Patience comes to defense of Terps Youth needs time to learn how to make the plays


COLLEGE PARK -- How does one's ego deal with being beaten by 63 points in front of 40,000 people? How does a coach cope with being at the bottom of every NCAA team defensive statistic?

"The Book of James talks about building patience through adversity," Larry Slade said. "This situation calls for a lot of patience, but I've pretty much had enough adversity."

Slade must have the patience of Job, because his unit is getting beatings of biblical proportions. He's the defensive coordinator at Maryland, which suffered its worst loss in 80 years last week, 70-7 to Penn State.

Maryland's defense starts seven players who are in their first year of Division I-A football, and it's on pace to finish as the NCAA's all-time worst defense. After five games, the Terps are giving up 605.8 yards and 53.8 points per game.

Temple (53.5) is giving up nearly as many points as the Terps, and only one other team, Stanford, is allowing more than 500 yards per game. Besides getting out of the 1993 basement in those categories, Maryland is also looking to keep its name out of the NCAA record book. The Terps need much improvement to get below the I-A record averages for futility, 536 yards (Kansas, 1988) and 49.5 points (UTEP, 1973) allowed per game.

A tough schedule and the defensive difficulties have conspired to batter the Terps (0-5), who need a victory at Georgia Tech on Saturday to avoid their worst start since 1967. The run-and-shoot offense kept Maryland in its first three games, but injuries and inexperience have shaken the defense.

"My confidence hasn't changed," Slade said. "The players? To be honest, those guys get over it a lot easier than the coaches."

Earlier, the Terps coaches wondered if defensive players were trying to do too much. After five weeks of getting burned by the big play, Slade worries that Maryland is sitting back instead of forcing the issue.

"This is all about expecting good things to happen," Slade said. "When you've had the Penn State thing happen, you wonder, what's next? We've got guys back there wondering 'When is the next big play going to happen?' While waiting, you die."

Nearly every defensive player has been guilty of repeated breakdowns, but the most visible mistakes are made by the guys in the secondary, who are coached by Slade. Despite the mistakes, free safety Lamont Gore and cornerback Andreal Johnson, 19-year-old true freshmen who recently broke into the starting lineup, aren't embarrassed.

Against Virginia Tech, Gore got out-jumped on a post pattern that turned into a 70-yard touchdown. While Gore was acknowledging that play, Johnson added that he, too, was beaten deep by Tech.

"Look, we're freshmen," said Johnson, who was at Pahokee (Fla.) High last year. "We're the same size we were in high school a year ago. We're going to get bigger and stronger. All we can do now is fight."

"We do have a certain cockiness back there," said Gore, a two-way standout at De Matha before spending last year at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. "That's what's keeping us going right now. We're not going to lay down. What are we supposed to do, lay down and accept it, stop fighting?"

With 15 freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep defense, Maryland usually gives up an average of 20 pounds per man.

The situation was radically different at the University of Washington, where Slade was the secondary coach for six years. Five of his players were selected in the NFL draft. In

his last year with the Huskies, they were unbeaten, won the Rose Bowl and gained a share of the national title.

Don James, who resigned as Washington coach this summer after improper loans to players led to sanctions against the Huskies, said that Slade can't apply all of his knowledge with a young team.

"Some guys understand parts of a defense, but not the whole," James said. "His [Slade's] ideas coordinated with what everyone else on our staff was doing. He was instrumental in the blitz package we put together. Of course, that package is better when you've got a Steve Emtman up front. After he left, it's no coincidence that our other guys weren't so good."

"I'm sure there are things he [Slade] knows, but that he can't get done."

The Terps' Multiple 40 scheme, which sometimes includes an eight-man front, is similar to the one Slade brought from Washington. It also resembles the one coach Mark Duffner, who has always spent more time on defense, used at Holy Cross. Because of the Terps' youth, they've had to cut back on some of its elements. It requires quick decisions and adjustments, and even though it's been pared to the basics, the Terps still struggle.

"We're trying to pull off a balancing act," Slade said. "We want to eliminate the mental errors, and the best way to do that is to simplify the defense.

"In the secondary, we 'rep' them to the point where they get the proper angles. We go through the stuff in meetings and in practice, and then the noise starts, the guns start going off. Those perfect angles you took in practice, now become 'Wow, why'd I do this?' "

A year ago, veterans struggled learning a new scheme -- finishing last in the nation in total defense then, too -- and the process started over again this past spring.

"They got a lot of things wrong last week, but I also saw them making plays they weren't making in the first week," said Slade, who said changing schemes isn't the answer. "We've gone through all of the possibilities. We critique it every week, and if it called for playing another scheme, we would do it."


Maryland's defense has been so bad this fall, there is an NCAA Division I basketball team that has given up fewer points. The Terps have given up 53.8 points a game. Princeton has led Division I basketball teams in scoring defense the past five seasons, holding opponents to 54.7, 53.0, 51.0, 48.9 and 48.2 points per game.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad