Maryland’s defense staggering to finish line

Unit gashed for 514 yards by Wake

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The first half looked different. The final result didn’t.

Maryland’s beleaguered defense played arguably its best half since Oct. 8 in Saturday’s 31-10 loss at Wake Forest. It still permitted the Demon Deacons to roll up 514 yards — including 350 in the second half.

“I don’t want to say we got worn down,” defensive tackle Andre Monroe said. “I would say — to be honest, I don’t know what to say. I just know we tried hard. We just executed as much as we could and things just didn’t go our way.”

There isn’t much left to say about the Terrapins (2-9, 1-6 ACC), whose miserable season comes to a merciful conclusion Saturday at N.C. State (6-5, 3-4). But the numbers assert that Maryland — done in chiefly by injuries and poor fundamental play in coach Randy Edsall’s first season — is nearing the end of a historically dreadful autumn on defense.

The in-season context is bad enough. Maryland fields the nation’s No. 97 scoring defense (32.3 points), the No. 108 total defense (458.9 yards) and the No. 115 rushing defense (227.6 yards). All three figures rank last in the ACC.

Maryland’s work against the run would rank as the fourth-worst season since the school began keeping records in 1950, behind the 1967, 1993 and 1994 teams. It would be the third-worst total defense season, better than only 1993 (553.0) and 1992 (474.2).

The scoring defense would be tied with the 1997 team for the third worst in school history, ahead of only 1993 (43.5) and 1992 (33.2).

There is some rationale for the foibles. Opening-week starters Kenny Tate, Matt Robinson and Isaiah Ross suffered season-ending injuries, and defensive end David Mackall is suspended indefinitely. Linebackers Darin Drakeford and Demetrius Hartsfield missed time with injuries, and freshman Alex Twine sat out Saturday with an undisclosed ailment.

Nonetheless, Maryland didn’t play exceptionally on defense even when most of those players were available. The Terps have held only three teams to fewer than 400 yards, and none since an inexperienced bunch limited Georgia Tech to 386 yards Oct. 8.

The Terps summoned similar play for a half against Wake Forest. Monroe, who has a team-high five sacks despite missing three games, was credited with 2 1/2 sacks of Demon Deacons quarterback Tanner Price before the break.

“Everybody was on point and clicking on defense,” defensive tackle Joe Vellano said. “Everybody was fitting gaps and stopping the run. The thing is, you have to stop the run first in anything, and we were stopping the run.”

It didn’t last, as Maryland’s stout play on defense rarely has this season. Eventually, Wake accrued 514 yards, the third straight team and fourth in six weeks to collect 500 yards against the Terps. Opponents managed only four 500-yard days in former coach Ralph Friedgen’s 10-year tenure.

A major issue facing Maryland is the number of plays its defense is on the field. The Terps are next-to-last nationally in time of possession at 25:17, ahead of only Oregon. Of course, the Ducks are averaging 45.6 points per game, providing a more comfortable cushion than the 21.5 points the Terps manage weekly.

So did the Terps wear down, both Saturday and over the course of the season? It’s logical. After all, Maryland ranks seventh nationally in total defensive snaps. Either way, Maryland found itself struggling for many of the same reasons as usual by the end of their latest setback.

“I think the big plays hurt us,” Vellano said. “A couple three-and-outs on offense puts a little more pressure on the defense. It’s kind of the way it goes. I thought guys played hard. I truly did. I thought we were right in it and we slipped up on a couple big plays.”

And as a result, the Terps have slipped closer to their second 10-loss season in three years.

Notes:Edsall said center Bennett Fulper (hamstring) and Twine (undisclosed injury), who both missed Saturday’s game, are doubtful for the finale at N.C. State. Wideout Kevin Dorsey and safety Eric Franklin are questionable, and tailback Jeremiah Wilson is probable. Their injuries have not been disclosed.

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