COLLEGE PARK -- Duke was breaking with tradition this season by rushing more than passing, but that should change Saturday when the Blue Devils meet Maryland at Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they came out on their first four plays and try to hit a long one," said Mike Lacy, a Maryland cornerback. "I know they're going to test us."
Almost every other team has, and Maryland (1-6) has flunked. Wake Forest was the latest team to toast Maryland's pass defense.
Demon Deacons quarterback Keith West entered the Maryland game Saturday averaging 133.4 yards passing. He left completing 17 of 30 passes for 331 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown. He had passes of 49, 51, 39 and 33 yards.
Maryland coach Mark Duffner has vowed to eliminate the big play, but hasn't revealed whether he will do it with a nickel or dime defense, man or zone coverage, or the bump and run.
He is sure, too, that Duke will come out throwing. Duke is fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in passing, averaging 230.2 yards. That's way down from past years, but Maryland is allowing 320.3, and the Terps have been hurt by play-action passes.
"If Duke didn't have a lot of play-action in their offense, I bet they do now," said Duffner. "Our defense bit on the run, and by the time we realized that it was a pass, the ball was flying over their heads. We've just got to be a little more instinctive."
The Terps like to apply a lot of defensive pressure. They like to blitz and use multiple fronts, including a seventh man in the middle of the field. But blitzing has left their cornerbacks one-on-one with receivers. And sometimes, the Terps aren't winning.
Also, the secondary lacks playing time together. Lacy, a freshman, and sophomore Gene Green were the starters at cornerback when the season opened, along with senior safeties Scott Rosen and Bill Inge.
Duffner, though, moved Rosen to one corner to get more experience and better play in the lineup and senior Andre Vaughn started at free safety. But in the past two weeks, Vaughn (disk problems in neck) and Rosen (sprained ankles) have been in and out of the lineup with injuries and Vaughn is doubtful for Saturday's game. Senior Brandon Bertha has been inserted into the starting lineup at left cornerback.
"We have some good quality athletes in the secondary, and there's a lot of competition to start, but we have problems with communication," said Lacy.
Maryland linebacker Mike Jarmolowich agreed. He has played with a new inside linebacker in each of the past four games.
"We're getting caught with players in bad situations," said Jarmolowich. "We got guys lining up wrong, guys on the wrong assignments. The big play has been hurting us all year. But this is a new defense and we're still learning it."
But after seven games, wouldn't the Terps know how to line up correctly?
"It depends on the new people in the lineup," said Jarmolowich.
As for the play-action passes, Maryland has been getting burned by them all year. Fake the handoff to the halfback or fullback, bring in the linebackers, then go over the top for big yards down the middle to one of the running backs.
N.C. State did it twice. Penn State once. Wake Forest twice.
When is this team going to learn?
"Actually, it was good execution and it worked the way they probably drew it up," said Duffner. "Our linebackers did as they were coached, to honor the run, and the running back got behind them. In one case, the cornerback could have made the play [he was defending two players] but he turned the wrong way in a zone defense."
But where were the safeties?
"They started picking up the backs in the third quarter," said Lacy, reluctantly.
"More than anything else, it's just getting some experience in winning," Duffner said. "When you win, you understand what it's all about. That enables players to make plays at the end of the game that make a difference."