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PSU game shows Maryland's potential on 'D'

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown (16) holds up the football after taking the final snap of a 20-19 win over Penn State in an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. Maryland won 20-19. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) ** Usable by LA, DC, CGT and CCT Only **
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown (16) holds up the football after taking the final snap of a 20-19 win over Penn State in an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. Maryland won 20-19. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) ** Usable by LA, DC, CGT and CCT Only ** (Gene J. Puskar, AP)

Penn State game shows Maryland's potential on defense

In the back of one of Maryland's team meeting rooms is a wall-length board that lists the Terps' depth chart, the team's recruiting targets and also shows the players Maryland will not have available for its upcoming game due to injury.

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The defensive portion of the depth chart has been analyzed and shuffled on a near weekly basis because of various short-term and long-term injuries to key defensive players.

However, Saturday's 20-19 win over Penn State showed the type of defense the Terps believe they can be when their defense is near full strength.

Maryland had four sacks, numerous other pressures and forced three turnovers. The Terps limited Nittany Lions running backs to 65 yards on 29 carries. And with the game on the line and Maryland clinging to a one-point lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter, the defense recovered a fumble that sealed the Terps' victory.

"I think things have shown that when we were healthy and we had all of our components out there we've played well," Terps coach Randy Edsall said, "and I thought yesterday we played well."

Despite entering last week ranked second-worst in the Big Ten in total defense, Maryland's defense has played mostly well in games it has had both of its starting linebackers — seniors Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree.

Farrand did not play most of the game against James Madison Aug. 30 or for most of the Terps' matchup versus Syracuse Sept. 20. Goree missed the game against West Virginia the week before because of a back injury and was still dealing with that injury against the Orange.

Among the six games both have started and seen close to a full workload, Maryland held South Florida to 17 points, limited a then healthy and capable Indiana offense to nine points through three-plus quarters and held Iowa to 21 points until the Hawkeyes scored 10 points in the final three minutes.

Then, yesterday, Penn State finished with just 219 yards of total offense.

The Terps were pushed around in a 52-24 loss to Ohio State Oct. 4.

However, even during a bad statistical game against Wisconsin Oct. 25, the Terps limited star running back Melvin Gordon to an average of 3.8 yards per carry until beginning to wear down midway through the third quarter.

The defense did allow 52 points, including 24 in the first half. But two of Wisconsin's first six scoring drives began inside Maryland territory. The Badgers started two of the other six at their own 43-yard line or better.

"When we execute at a high level and we run to the football, I think we always have a chance — regardless of who's out there — to be really good," Edsall said.

Aside from the two inside linebackers, Maryland has also gotten big contributions from sophomore cornerback Will Likely, sophomore outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and senior defensive end Andre Monroe, among others.

Likely leads the Big Ten with five interceptions and has returned two for touchdowns. Ngakoue is tied for second in the conference with 12.5 tackles for a loss and also has 5.5 sacks, and Monroe is third in the Big Ten with 7.5 sacks.

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In addition, senior nose tackle Darius Kilgo has seven tackles for a loss. Senior defensive end Keith Bowers has 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks during the last four games. Senior outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil has contributed as a situational player, and senior outside linebacker Matt Robinson is a valuable commodity when healthy.

The big question mark for Maryland is the secondary.

The Terps lost starting cornerback Alvin Hill for the year to a knee injury and were forced to move Sean Davis from safety to cornerback for the Penn State game with Hill's replacement, senior Jeremiah Johnson, limited by a hamstring injury.

While Johnson has been starting since 2012, Maryland has two inexperienced players behind him — sophomore Jarrett Ross and freshman Josh Woods.

Maryland has also gotten subpar play from its safeties. Davis has beaten for several big plays in coverage, including three touchdowns against West Virginia, and fellow safety Anthony Nixon does not make many impact plays.

Since intercepting a pass in the Terps' season-opening win against James Madison, Nixon does not have any interceptions or forced fumbles and has just one pass breakup.

Still, Maryland's defense is better than the numbers may suggest, although that unit will be tested when the Terps play eighth-ranked Michigan State in College Park Nov. 15.

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