Maryland’s offensive linemen — a patchwork unit in the Terrapins’ 27-20 win over Virginia on Saturday — know the rushing game needs work. Negative yardage simply won’t cut it against the ACC’s elite. There’s already been plenty of shuffling in front of quarterback Perry Hills, including the insertion of two freshmen into the starting lineup, but don’t be surprised if Maryland continues to mix and match, searching for the answer.
If the hole were obvious, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said Wednesday, that player would simply be replaced. But the mechanical and fundamental mistakes are across the board, the execution at a less-than-desirable percentage.
“I think that our guys understand that they have to do their job if they want to continue to play,” Locksley said. “It’s not a measure we use to threaten them, it’s just good to have competition and it’s good to have guys that can compete. If a guy is not getting the job done, you find a way to find a guy to get it done.”
A close-knit, bearded group, the offensive line prides itself on staying out of the headlines and being “silent heroes,” the protectors who always joke with injured quarterback C.J. Brown about taking up secondary work as his personal bodyguards.
But individual roles have changed daily. Mike Madaras and Andrew Zeller stepped in two weeks ago for Nick Klemm and De’Onte Arnett. Klemm has since seen time as a reserve, especially when multiple starters went down at Scott Stadium.
Evan Mulrooney replaced a nicked-up Sal Conaboy at center against the Cavaliers, and held steady. There was only one delay-of-game penalty on what seemed to be a snap-count miscommunication between Mulrooney and Hills. But the true freshman otherwise held strong. No holding penalties, no false starts.
“That’s the thing that you like,” Coach Randy Edsall said this week. “We were disciplined. When you have new guys in there, on the road, all those things, to only have one penalty, I thought that was good. Something we try to stress. If you use good fundamentals and good technique, you’re going to minimize your opportunity for penalties and getting off schedule.”
There has been no indication yet on Conaboy’s health and Mulrooney’s future playing time, but the offensive line has suddenly found itself with depth, albeit by virtue of sweeping inexperience. Having Madaras, Mulrooney and Zeller on the line means having two true freshmen and one redshirt freshman both protecting a true freshman quarterback who’s already been sacked 3.5 times per game and guiding a rushing attack that’s ranked third-worst nationally.
“There’s going to be times when they get exposed, all we can do is continue to pound the fundamentals, doing things the right way doing things the way they were coached,” Locksley said. “It’s something we’re not going to give up on and also lends itself to some of the things we’ve talked about having balance.”
If opposing defenses begin outnumbering the box, Locksley said Hills could be called upon more to pass. Whether that involves simply more passing plays or a diversity of routes is unclear. But both Locksley and Edsall iterated the same thought: If the run game stalls again, then the Terps might be forced to set up draws and zone reads with passing plays, rather than the other way around.
“If you look at the second half, that was one of the adjustments we made against Virginia and it worked for us,” Locksley said.