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Terps hope to get running game going at Virginia

College FootballFootballMaryland TerrapinsVirginia CavaliersCollege SportsAtlantic Coast Conference

Albert Reid took the handoff, fended off a tackler diving at his legs, and managed to lunge forward to within a yard of the line of scrimmage before tumbling to the turf.

Another Maryland running play was over before it could get started.

Variations of that outcome — from the second quarter of last week's 19-14 victory over Wake Forest — have become all too common for a Maryland team that enters Saturday's game at Virginia ranked last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing (86 yards per game). Maryland is the only school in the conference not averaging more than 100 yards on the ground.

If Maryland (3-2, 1-0 ACC) is going to be the team it hopes to be this season — the team coach Randy Edsall envisions — it knows it must quickly solve the running game equation.

Through five games, Maryland's longest run of the season is 21 yards.

The absence of a consistent ground game — the Terps have surpassed 100 rushing yards in only one game — has enabled defenses to apply more pressure on Perry Hills, the freshman quarterback. Hills has been sacked 18 times, more than any quarterback in the conference.

Hills, a former high school wrestler who is stoic by nature, has not complained about the lack of ground support. He typically stands before reporters after games and says he needs to work on his own assignments, such as reading defenses better. The running game "is just something we have to work on," Hills said quietly this week.

But Maryland coaches believe that establishing a better running game will help keep defenses honest.

"The thing you'd like to be able to do is find a way to run the football to take some pressure off of the young quarterback," offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "We just haven't been able to do it consistently."

Maryland's offense overall is ranked last in the ACC in scoring (20.8 yards per game). The defense is ranked second (257.2 yards per game).

Edsall has had his share of run-heavy teams. His 2010 Connecticut team — which finished 8-5 with a Fiesta Bowl appearance — relied on tailback Jordan Todman, who gained 1,695 yards with 5.1 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns.

This season, Edsall is still looking for his Todman. Four Maryland tailbacks have carries — Wes Brown, Justus Pickett, Albert Reid and Brandon Ross — and the team has yet to designate one of them as the primary runner.

Inexperience is a big issue. Only the sophomore Pickett, who gained 15 pounds in the offseason and now weighs about 195, had game experience entering this season.

Coaches said early in the week that Pickett and Brown would be expected to get the most playing time beginning against the Cavaliers (2-4, 0-2), who have lost four games in a row.

But Brown, the team's leading rusher, was later ruled out of the Virginia game with a shoulder injury.

Virginia ranks seventh of the 12 ACC teams in rushing defense, surrendering an average of 180.5 yards.

Pickett and Brown, who is a freshman, "make the least amount of mistakes," Locksley said.

"I think that during the course of the game, we have enough [of] what we call 'mental assignments' where a guy goes the wrong way, blocks the wrong guy, or doesn't take care of his responsibility. Those two guys have been the most steady in terms of knowing their assignments," Locksley said.

Maryland's offensive line is also learning the game on the fly. Guard Andrew Zeller, a redshirt freshman, and tackle Mike Madaras, a true freshman, made their first starts last week.

"I think that we have a really good offensive line. I think that we have a ton of work to do, though," said center Sal Conaboy, a redshirt sophomore.

Conaboy said the line is thirsting for a long running play. He said offensive line coach Tom Brattan has been working with the players on holding onto their blocks a few steps longer to enable the running back to get deeper downfield.

"Oh yeah, that feels good when you take a guy 10 yards downfield," Conaboy said. "You love that feeling."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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Maryland (3-2, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. Virginia (2-4, 0-2 ACC)

Site: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.

Time: 3 p.m.

Broadcast: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

Series: Maryland leads 42-32-2

Last meeting: Virginia def. Maryland, 31-13, Nov. 5, 2011 in College Park

Maryland offense vs. Virginia defense: Maryland has played Virginia more than any other school in a series dating to 1919. Virginia has won four of the past five meetings and 15 of the past 20. This one comes during the school's homecoming weekend. Maryland has not surpassed 100 yards rushing since the second game of the season. Virginia's defense is surrendering 34 points per game, 11th in the ACC. Its defense is led by senior linebacker Steve Greer, whose 9.2 tackles per game ranks sixth in the ACC.

Virginia offense vs. Maryland defense: Virginia's offense has had turnover problems - 10 interceptions and five fumbles. The Cavaliers rank 123rd in the nation in turnover margin. Sophomore quarterback Philip Sims was picked off twice in last week's 42-17 loss at Duke but also threw for 268 yards. He had been competing with junior Michael Rocco for the starting job. Maryland's defense, ranked second in the ACC (257.2 yards per game), will again be missing starting safety Matt Robinson (groin). Linebacker L.A. Goree (hip/groin) is also out.

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