When the Maryland offensive line goes over film from last season, Sept. 15 might be the most cringe-worthy. That afternoon in College Park, visiting Connecticut sacked quarterback Perry Hills six times. Three of those sacks crippled drives on third down. One resulted in a turnover the Huskies converted into three points and a 17-7 lead. All six still sting.
Entering Saturday’s rematch with the Huskies, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley insisted that his front five is centered not on redemption but rather game-to-game improvements. But it’s hard to imagine the returning linemen not harboring some resentment for how last year’s game unfolded.
Through two games, against admittedly inferior defensive teams, Maryland’s offensive line has held strong, despite reworking the entire right side just before the season began. Michael Dunn and Ryan Doyle, now the starting right guard and tackle, respectively, entered the year with one total college appearance between them, a number they quadrupled in seven days.
It’s hard to predict how 2012 would have unfolded had quarterback C.J. Brown not torn his ACL during preseason practice, but having the offense’s unquestioned leader back under center has delivered new-found stability to the Terrapins’ offensive line.
“We’ve become more confident and comfortable with each other,” said left guard De’Onte Arnett, the only offensive lineman who entered this season with double-digit career starts. “We’re growing as a team overall. C.J. wasn’t our quarterback last year, but we always believed in him. Having him back on the field with us is a completely different energy. It’s been good.”
In the season opener against Florida International, the line opened holes for Brown, who topped 100 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns. Against Old Dominion last Saturday, running back Brandon Ross took his turn, accounting for a career-high 149 yards and one score. Brown also rushed for a pair of touchdowns in that game, and backup running back Albert Reid chipped in one.
“I thought they made strides from week one to week two,” Locksley said. “I thought their landmarks better, they played with a little more leverage up front. I think they were executing and not making a lot of mistakes. So from that standpoint I thought we got better. But with that being said, we still, with a lot of positions on offense, need to continue to get better. There’s still so much more room for improvement from a fundamental and technical standpoint.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Terps have allowed just four sacks on Brown after allowing 39 last season, which tied for worst in the ACC. Only one this season – a blindside crack against Old Dominion – caused a turnover.
In a way, Arnett said, the offensive line’s improvements can be extrapolated to include the entire Maryland team. The group has grown closer and tighter. Arnett, the only senior of the bunch, sometimes pulls Dunn and Doyle aside to help them avoid reverting to incorrect techniques. Right now, through two weeks, everything has clicked.
“We take a lot of pride, knowing that they can’t really do what they do without us doing well,” Arnett said of the Terps’ offense. “Obviously we take a lot of pride in doing that. Brandon Ross had a really good rushing game as well. I think that sums it up right there.”
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