Virginia game provided wake-up call for Terps’ defense

October 16, 2012

“We were happy that we won, but our performance wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t up to par. We all knew it, and Coach Stewart expressed that to us,” Maryland linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said of the Virginia game. (Associated Press)

There was no rap music blaring when Maryland’s defensive players met Sunday with coordinator Brian Stewart. After a sub-par performance against Virginia — at least by the standards set this season — this one was a business meeting.

“Everybody wasn’t jumping for joy about the win on defense,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said Tuesday. “We were happy that we won, but our performance wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t up to par. We all knew it, and Coach Stewart expressed that to us.”

The Terrapins’ defense is still ranked ninth nationally in yards allowed per game, ninth against the run and 18th against the pass. But Maryland allowed a season-high 168 rushing yards to Virginia, nearly double its average, and 13 so-called “explosive plays” (runs of at least 12 yards and passes of at least 16 yards). Both statistics were deemed unacceptable by the Terrapins’ players and coaches.

“Of course, every interview you do is about, ‘You all are the seventh-ranked defense,’ so of course it’s in the back of your head,” Hartsfield said. “It creates an element of confidence, which isn’t a bad thing, but we can’t let it get us too big-headed. We haven’t done anything that we wanted to accomplish, and that won’t be done until the end of the season. Then we can look back and see.”

At the meeting, Stewart told his players that greatness means consistency. Becoming the ACC’s top defense, the Terps’ stated goal at the start of the season, means never having off games, and it starts this week against North Carolina State and senior Mike Glennon, whom Coach Randy Edsall called the top NFL quarterback prospect Maryland will face this season. That includes West Virginia’s Geno Smith.

“We think we can be” consistent, Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis said. “We let [Virginia] run the ball pretty much at will for most of the game, and that’s not something we can’t do if we want to be a successful defense. Our goal was to stop the run then get them pass-happy. We thought we could get after the quarterback, which we did. They were still able to run the ball on us.”

Allowing 168 rushing yards is hardly cause for panic, but this is a unit that’s set high expectations, even before its dramatic turnaround manifested itself on the field. But The Terps still received was some see as a win-win scenario against the Cavaliers: Maryland moved to 4-2, two wins short of bowl eligibility, and the defense received what some believe was a wake-up call.

“It puts things back in perspective,” Francis said. “You’re not as good as you think you are. I think we understand, we still have to come to play every single week. These guys we play against are just going to keep getting better and better as conference play goes along. That’s what it comes down to, we have to stop the run if we want to win.” 

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