Run defense, passing game among areas Maryland seeks to improve

After home wins, Maryland football players are known to race to the student section and gleefully leap into the stands.

After last week's 28-17 loss to Boston College, the Terps quietly trudged across the squishy, muddy field and back into Gossett Football Team House. The student section had largely emptied out — owing partly to the snowy, miserable weather.

It has been that sort of period for the Terps (2-6, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who have lost six of their past seven games and haven't beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since opening weekend against Miami.

On Saturday, Maryland plays border rival Virginia (5-3, 2-2), winner of three of its past four games. The Cavaliers, who need one win to become bowl-eligible, have only one more conference loss than Virginia Tech (4-1), which leads the Coastal Division.

It will be the final home game for 16 Maryland seniors, including running back Davin Meggett, cornerbacks Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes, injured offensive lineman Andrew Gonnella and wide receivers Quintin McCree and Ronnie Tyler. Maryland does have a game next Saturday against Notre Dame at FedEx Field in nearby Landover.

The Terps are seeking a foothold — a starting point to begin to salvage a disappointing season.

"Sometimes things don't go as planned," first-year Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "I am not panicking and am not going to change what we are doing. I believe in what we are doing and know what we are doing is right.

"The worst thing we can do is panic and change things. That sends messages that we are doing things wrong."

Maryland's season has been buried under the weight of injuries, inexperience and poor tackling.

Among the pressing issues is run defense. Maryland, which is relatively small up front, is giving up 234.8 rushing yards per game, last in the ACC.

The Terps were burned last week by Boston College's ground game. Sophomore running back Rolandan Finch, who entered averaging 44.3 yards, had 39 carries for 243 yards — the best rushing game in the conference this season — and two touchdowns.

On Sept. 24, Temple running back Bernard Pierce rushed 32 times for 149 yards and tied a school record with five touchdowns in a 38-7 win over the Terps.

"We can do this — it's not even a question," Maryland defensive tackle Maurice Hampton said. Hampton, a senior, started one game in 2009 as an offensive guard before being switched to defense in 2010.

Part of the problem, Hampton said, is that inexperienced defensive players have had to step in to plug holes caused by injuries.

Some of the young players have "crowd shock," Hampton said. They are still adjusting to the glare and pressures of major college football — as well to the speed of the game.

"We have some younger guys who aren't used to seeing a lot of things," Hampton said. "All it takes is one guy to mess up."

As many as seven defensive starters have been sidelined. Nine of the 22 players on the defense's two-deep depth chart are freshmen.

On offense, Maryland hopes that leading receiver Kevin Dorsey (apparent hamstring injury) can return to help a passing game that has been inconsistent since the season's second week. Dorsey has missed two games but was back practicing.

Maryland's passing yardage declined from weeks two through five. The Terps are averaging 210.5 passing yards, 10th in the ACC. Maryland receivers have sometimes seemed out of sync with the quarterbacks in their routes.

Dorsey is back on the depth chart this week opposite McCree, who might be the team's fastest player.

"Quintin has made some big plays. We need him to continue doing that in the Virginia game," Edsall said. "We need him to be consistent. We are hoping that Kevin will be back. If he is back, that helps us. They give us the ability to do the things we want to do in the passing game."

Maryland and Virginia share recruiting territories. Each team has multiple players who were recruited by the other school.

"There's no secret that Maryland is an area where we recruit heavily — D.C., Northern Virginia, up and around there," Cavaliers coach Mike London said.

"For us, it's another chance for another ACC win. But naturally, you look at some of the recruiting implications, as well."



Virginia (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) @ Maryland (2-6, 1-4 ACC)

Time: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

Site: Byrd Stadium

TV: Chs. 13, 5

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

Series: Maryland leads 42-31-2.

Last meeting: Maryland defeated Virginia, 42-23, on Nov. 13, 2010, in Charlottesville, Va.

Maryland offense vs. Virginia defense: Maryland won't say which quarterback — Danny O'Brien or C.J. Brown — will start. Last week, both played. The Terps hope the expected return of WR Kevin Dorsey (apparent hamstring injury) will help the passing game. Virginia ranks third in the ACC in total defense. The Cavaliers are led by junior LB Steve Greer, who averages nine tackles, tied for fifth in the conference.

Virginia offense vs. Maryland defense: QB Michael Rocco had a 78-yard touchdown pass in last week's 28-21 win at Miami. "Hopefully, now that Michael has the opportunity to be the quarterback, we'll get more consistent play, better play, more confidence in his play," Virginia coach Mike London said. RB Perry Jones ranks fifth in the ACC in rushing yards (80.4 per game). The Terps have been prone to surrendering big games by opposing running backs.