BALTIMORE – Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart often begins his meetings by blasting rap music, dancing to the type of old-school tunes that make his players roll their eyes, arch their brows and say, “Huh?” Known as both a fine motivator and a ferocious schemer with an NFL pedigree, Stewart this week chose a late 1980s ditty by Kool G Rap & DJ Polo called “Poison.”
It worked. During a 37-0 dismantling of West Virginia at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, the Terrapins’ defense might as well have doused the backfield in arsenic. They forced six turnovers, turned five of them into points, held the Mountaineers to less than 200 yards and shut out an opponent for the first time since 2008. They also beat their border rival for the first time since the 2004 Gator Bowl.
“It’s an aggressive style of defense,” linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil said. “Our goal is to create turnovers, strip the ball every play. Our practices paid off today.”
In practice, Stewart considers anything less than three or four turnovers a disappointment. The Terps upped the ante. Cudjoe-Virgil tipped a pass and corralled a circus interception, the first of his career. Nickel safety A.J. Hendy recovered two fumbles and returned an interception 28 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown, on a play Maryland knew was coming.
“We actually called that play out,” cornerback Will Likely said. “I told him it was going to the out route, so we were confident we could make a play when they threw the ball. They were talking smack the whole week before, so we just wanted to put it on film and let our work show.”
Late in the third quarter, the game firmly out of reach given West Virginia’s offensive ineptitude, Maryland running back Brandon Ross muffed an option pitch, giving the Mountaineers a shot to avoid their first shutout since 2001. But on the next possession’s first play, linebacker L.A. Goree blew up a swing pass to running back Charles Sims, forcing the ball loose.
The cavalcade of errors continued when quarterback C.J. Brown coughed up another fumble on the next series. He barely had enough time to grab a drink of water and pick up the sideline phone before the offense was summoned back onto the field. Linebacker Cole Farrand forced another fumble that linebacker Matt Robinson recovered.
“That was kind of how the day was for us,” quarterback C.J. Brown said. “Defense did an unbelievable job with the turnovers and the pressure. For them to get that shutout was a huge statement for them. A tip of the hat to our defense, they kept our offense in it.
“It’s a big relief. We know our defense is good, but on the other hand we understand as an offensive unit we don’t want to rely on them. IT should be both ways. We should able to go out there and carry our own. We don’t want to put too much pressure on the defense.”
The Terps entered as the odds-on favorites to end a seven-game losing streak against the Mountaineers, but this manner of shellacking even surprised the players themselves. West Virginia needed nearly three quarters to top 100 yards, and things might have been worse were it not for a garbage-time 51-yard run on its final possession, which of course ended with another lost fumble.
“West Virginia, a powerhouse like that? I didn’t expect it one bit,” linebacker L.A. Goree said. “It surprised me. I’m like, 37-0? To hold any team to zero is a tough task. We couldn’t hold the rest of the teams we played to zero.”
The nation’s leader in sacks, Maryland dropped redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress just twice. But Stewart’s unit kept him uncomfortable and on the move all afternoon, slipping and sliding around a rain-soaked surface.
“I think the rain, the wet conditions had a lot to do with it,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “They were playing pretty conservative, running the ball in the second half. Once again, a great team win. We knew they had to stop the run, that’s what we did well, try to harass the quarterback.”
But to credit the weather does a disservice to Maryland’s dominating defense, which buttressed an offense suffering from similar turnover issues. A secondary missing its two starting cornerbacks – Jeremiah Johnson is still on crutches, healing his fractured toe, and Dexter McDougle will be relegated to a sling for weeks after Monday’s shoulder surgery – arguably put forth its best effort to date, against a spread offense known for filling the box score.
“We keep preaching, I’ve preached it from day one, everybody’s got to go out and practice like they’re a starter, because they never know when your opportunity’s going to arise,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “Isaac and Will played very well today, A.J. Hendy steps in at the nickel for us, picks a ball off and gets a touchdown. They did a great job in coverage, we were able to get some pressure up front, so it’s neat to see. It’s neat to see from the standpoint that the things we’re telling our guys come true if they do the things we ask them to do, and they’re doing those things.”
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