Maryland's first intense practice after what Coach Ron Vanderlinden called an "awful" defensive performance in a loss to Clemson Saturday ended early yesterday evening with the players applauding themselves. Vanderlinden was extremely positive about the defense, and assumed more blame for the Clemson debacle than he had.
"I really believe we have the makings of a really good defense," he said. "I was encouraged by this practice."
Vanderlinden had been dismayed at how easily Clemson dominated that defense Saturday in a 42-30 victory. Sophomore quarterback Woodrow Dantzler set a school record for total offense with 183 yards rushing and 252 passing and Clemson's tailbacks gained another 110 yards on the ground. That came out of a spread offense that Maryland often tried to counter with six defensive backs and the remaining five players left to deal with the run.
"I think [the coaching staff] helped screw that up," Vanderlinden said. "We put players out of position, trying to get more speed on the field. We put guys in positions they'd practiced just three days before going out and playing the game.
"People say: `Why didn't you do this or that?' Hey, it's harder than just moving guys around. They don't know how to react to unfamiliar [situations]. We screwed it up. It got away from us."
But Vanderlinden hardly left the players blameless, saying: "We still could have rallied and won the game. What we've got to do is learn from it, file it away and move on."
Nose tackle Delbert Cowsette said he and the other players up front mostly were surprised at how well Dantzler ran and the speed with which Clemson executed its plays, usually without huddling. Frequently, the Tigers had five blockers matched against those five Maryland players up front -- and were able to quickly spring Dantzler past the line of scrimmage.
"It was like a two-minute drill the whole game," Cowsette said, "and after a while we just got worn down. We had just a middle linebacker in there dealing with Dantzler. The rest of us got blocked. Also, we weren't aware of the talent of Dantzler [who was making just his second career start]. We knew he was shifty, but didn't know how much he was going to run."
Vanderlinden knows that football coaches are notorious copycats, so he fully expects North Carolina to include some sort of spread offense this Saturday at Byrd Stadium.
Vanderlinden said there will be no lineup changes for the game against the Tar Heels. But he also found no defender worthy of any of the weekly team-wide unit awards, mostly because there were twice as many missed tackles than during the previous worst performance.
The only injuries of concern on defense are to right cornerback Renard Cox (shoulder) and free safety Shawn Forte (pinched neck nerve). Both practiced at full speed yesterday, but did not participate in the contact drills.
While Vanderlinden wants improvement from the defense this week, he might settle for a repeat performance from the offense and special teams. On those units, there were several candidates for individual honors.
Vanderlinden said he could have chosen any of the six primary blockers for the offensive line award, including tight end John Waerig, who sent tailback LaMont Jordan on his way for 177 yards and four touchdowns. He settled on redshirt senior left tackle Brad Messina.
Jason Hatala won the award for special teams, in part for a 29-yard punt return with four minutes to play that he nearly broke for what would have been a 74-yard touchdown. Maryland trailed by 12 points at the time, but could not take advantage of Hatala's play.
Jordan remains the pivotal player on offense -- and Vanderlinden said better work habits have helped improve his near unique blend of speed, power and elusiveness. For the season, Jordan has rushed for 708 yards (5.4 per carry) and scored 12 touchdowns. He is second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 12th in the nation at 118 yards per game and tied for fourth in the nation in scoring at 12 points per game.
"He's determined to be special," Vanderlinden said.