To preview Maryland’s season finale at North Carolina, we caught up with Tar Heels first-year offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to discuss the Terps’ depleted defense, a local DMV product and (surprise!) the Big Ten.
Coach Anderson, thanks for taking the time. Like Maryland, North Carolina is not bowl eligible, except it’s because of self-imposed postseason sanctions. What’s the mind-set entering your season-finale?
“It’s a little different, with us having no bowl game for us to look forward to. It’s our final game for the seniors. It’s been good. Guys have been good with those seniors, trying to send them off on a good note. They’ve handled it well. They’re realizing that it is coming to an end. For some of them it’ll be the last game they ever play. There’s a little bit of that going on.
“But it’s been a family atmosphere. The week’s been good. There’s still kids, some goofing around going on as you can imagine. But for the most part they’ve stayed focused on the task at hand.”
Looking at Maryland’s defense, what stands out on film, and how do you think losing Darin Drakeford and possibly Joe Vellano will affect them?
“The word power would come to mind, when I look at their defense. Built big, built to stop the run. Look at some of the rushing totals people have had against them, it’s scary to think they haven’t given up many yards. We’re a team that likes to establish the run to create things, play-action and balance.
“When you lose two guys like that, it plays to our benefit. I don’t know we’re even at a point offensively, in the first year in the system, where we’re able to manipulate a whole lot of things based off one or two guys. We kind of have to do what we do, try to change the launch point, slow the game down, slow the d-line down with screens and different type of things. In terms of isolating one guy, we’re not at a point where we can do that. We just try to execute and hope it holds up. As a play-caller, make sure I don’t put my offensive line in a bad situation.”
The Terps have struggled against some pretty top offenses over the past few weeks. How much stock do you put on that heading into Saturday?
“Obviously they’re second in the league defensively for over 11 games. I know the people they’ve played the past couple weeks are talented, even then they haven’t given up a ton of yards. They’ve kept some really good talent in checks. Some non-offensive touchdowns scored against them too, from what I could tell. There have been some special teams and turnovers that cost them this points. It’s our toughest challenge all year in terms of what they do. I think they’re really good on defense.
So what becomes the key offensively?
“Balance is huge for us. We’ve got to make them stop the run to establish the pass. We’ve never been a sell-out, throw-it-every-down team, even though we’re spread. We want to make people play at our pace, don’t let other teams settle and dig in, don’t let D-linemen tee off on us. Playing fast, make them play at our pace has always been big.
“Then utilizing everybody on the field. We like to spread the ball around, where you can’t target just one or two guys. We’ve done a good job, being balance, run pass, using tempo. That’s the key. For us, we can’t hurt ourselves, have turnovers or penalties that derail drives. We really focused on that more than we have our opponents all year, just trying to do those things, week in and week out on a consistent basis. There have been weeks we’ve been good at it, weeks we haven’t been.
“Some of the issues haven’t been huge. It’s been immaturity at times, a lack of focus maybe. We had some holding calls a few weeks in a row, and we had to go back to square one fundamentals. It’s been a combination. We were able reducing and eliminating pre- and post-snap penalties. Most of them came combative penalties, guys were being aggressive. It’s a fine line when guys are playing hard to the whistle and what was enough. We’ve tailored it back. Guys start to realize what we expect of them. We’re that invisible line of how far can you go. You never want to take away their aggressiveness.”
How impressed have you been with quarterback Bryn Renner, a West Springfield product?
“I’ve been pleased with his progress. Decision-making, he’s probably had his best games in terms of not putting the ball in harms way, checking the ball down, being willing to get rid of the ball, double down, throw away if need be. The more he gets comfortable in the system, the easier those decisions come for him. I think eh tried to press earlier in the year, always keep the play alive. He’s gotten better in those areas. He still has a really good offseason ahead of him to improve for his senior year. I’d like to see him start where he finished, just continue to improve. All in all, I think he’s improved throughout the year, continue to work with that in mind.”(Bonus!) What do you think about Maryland’s move to the Big Ten?
There’s been so much movement. Obviously they have some goals in mind, what they want to get out of it. I hate to lose anybody in our league, but it’s hard for me to comment, other than you hate to lose the league as it is. I was kind of surprised, but of course I had heard nothing about it prior for it to happen. I guess I had my head stuck in the books trying to get ready for games all year.”