It began on the first play of Georgia Tech’s first possession, when the Yellow Jackets lined up and ran a play the Maryland defense hadn’t seen before. The Terrapins spent their hurricane-shortened week preparing for Georgia Tech’s vaunted triple-option offense, working on bursting past cut-blocks and cutting off runs at the line of scrimmage, and here the Yellow Jackets were running a toss sweep.
A-back Orwin Smith burst around the outside, tackled by Cole Farrand six yards downfield. Though the Terps wound up forcing a punt from the Georgia Tech 43-yard line five plays later, an early victory for a defense that preached the importance of shutting down the Yellow Jackets’ first series, it set the tone up front.
“We didn’t do a good enough job, and that’s on us as coaches, in terms of that toss sweep,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said. “That was a little bit different for them. We didn’t really shut that play down, and that really hurt us. I don’t think we tackled as well as we needed to, and I think we ended up getting cut a little bit too much on cut blocks, and that’s something we didn’t do a good a job of executing as we would have liked to.”
As defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and a veteran corps of leaders helped build this defense into one of the nation’s best, especially against the run, the Terps had consistently operated on a bend-but-not-break policy. They held goal-line stands and forced key turnovers, bolstering an offense that lagged behind at times.
Over the past three weeks, however, Maryland broke at crucial moments, especially on game-winning drives strung together by North Carolina State and Boston College, but in a 33-13 loss to the Yellow Jackets on Saturday they allowed season-highs in points, total yardage (401) and rushing yardage (370).
“It’s tough, because it’s not really our keys, stuff that a normal defense we get to go out and run,” defensive lineman Joe Vellano said. “It’s a totally different animal. They ran that well, and it’s hard to mimic it in practice. They changed up certain calls, went away from stuff they usually do. We had to adjust on the fly out there. Definitely is a tough offense.”
Georgia Tech was twice gifted with a short field and responded with touchdown drives of 33 and 49 yards, first thanks to a Shawn Petty fumble and the second coming after a 17-yard Nathan Renfro punt. But the Yellow Jackets were 5 for 5 in the red zone, and also had touchdown drives of 69, 69 and 78 yards, only punting twice, turning over on downs once and fumbling twice.
With Petty making his debut at quarterback for Maryland, Edsall didn’t rule out the thought that, perhaps, some Terps were trying to compensate by making big plays on defense, overeager at the line of scrimmage, resulting in missed tackles.
“We had some guys today, defensively, who didn’t do their job, and guys we felt have in the past,” Edsall said. “I hope that wasn’t the case, but maybe guys thought, ‘Hey, I need to do this.’ When you play this type of offense, you have to be disciplined and make sure you have to do your job.”
But overcoming this, Vellano said, will be simple.
”After a game like this, you just flush it,” he said. “Just get back to stuff we’re usually good at, stuff we usually do.”
NOTE ON NEXT WEEK’S GAME AT CLEMSON
Maryland’s game at Clemson next Saturday will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and be televised by ESPNU.