COLLEGE PARK — Ryan Doyle sees the Maryland offensive line's job to be a steady presence among the offense and the team as a whole, no matter the circumstances.
"We're kind of like the hard line of the offense," the senior right tackle said Wednesday. "If things are going good, we kind of keep everyone grounded. If things are going bad, we pick people up. I think that's kind of the role we wanted to establish going into the season. I think we've done that so far."
With South Florida visiting Byrd Stadium on Saturday, Maryland is searching for a return to middle ground after swinging to extremes in the season's first two weeks: a dominant victory over Richmond followed by a humbling loss to Bowling Green. The Terps are trying to find steady performances on both sides of the ball to build on moving forward in what's expected to be a grueling Big Ten Conference schedule.
And that return to a new normal can start up front with an offensive line that hasn't allowed a sack this season but struggled to generate a push in the running game in the 48-27 loss to the Falcons.
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, arguably one of the most talented rushers in the nation, ran wild against the Bulls, carrying 30 times for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the Seminoles' victory. The Terps running backs ran for 63 yards on 17 carries last week.
But as Maryland looks to get running backs Brandon Ross and Wes Brown rolling while also boosting its passing game with the elevation of quarterback Caleb Rowe and wide receivers Taivon Jacobs and D.J. Moore into the starting lineup, the Terps will have to do it against a revamped South Florida defense.
The Bulls switched to a 4-2-5 defense in the offseason, which allows them to get more speed onto the field by converting a linebacker into a hybrid safety that can play near the line of scrimmage or drop back into pass coverage.
"I think that the challenge that their defense gives you is the speed and the athletic ability that they have," coach Randy Edsall said. "They're playing well together. They run to the ball extremely well. … They're athletic, and it's more speed on the field for them."
The new defensive base combined with the installation of an up-tempo offense means that this year's version of South Florida will look different from the squad that the Terps beat 24-17 last September thanks to a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by linebacker Avery Thompson.
South Florida has a dual threat quarterback in Quinton Flowers who didn't play in last year's matchup, and defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski said he's "very concerned" about Flowers in the run game. Running back Marlon Mack, who rushed for 73 yards against the Terps last season, is averaging more than five yards per carry. Dudzinski wants his defense to stay disciplined in the face of any misdirection or deception it might see from the Bulls offense.
Before the season started, the Terps spoke of getting off to a good start because of the difficult nature of the Big Ten schedule and the quest for six wins and bowl eligibility. They've stumbled once already, and after South Florida, the schedule doesn't get any easier.
West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State are up next.
Maryland wants to be steady and find the happy medium between the highs and lows of the season's opening weeks. That's where the Terps want to find success.
"We just going to go out there and do our job, honestly," Jacobs said. "We're going to game plan for them like we do every other team and utilize their weaknesses and take advantage of them. Wherever that fits in for our game plan, our plays, then that's the plays we're going to run."
SOUTH FLORIDA (1-1) @ MARYLAND (1-1)
When: Today, noon
Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park
Radio: 101.9 FM, 980 AM
Series: Maryland leads, 1-0
Line: Maryland by 7
Maryland offense vs. South Florida defense: The Terps made major changes on this side of the ball after last week's sluggish performance against Bowling Green. Quarterback Caleb Rowe and wide receivers Taivon Jacobs and D.J. Moore joined the starting lineup in hopes of boosting the vertical passing game and stretching the field against the Bulls. Last week, the South Florida defense allowed Florida State star Dalvin Cook to run for 266 yards, so the Terps could try to get running backs Brandon Ross and Wes Brown going after a lackluster performance last week. But the Bulls defense is speedy and features dangerous linebackers Nigel Harris and Auggie Sanchez, who returned a fumble for a touchdown against Maryland last season, along with safeties Jamie Byrd and Nate Godwin.
Maryland defense vs. South Florida offense: Bowling Green carved up the Terps secondary last week, and now the Bulls bring a different sort of attack to College Park. South Florida running back Marlon Mack is the reigning American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year and has rushed for 214 yards in the first two games this season. Quarterback Quinton Flowers is a dual threat signal caller who's piloting an offense that worked to increase its speed and tempo in the offseason. So Maryland's front seven must step up, with defensive tackles Quinton Jefferson and David Shaw working to clog the middle to let defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue, Roman Braglio, and Jesse Aniebonam make plays. There will once again be some misdirection and deception, so responsibility falls on linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr., Jalen Brooks and Jefferson Ashiru to identify and anticipate the South Florida offense.