin Gilbert said Saturday. “He’s been wowing us every week with his return game, and he finally got one. We were all proud of him.”