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Terps offensive line tops in nation

COLLEGE PARK

Keeping the quarterback upright was a goal for the Maryland offensive line this season, especially with more traditional passers under center after the graduation of scrambler C.J. Brown.

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And so far, the unit has excelled. Through three games, Maryland is one of only five teams — and one of only three Power Five teams — to not allow a sack this season.

"I think the one thing is it's great communication," coach Randy Edsall said after Maryland's 35-17 win over South Florida. "It's great communication in terms of, say, the quarterback to the offensive line, the running backs, of recognizing the defenses and knowing which way we've got to slide or turn our protection to take advantage of what they're trying to do to us."

Texas Tech and Arkansas are the other two Power Five teams to keep its quarterbacks clean this season, while Toledo and Air Force, which runs a run-heavy offense, also haven't allowed a sack.

Last season, Maryland allowed 37 sacks, which tied for 103rd nationally. Much was made about the linemen bulking up this offseason to compete in the "linemen league" that is the Big Ten Conference, and so far, it seems the work has paid off.

"Pass pro overall, we've communicated a lot better this year," right tackle Ryan Doyle said last week. "Our center Evan [Mulrooney] kind of makes things go up front. He's done a great job with mike points, things like that. Communication overall really has been great across the board."

The offensive line has been helped both statistically and in practice by quarterbacks Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills. With Brown's tendencies to scramble and run, he was often caught behind the line. Rowe and Hills showed good pocket awareness in getting rid of the ball, and both were able to scramble when holes opened up.

"Honestly, it's great," Rowe said Saturday. "Those guys really work hard in practice. … [Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa] does a good job of getting those guys ready to go, and all those guys are good guys, and they want to play and they want to protect me. It's nice having those guys protecting me."

In Rowe, the Maryland offensive line of left tackle Michael Dunn, left guard Mike Minter, Mulrooney, right guard Andrew Zeller, and Doyle is protecting a quarterback who has had two torn ACLs. Neither of Rowe's injuries came while he was getting sacked, but it's something that plays into the minds of the group up front and provides a little extra necessity to keep defenders off the quarterback.

"Any offensive linemen wants to keep guys off of his quarterback," Doyle said. "That's always a mindset. Knowing that he's been hurt previously, it kind of makes the urgency that much greater. We really want to keep him clean the entire game."

The Maryland offensive line this season is deep. Redshirt freshman Damian Prince, a former five-star recruit, was projected to start at right tackle when preseason camp opened, but he got "nicked up," Edsall said, and has backed up Doyle, who slid from left guard to right tackle. Prince appeared late in the win over South Florida and Edsall said the team could try to work him into more situations.

At left tackle, redshirt freshman Derwin Gray, a touted former four-star recruit, is backing up Dunn after returning from shoulder surgery.

Jacobs shines in first start of season

Last week, Maryland wide receiver Taivon Jacobs said running was "second nature" for him. He was a high school track star, and the Terps elevated him into the starting lineup to help boost a passing game that lacked a downfield threat.

It took less than a quarter of his first start since he suffered a season-ending injury in the 2014 season opener for Jacobs to show off that speed. He caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Rowe up the right sideline to give the Terps a 14-7 lead they wouldn't relinquish in their 35-17 win over South Florida.

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"I took a chance and he made a great play," Rowe said. "I don't think it was the read I was supposed to make, but third-and-10, take a shot on Taivon. He's a great matchup on anybody, and he made a great play. It really boosted our offense."

Jacobs immediately gave Maryland the deep threat it had been looking for when he lined up next to his brother Levern Jacobs and freshman D.J. Moore to start the game. He finished with two catches for 82 yards and his touchdown, but Rowe also missed him on a few passes.

With the Jacobs brothers and Moore lined up at wide receiver, along with Avery Edwards at tight end, opposing defenses can no longer stack the box with an extra defender to guard against the Maryland running game. On Taivon Jacobs' touchdown catch, the South Florida safety on his side of the field took a step up with some receivers running underneath routes. Jacobs got a step on his defender, and he was gone.

Jacobs' speed makes him a threat to score anytime he touches the ball, and based on his potential and performance, Saturday could have only been the beginning.

Woods joins two-deep

Maryland made one minor change to its depth chart for this weekend's game against West Virginia. Sophomore Josh Woods will be senior A.J. Hendy's backup at safety, replacing injured sophomore Antwaine Carter.

Carter suffered a Lisfranc injury in Saturday's win over South Florida.

Woods has not appeared in the first three games of this season. He appeared in the final eight games of last season on special teams.

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