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Terps offensive line tops in nation in pass protection

Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe, back left, throws to a receiver behind offensive lineman Andrew Zeller in the first half against South Florida, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in College Park.
Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe, back left, throws to a receiver behind offensive lineman Andrew Zeller in the first half against South Florida, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in College Park. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

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.

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.

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"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.

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