To a man, the Maryland defense knows a sliver of trivia usually reserved for extremely devoted fans or stat-obsessed observers.
Three years ago. Erin Henderson. At Virginia.
That was 33 games ago, a defensive scoring drought that looks more severe by the week. And it caught the attention of new defensive coordinator Don Brown, who deviates ever so slightly from his “live in the present” mantra nearly every day to point out what the Terrapins are missing.
“He mentioned that to us in our defensive meeting that the last time we scored was on an interception by Erin Henderson,” safety Terrell Skinner said. “That’s a big problem.”
The Terps, revamped thanks to Brown’s extreme schematic makeover, believe they’ll find the solution this season to turn around a glaring deficiency. Since the start of the 2004 season, opponents have scored 21 defensive and special teams touchdowns to Maryland’s five. Take out kick and punt returns, and the margin is 17-3.
Perhaps the Terps start to erode such a lopsided deficit when they open the season Saturday at No. 12 California. Maybe it will take a few games. But there’s little question Maryland intends to celebrate something on defense in the months to come.
“This year’s philosophy on defense is attack, attack, attack and keep attacking,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “Don’t give up. If it doesn’t work the first time, keep trying because our philosophy is we’re going to attack the quarterback and we’re going to keep coming. We’re going to make him think we’re coming every play, all the time. We don’t want him thinking anything else. Coach Brown says we want to eat cake off the top of his helmet.”
Brown replaced former coordinator Chris Cosh, who left after three seasons to become Kansas State’s co-defensive coordinator. Cosh’s defense was more reactionary, a bend-but-don’t-break outfit that often stiffened in the red zone but also flustered fans weary of seeing long drives and scattered turnovers.
Put another way: Only five members of Maryland’s current defense - Carroll, Skinner, Jared Harrell, Adrian Moten and Anthony Wiseman - have played in a game in which the unit managed to score.
“It always goes through your head,” defensive tackle Travis Ivey said. “I know it went through mine, just trying to figure out if we’re doing something wrong or we’re not playing things the right way or it’s just the ball bouncing the wrong way. Those things do go through your head, but that’s the past. We’ve been pretty successful so far, and we’re hoping that carries over into the season.”
The defense’s performance remained steady throughout most of camp, with Brown unleashing the likes of Kenny Tate and Jamari McCollough to disrupt the Terps’ offense daily. Even after having all of spring practice and last month to adjust, the blitz-heavy attack still left the offense flustered.
Perhaps that’s attributable to Maryland’s inexperienced offensive line, but Brown’s array of disguised blitzes plays a role as well.
“I’ve never seen anything like what Coach Brown does,” receiver Torrey Smith said. “You have people coming from everywhere. It’s like being in a war zone. Everyone has to pay attention.”
The frenetic nature of the defense, and the details placed in it, could be the Terps’ greatest advantage against the heavily favored Golden Bears, who lost in College Park last year. Coach Jeff Tedford acknowledged a level of discomfort in facing a scheme he’ll see for the first time Saturday night.
There are differences in both attitude and approach. McCollough said the Terps hope to lead the nation in sacks and interceptions. Last year, Maryland ranked eighth and 10th in those categories - in the ACC.