Maryland's Defense Is Improved, but Not Good Enough

Middle Tennessee's Garrett Andrews leaves fallen Maryland cornerback Anthony Wiseman and a host of other defenders behind en route to a 32-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
Middle Tennessee's Garrett Andrews leaves fallen Maryland cornerback Anthony Wiseman and a host of other defenders behind en route to a 32-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 20, 2009

For three quarters, Maryland cornerback Cameron Chism played well enough to deter Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher from picking on him too often. Chism had made tackles and deflected passes all afternoon; the sophomore even recorded a pair of interceptions in his first career start.

But as the fourth quarter wore on, Chism could feel his muscles fatigue. The tinge that lit up the back of his leg every time he made a stride intensified. His hamstring wasn't pulled, he said. It was pulling. Dasher seemed to sense it, too.

On Middle Tennessee's final drive -- one that ultimately concluded with a game-winning field goal for the visiting Blue Raiders as time expired -- Dasher threw in Chism's direction twice, which proved to be once more than Chism's body could handle. Chism's wearied play was emblematic of Maryland's defensive performance as a whole on Saturday in the Terrapin' 32-31 loss.

At times, the unit was as stingy as was advertised during the offseason. Other times, it was as leaky as was displayed in recent weeks. Not helping matters was a turnover-prone offense that repeatedly gave Middle Tennessee prime field position -- often deep in Terrapins territory.

Maryland entered the day as one of only five teams in the nation that had not yet forced a turnover. The Terrapins collected three against the Blue Raiders. Maryland also entered its third game of the 2009 campaign having not shown the discipline or the fundamental capacity necessary to at least slow down a spread offense. The Terrapins kept to their assigned gaps and tackled soundly at the outset.

What, then, was missing on a day in which Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin said the defense played well enough for the Terrapins to win?

"Getting home," defensive lineman Deege Galt said. "We've got to be able to get home better."

With 13 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Maryland led by five. The Terrapins' defense did not allow the Blue Raiders to convert on a single third down in the first half, and they had established a consistent presence in the Middle Tennessee backfield.

After a week in which members of the Maryland defense sounded as though their revamped unit was only a day away from revealing its true form, the Terrapins demonstrated several positive signs but were unable to muster a complete performance against a nondescript nonconference opponent.

In Maryland's first two games against California and James Madison, the Terrapins allowed a combined 959 total yards of offense. But Saturday, against a no-huddle spread offense predicated on the pass, first-year defensive coordinator Don Brown's blitz-heavy, risk-oriented approach appeared to be coming to fruition.

Instead, the defensive showing proved to be a facade that could not hold up. On fourth and inches with just more than nine minutes to go, Middle Tennessee wide receiver Garrett Andrews blew by cornerback Anthony Wiseman and safety Kenny Tate on a 32-yard touchdown pass. It was the second time that drive that Wiseman had been beaten on a route.

Following a Maryland field goal to put the Terrapins up by one, Dasher threw his second interception to Chism, a moment that seemed to secure a win. But Maryland missed a field goal on its ensuing possession, giving the ball back to Middle Tennessee.

On first and 10 from the Maryland 45-yard line, Chism lined up in man coverage on wideout Chris McClover, who sprinted 12 yards and then came to a halt. "I thought he was running a comeback" route, Chism said.

Rather, McClover executed a stop-and-go. "I tried to accelerate, but [my hamstring] was pulling," Chism said. "I felt like if I accelerated, it would go."

McClover burst ahead and made a 35-yard completion. Four plays later, the game was over, and the Blue Raiders had dealt Maryland an embarrassing loss for the second straight year -- this time on the Terrapins' home field.

The final stat sheet was as kind to Chism (two interceptions, 12 tackles) as it was harsh to the Maryland defense (438 total yards allowed), though it did not tell the whole story for either side.

"I know our defense was tired with [Middle Tennessee's] no-huddle, but I thought they sucked it up," Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I thought they got some really big stops. We needed to have one more, and we didn't get it done."

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