Terrapins Thrown Off By Foes' Pass Attacks

Maryland allowed 239 passing yards in the fourth quarter against California on Sept. 13. Injuries have taken their toll on the Terps' pass defense.
Maryland allowed 239 passing yards in the fourth quarter against California on Sept. 13. Injuries have taken their toll on the Terps' pass defense. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The offensive pyrotechnics Maryland displayed against Eastern Michigan on Saturday were enough to offset another sub-par performance by the Terrapins' pass defense, which struggled to slow an unheralded 19-year-old backup quarterback from a mediocre Mid-American Conference team.

"After a while, it was getting embarrassing," Maryland cornerback Kevin Barnes said of Maryland's defensive performance in its 51-24 victory over Eastern Michigan. "That's not our defense. We were sloppy. It's not acceptable anymore."

Through four games, Maryland's pass defense has ranked among the nation's worst and has managed to make stars of the most unlikely quarterbacks, such as Middle Tennessee's Joe Craddock and Eastern Michigan's Kyle McMahon. Against Maryland, McMahon completed 25 passes, half as many as he completed all of last season, and threw for 278 yards, more than half as much as he had all of last season.

Maryland's struggles with pass defense, coupled with mounting injuries on the unit, create a particular concern for a Terrapins team preparing to open the ACC portion of its schedule Saturday at No. 20 Clemson. Maryland's defense ranks 109th nationally against the pass, allowing an average of 279.3 yards per game through the air. Only two teams from BCS conferences -- Washington and Missouri -- rank worse than Maryland in pass defense.

"You can't go by the numbers," Maryland safety Antwine Perez said. "To me, it's like an illusion. Of course, we have to play better in our pass defense and everything. But when you win the game, you win the game."

Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen knows his defense faces a heightened challenge because of injuries. Cornerback Richard Taylor and safety Dominique Herald are out for the year. Defensive tackle Travis Ivey and safeties Terrell Skinner and Drew Robinson are probable for Saturday's game against Clemson. Cornerback Nolan Carroll, defensive end Mack Frost and linebacker Adrian Moten remain questionable.

If Moten, who has torn ligaments in his wrist, is sidelined, Friedgen said that Perez could see some action at strong-side linebacker. Asked when he last played linebacker, Perez laughed, paused and then said the eighth grade.

"I'm up to the challenge," Perez said.

Defensive depth will be critical because fatigue has been a factor the last few weeks. On Sept. 13, Maryland allowed 239 passing yards in the fourth quarter alone against California, which had no choice but to throw the ball because the Golden Bears faced a large deficit. Friedgen said fatigue played a large role because linebackers failed to cover routes that they had successfully contained earlier in the game.

Last week, Eastern Michigan had the ball for 35 minutes 45 seconds and ran 20 more offensive plays than Maryland. After watching tape of the game, defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre, who said he played at least 70 of the 79 plays, saw he was noticeably slower in the fourth quarter.

"You can't think about it," Navarre said. "You can't save yourself. It's tough. It's the situation we are in. I don't really have a backup."

The main reason why the defense was on the field so much against Eastern Michigan was because the offense repeatedly scored quickly. Only two of Maryland's drives lasted more than three minutes (both concluded with touchdowns).

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