COLLEGE PARK — As quarterback C.J. Brown sat before the media Wednesday afternoon, he outlined the Maryland football team's top priority on offense heading into Saturday's game at Wisconsin's legendary Camp Randall Stadium, which seats 80,321 and can shake at times during games.
"The biggest emphasis that we have is: Get off to a fast start," Brown said.
What could make that tough for Maryland (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten Conference) is Wisconsin's ability to generate pressure and slow down opposing passing attacks.
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) enters Saturday ranked eighth nationally in pass defense, allowing just 169.2 yards through the air per game.
That pass defense is aided by a pass rush that, despite having played in one fewer game than Maryland, is tied with the Terps for third in the Big Ten in sacks.
"They're a pressure defense, so the ball comes out quickly, obviously, with the way they play," Terps offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "They play a lot of man coverage behind them. A lot of things we faced earlier in the year were the zone pressures. So when you play man [coverage] and there is pressure involved, it forces your quarterback to have to be accurate, because they press."
That will be a test for Brown, who has completed just 56.8 percent of his passes this season. If Brown can be accurate, Maryland's wide receivers could have a chance to make some plays. Illinois backup quarterback Reilly O'Toole was 12-for-19 against Wisconsin last week and threw two first-half touchdown passes in a 38-28 loss.
Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 50 percent of their passes against Wisconsin, but among the Badgers' opponents so far, only LSU has a group of wide receivers as talented as Maryland's.
"As soon as you hear man-to-man [coverage], I know the wide receivers perk up because they know they're going to have the opportunity to win versus matchups to show off their skills and their potential," Brown said. "It's just my job to get them the ball."
The Terps also will depend on their offensive line to protect Brown better than it did the last time it faced a strong pass rush.
During Maryland's 52-24 loss to Ohio St. on Oct. 4, the offensive line was beaten for three first-half sacks and multiple quarterback pressures. Brown threw for just 71 yards and an interception before being pulled at halftime.
Thirteen different Wisconsin players have at least a half-sack, and the Badgers have 20 quarterback hurries and 19 sacks this season.
After O'Toole had some success during the first half last week, the Badgers had two sacks on Illinois' first drive of the second half and finished with six overall. Inside linebacker Leon Jacobs had 12 tackles, two tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks for the Badgers. For the year, fellow inside linebacker Derek Landisch leads Wisconsin with eight tackles for losses and four sacks.
"They're very sound and very solid in what they do and what they like," Terps coach Randy Edsall said. "They have a scheme they believe in, and they have good players that play within the system they have and are very active. They can play man coverage and be able to get an extra guy in the box to be able to do things. I'm just very impressed with the way they run to the ball and how they execute the scheme that they are playing."
One possible advantage for Maryland is Brown's mobility. Blitz calls and man coverage could leave Wisconsin susceptible to quarterback scrambles, and Brown ran for 99 yards on 21 carries in three quarters of work against Iowa last week.