Ground Control a Concern For the Terrapins' Defense

Running back Vai Taua, above, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick carried the load for Nevada's offense this season, as each surpassed 1,000 yards rushing.
Running back Vai Taua, above, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick carried the load for Nevada's offense this season, as each surpassed 1,000 yards rushing. (By Jamie Squire -- Getty Images)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 30, 2008; Page E01

BOISE, Idaho, Dec. 29 -- When Dean Muhtadi sat at his computer on Dec. 5, the Maryland defensive lineman received this two-word instant message from teammate Tommy Galt: "Cosh quit." Two days following the unexpected departure of defensive coordinator Chris Cosh to Kansas State, Maryland then accepted an invitation to play in the Humanitarian Bowl against Nevada.

Those two events crystallized Maryland's challenge Tuesday at Bronco Stadium, where it will try to contain a prolific, innovative offense with an interim defensive coordinator. Muhtadi knows coaches leave schools all the time, but the senior acknowledged, "It was probably one of the worst times for a coach to leave."

For the most part, Maryland has bigger and stronger athletes than Nevada. And the Terrapins' offense might be able to pick apart a Nevada defense that ranks last in division I-A in pass defense. But it won't matter if the Wolf Pack controls the ball and keeps Maryland's defense on the field for the majority of the game.

"They have a heck of an offense," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I hate when I am in there watching the other team and admiring what they do. That's not a good feeling."

Throughout the month, Friedgen has lamented the fact that there has been little continuity in the practice schedule because of final exams, the holidays and travel logistics. The Terrapins engaged in just two true practices in the week before Tuesday's game, which concerns Friedgen particularly when facing an unfamiliar offense.

Nevada Coach Chris Ault's pistol offense, which he installed prior to the 2005 season, has made the Wolf Pack attack one of the most formidable in the nation. Nevada ranks second nationally in rushing, averaging 291.4 yards per game, fifth in total offense and 13th in scoring offense.

In Ault's offense, the quarterback lines up in shotgun formation about four yards behind the center. A running back positions himself behind the quarterback and remains concealed from the defense, which gives the back a split-second advantage to make a move.

"You can't necessarily predict where the ball is going to be run," said Maryland interim defensive coordinator Al Seamonson, who had been the team's outside linebackers coach and special teams assistant. "There is no real tendency to say it is going to be to the left or the right."

The Wolf Pack set a school record for rushing yards (3,497) this season. Running back Vai Taua and quarterback Colin Kaepernick each surpassed 1,000 yards rushing, marking the first time in school history that Nevada had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

The 6-foot-6 Kaepernick, the Western Athletic Conference offensive player of the year, ran for 1,115 yards and 16 touchdowns. And only one player (California s Jahvid Best) has a higher yards per carry average than Kaepernick.

"Stats don't lie," Maryland defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre said. "They run the ball very well. They are one of the better offenses in the country."

Muhtadi said the Terrapins have their "work cut out for them. Just stopping the run, that has been our focus."

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