This weekend, the Maryland football team will face West Virginia for the 50th time in series history. The Mountaineers carry a seven-game winning streak that dates back to 2003 and includes a 31-21 victory in Morgantown last year. Household names like Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, who are now playing on Sundays, provided the fireworks for the Mountaineers.
Saturday’s game might be different. Instead of West Virginia’s “Air Raid” offense commanding the headlines, Maryland’s suddenly potent attack becomes the system to stop. Quarterback C.J. Brown and Co. have engineered three straight 500-yard games to open 2013 and have put up 122 points during their undefeated start.
Enter Keith Patterson, the coach tasked with slowing down the Terps. He’s in his second year in Morgantown and first as the team’s lone defensive coordinator after sharing the title in 2012. Chatting by phone Tuesday morning, he discussed the Terps matchup, returning seven starters and how Maryland matches up with Oklahoma.
With so many starters returning on defense, just how different are things for you this time around?
We still have a lot of new faces. It’s not the same kids who played all the time last year. We have guys like [freshman cornerback] Darryl Worley and [redshirt junior cornerback] Travis Bell who have stepped up and are playing, Nick Kwiatkoski at Sam linebacker. We’ve got a lot of returning faces, but we also have a lot of new guys. I think our kids are just playing with a lot of confidence.
I think you play faster, I think you play more physical, you just have a confidence about the way you feel on the field. That’s important. I don’t see kids thinking on the field, I see them reacting. We’re just trying to get them to play hard and fast.
It’s still early, but three games into the season, what have you learned about this group?
I learned potentially, if we eliminate some of the mistakes we’ve made from an assignment aspect, we have a chance to be pretty good. We felt like against Oklahoma, we had 10 tackles for a loss, we had seven three-and-outs, we had four turnovers, so that was the positive. But if you look at they had a couple big runs, it was just on missed alignments. We’ll get those things corrected, and we feel pretty good on what we can become.
How different is Maryland from when you faced them a year ago?
You see them playing with a lot of confidence with [Deon] Long and [Stefon] Diggs on the outside. You have Brown who seems like he’s definitely in control, providing the leadership. They make you stay disciplined in the run game, have the ability to spread the ball around to those guys. They just look a lot more confident.
Last year, with Perry Hills at quarterback, the Terps were still very much figuring things out offensively, but Stefon Diggs was the one guy who seemed to carry them at West Virginia. What’s the key to stopping him, if at all possible, or do you just try to limit his big-play potential?
He’s a great player. I think we don’t necessarily structure our game around one guy. We try to look at the big picture. We’re going to definitely be aware of where he is. He’s an explosive playmaker, but also Long on the other side is just as potentially dangerous. You can’t step in, try to take one guy away and let somebody else tear you up. It’s got to be sound in your scheme and have an understanding of where both those guys are. To me, the difference from them a year ago is their run game. They’re averaging 260 yards a game rushing, and 290 yards a game or whatever passing. To me, they’re much more balance.
Does that make it difficult to put much stock in what they did last year, given how different they are last year?
Yeah, I don’t spend one second on worrying or looking at what they did a year ago. It’s different people .You’ve got new linemen in several spot, I think the running back’s a year older, the quarterback is obviously not the same, Long wasn’t there a year ago. I don’t spend any time worrying about last year. I make sure I depend on what we see.
(Bonus!) The Terps had little trouble rolling up points against Florida International and Old Dominion. Connecticut was an interesting case, Maryland got its 500 yards but only scored 23 offensive points [Marcus Whitfield’s safety and Dexter McDougle’s interception return]. What did you see from that game, and how much do you take away from that in terms of how you can keep them out of the end zone?
I think people tend to get too caught up in yards. In today’s offenses, with the number of plays they’re running, I think obviously you have to control that, can’t let it get out of hand. But at the same time, the bottom line is, at the end of the day, the objective of a defense is to stop them from scoring. I thought Connecticut did a good job of that. They big-played Connecticut, and that’s where the yards came in, but Connecticut did a good job of keeping them out of the end zone, and that’s the key to everything.
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