The Washington Times - September 24, 2008, 09:08AM

With all the injuries and struggles in the secondary, it’s probably time to learn something about cornerbacks Michael Carter, Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes. After all, chances are we’re going to see a lot more of those guys.

So I turned to strong safety Jeff Allen for some sort of insight.

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“They’re jokesters,” Allen said. “They’re the jokesters for the DB crew.”

Now they just have to keep opponents from having the last laugh.

Maryland’s pass defense has yielded nearly 280 yards a game, “good” for 109th nationally. And there are some efficient quarterbacks waiting down the road for Maryland, notably Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner and this week’s foe, Clemson’s Cullen Harper.

Carter, Chism and Hughes will be the fill-ins for cornerbacks Richard Taylor and Nolan Carroll; Taylor is done for the year, while Carroll is questionable for Saturday with an ankle injury.

“You try to prepare for this during preseason camp,” secondary coach Kevin Lempa said. “You try to put people in position that you feel will eventually move up and can maybe learn two positions. Guys can play both sides. Usually look for a pair and a spare – a pair of guys who can play and a spare to rest them. If you can get two deep – because you’re going to have injuries and guys are going to miss games – then you have people who are ready to step in and play. Problem is, at corner we lost two good guys.”

Allen said the three subs will be fine and showed during the preseason they are capable of playing. So let’s suppose injuries aren’t the biggest issue for the secondary (which is possible).

What, then, is the greatest issue?

“I think we just have to be a little stronger in the fourth quarter and stay focused,” Allen said. “In a couple of our games, they were throwing a lot at the end. … I think we learned that playing from in front, we need to stay on top of people and show everybody that we’re a good defense.”

The fourth-quarter foibles are a common theme. Lempa voiced similar concerns, and “finishing” might rank right behind “consistency” on Ralph Friedgen’s most-used words list.

That got me thinking – just how has Maryland’s attempts to defend the pass fared by quarter this season? And here’s what I came up with:

First quarter: 25-33, 258 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 139.31 efficiency
Second quarter: 30-46, 294 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 121.73 efficiency
Third quarter: 18-28, 205 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 140.46 efficiency
Fourth quarter: 29-52, 360 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT, 131.62 efficiency

It’s tough to detect a trend there, besides the touchdown spike in the fourth quarter.

The Terps held Eastern Michigan to 5-for-12 for 28 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the fourth quarter Saturday, so that isn’t evidence to support the “finish” theory like the California game. Maryland gave up passing yards in the first half to Eastern Michigan rather than the second (217 of 282 yards before the break).

There are four logical reasons why Maryland’s pass defense numbers don’t look so hot right now.

1. The Terps haven’t created enough of a rush to force hurried throws

2. Injuries have sapped the secondary of its strength

3. Maryland has yielded too many yards after catch, which comes down to positioning and tackling

4. The fourth quarter of the California game alone adds almost 60 yards a game to the average, making things look worse than they really are.

Tossing the last factor aside, the other three problems aren’t going away. The pass rush isn’t likely to be a huge factor this season, there’s no magical healing process for torn ACLs and the ability to tackle will be required on a weekly basis.

And with that in mind, this probably isn’t the last time the Maryland pass defense will get a close examination from writers and fans – regardless of the most popular explanation of the day.

Patrick Stevens