COLLEGE PARK — After an embarrassing loss to Bowling Green in which Maryland gave up 28 fourth-quarter points and squandered a halftime lead, the Terps coaching staff issued a simple but strict challenge to the defense: be better.
With Maryland facing a difficult Big Ten Conference schedule while striving to reach a bowl game for the third consecutive season, any early season misstep could derail the drive for six wins and bowl eligibility. So the coaching staff delivered a message before the Terps faced South Florida, and entering Saturday's matchup at West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va., the players have taken notice.
"We can't drop two in a row. We can't do that," outside linebacker Jefferson Ashiru said. "It was time to step it up, take it to the next level."
After being overrun by Bowling Green, which employs an uptempo, high-flying offense that his similarities to West Virginia's, the Terps defense reset for the Bulls. The Terps were successful, too, and held South Florida to 300 yards, including just 60 through the air.
The Maryland coaching staff wanted its defenders to hone in on the little things against South Florida. West Virginia, like Bowling Green, will probably run more plays than the average offense, so attention to detail as a game wears on becomes magnified. Small mistakes could be the difference in a game.
"They wanted us to be more attentive and be more focused on finishing, things like that," middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. "Finishing plays in practice, running to the ball and just things like that because we were up on Bowling Green, and then we as a defense, we started lagging off toward the end of the game. The main focus is just finishing. That's been the focus the last two weeks."
Last season, Maryland allowed former West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett to throw for 511 yards in a 40-37 loss. While the Mountaineers have run more rushing plays than passing plays so far this season, one of the Terps' goals is to limit the effectiveness of the West Virginia playmakers. Cornerback Sean Davis rebounded nicely against South Florida after being torched by Bowling Green, and the secondary as a whole was much more stout against the Bulls.
The Maryland pass rush could play a big role as well. Defensive end Roman Braglio had a career game against South Florida, while fellow defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Jesse Aniebonam have had success getting after opposing quarterbacks this season. West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard hasn't thrown an interception yet this season, but the Terps could use their pressure to force him into making uncharacteristic mistakes.
Braglio knows the trio of pass rushers, along with defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, gives opposing offensive lines a handful.
"I come out there and kind of look across the line and almost smile, like, you guys better be ready because here we come," Braglio said.
The Terps said this week that playing Bowling Green and experiencing a fast-paced offense that is tough to simulate in practice has prepared them for the rest of the season. The goal now becomes to not lead results repeat.
"It's very similar to Bowling Green," Ashiru said. "We're going to finish stronger than we did against Bowling Green."
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