Maryland’s pass rush hopes to feast against West Virginia and its young quarterback

September 18, 2013

(Nick Wass/Associated Press)

They knew it was coming on Saturday, and yet who could stop it? Not Connecticut’s offensive tackles, who spent more time shadow-blocking air than actual linebackers. A film study of Maryland’s road win over the Huskies revealed the havoc that outside linebackers Marcus Whitfield and Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil can unleash. On all 10 snaps in which they appeared on the field together – including eight on third down – both blitzed from opposite sides. Four of those 10 snaps resulted in Huskies quarterback Chandler Whitmer sacked onto his back, lying flat and staring into the night sky.

With an injury-decimated secondary facing its biggest challenge of the season to date in West Virginia, and a redshirt freshman starting just his second college game for the Mountaineers, Whitfield and Cudjoe-Virgil will have more opportunities to add to their combined 8.5 sacks this season. This time, it comes at M&T Bank Stadium, where former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis — Cudjoe-Virgil’s idol — used to play.

“I think the pass rush is a combination of a couple of things: Number one, you got to have guys that have a desire to get to the quarterback,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “You got to have guys that have more than one move, guys that can do things from a technique standpoint that’s going to allow them to combat the things that the offensive lineman is doing in terms of protection.

“I think it helps when you have guys on either side plus you have guys that have speed and quickness, and power in the middle. So I think it’s a combination of a lot of guys working together and guys taking a lot of pride in trying to get pressure on the quarterback with four guys and working together, whether it’s running stunts or straight speed rushes. Again, I think it’s an attitude. I think it’s an attitude and guys that have ability and take pride in trying to get to the quarterback and getting sacks.”

If sacks require attitude, Whitfield and Cudjoe-Virgil are chock full of it. The former currently leads the nation in sacks with 5.5, while the latter, despite technically being a backup, ranks second on the Terps with three.

They should have plenty of opportunities on Saturday. West Virginia’s spread offense often sacrifices blocking numbers for extra receivers. Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s scheme seeks matchup problems, and most times that involves speed-rushing the “Will” linebacker around the outside, relying on pure burst to turn the corner and pounce.

The Mountaineers, currently 2-1 with two wins over Football Championship Subdivision teams, recently tabbed their third-string quarterback as the new starter. Redshirt freshman Ford Childress carved up Georgia State — a relatively easy feat – for 359 passing yards and three touchdowns at a 61 percent completion rate in Saturday’s 41-7 win.

“Offensive line is pretty big up front,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “They got some size to them. They’re going to try to spread us out. I think we’re going to get the job done this Saturday.”

Childress, possibly to Maryland’s advantage, stands 6 feet 5 and weighs 234 pounds, nearly 25 pounds heavier than any Terps quarterback. He’s big and strong, but relatively confined to the pocket. If Maryland wants to blitz, it will blitz without fear of a scramble.

“That’s the hope, in a sense,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “When we come on the field, it’s essentially just to rush the passer, get fast guys on the field and rush the passer.”

Against Connecticut, Cudjoe-Virgil blitzed on all but three of his 24 snaps. Whitfield rushed on 64 percent of them. So, is blitzing ever not in the call?

“I mean … rarely,” Cudjoe-Virgil said.

It’s been so successful, why change the most dominating aspect of the defense?

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Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt · September 18, 2013

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