Turnover creation still a problem for Terps defense

October 23, 2013

(Associated Press)

On Saturday against Wake Forest, the Maryland football team finished another ACC game without any takeaways and a negative turnover margin. It’s a problem that has lingered through games against a national powerhouse (Florida State), a reeling program marred in a deeper slump than the Terrapins (Virginia) and a home team with one great receiver but comparatively average talent across the board (Wake Forest).

But as the season’s halfway point has come and gone, Maryland once again finds itself bewildered over its inability to force turnovers, something its defense caused in spades during nonconference games.

“It’s frustrating we haven’t been making those plays,” linebacker Cole Farrand said.

The rash of injuries hasn’t helped. Cornerback Dexter McDougle (team-high three interceptions) had season-ending shoulder surgery. Linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Maryland’s second best edge blitzer, tore his pectoralis. And without outside linebacker Matt Robinson (groin) manning coverage at the second level, opposing quarterbacks can quickly dissect the Terps well before pressure collapses the pocket.

“I think it’s everything,” defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said Wednesday. “I think one, some of the teams we’re playing are pretty dynamic offensively. Two, we’re not putting any pressure on them as far as third down. That’s where we got a lot of our pressure. We just got to get better on third down, force them to throw the ball deep a little more, then attack to the quarterback.”

Maryland will continue to preach its “next man up” mentality to avoid dwelling over injured players, but the reality is that the team’s defense has dearly missed those hurt playmakers. The level of competition has greatly increased during ACC play, but this defense faced Wake Forest last weekend missing four key linebackers, two cornerbacks and one safety. It’s not exactly a recipe for replicating the success enjoyed during better times.

“That’s what you practice every day,” Farrand said. “You practice attacking the ball, stripping it. That’s what every team does. We have to work a little harder on that and get back to the level we started on at the season.”

>> Maryland ranks 11th in the ACC in opponents’ third-down conversion rate (45.7 percent). Its own third-down conversion rate (23.1 percent) is tied for last. What gives?

“You know, if I had that answer, we’d be pretty good right now,” Stewart said Wednesday. “We’re snake-bitten in some areas. Pick up the pressure, don’t cover a guy here. It’s just been a lot of different reasons.”

The Clemson offense, for reference, ranks fourth in the ACC with a 38.8 third-down conversion percentage and third with 486.8 yards per game.

“I just think what you try to do is get off the field on third down and be good on the early downs,” Stewart said. “That’s what’s been haunting us recently is getting off the field on third down. We just have to do a better job on third down.”

>> Starting safety Anthony Nixon (toe) was scratched just after kickoff on Saturday against Wake Forest, allowing backup Zach Dancel to play in his stead. The Good Counsel graduate made two tackles.

“I just think that he wants to be good. When players want to be good, they do the little things. Look at extra tape, try to look at themselves, try to analyze themselves. Then, when they see some little idiosyncrasies, they’re man enough to ask the coach, ‘Hey, how I see that I do this, how can I stop doing something like that?’ That’s what he does,” Stewart said. “He’s very conscientious about things like that, especially watching himself on tape and now the preparation period, watching the other team on tape. … He just brings a very mature approach to the game.”

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 · October 23, 2013