- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2011

Weary defensive players arrived at Maryland’s team house Sunday to receive a first look at perhaps the trickiest test of the year.

Yes, the Terrapins were shredded through the air against West Virginia, gashed on the ground against Temple and lost both games. Yet preparing for Georgia Tech’s triple option - and with only three days of practice, no less - is perhaps more daunting.

“Everybody in the nation knows the triple option is one of the hardest offenses to stop,” linebacker Kenny Tate said. “We know the things we did last year, some of the things the coaches have run before. Everybody knows what’s going to happen, what they’re going to try to do. It’s all a matter of execution, techniques and everybody fitting their gap.”

Sounds easy enough. It’s not against the efficient No. 13 Yellow Jackets (5-0, 2-0 ACC). And for Maryland (2-2, 1-0), whose defense dealt with an inordinate amount of tackling woes over the past month and ranks 109th nationally in preventing third-down conversions, pre-existing headaches could multiply in its first visit to Bobby Dodd Stadium since 2006.

It isn’t the first look at the triple option for the veterans on the Terps’ defense. Maryland escaped last year’s opener against Navy with a victory, but did so only after denying the Midshipmen points in five red zone visits.

Perhaps more crucially, the Terps had a full offseason to study the offense and were as prepared as they could have hoped. Not this time.

Instead, this week was a refresher course in the frustration of constant cut blocking and the importance of trying to quickly get up after sprawling to the ground early on a play.

“You don’t get to play it, and it’s hard to replicate it in practice,” defensive tackle Joe Vellano said. “That’s the biggest thing. If you do [practice it], the ball fakes aren’t going to be as good, obviously. The speed of the linemen - we’ve got bigger linemen than they have, just recruiting different.”

Maryland’s task is the same as what Georgia Tech and Navy opponents face on a weekly basis during the season, so it’s not as if the Terps face an undue burden. Yet for a team two weeks removed from being steamrolled for 285 rushing yards against Temple, a matchup with an opponent rolling up 378 yards per game on the ground cannot be considered great timing.

On the plus side: Maryland knows precisely what it must to do to enjoy some level of success.

“The whole thing about playing a team like that is all discipline, all assignments,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. “If you know you have the quarterback, you have to stay on the quarterback. If you know you have the running back, same thing. That’s all it is. It’s not about making plays. It’s more about staying on your assignment and the plays will come to you.”

It doesn’t mean it will be a particularly fun afternoon. Last year, the Terps were grateful not only to defeat Navy, but also to place the experience of defending the triple option in the past.

Now they must do so again (and likely will have to next year when Georgia Tech makes its scheduled return trip to Byrd Stadium). Another Sunday of weariness looms, only then preparation will turn to a more conventional opponent.

For Maryland, snagging a rare victory in Atlanta would make the week-long overhaul required for three grueling hours Saturday worthwhile.

“As a defensive player, I hate the option,” Hartsfield said. “It’s not reality. I mean, it is, but nobody runs that in the NFL and only a few people run it in college now. You hate it as a defense, but you know you have to get through it. I have trust in the coaches that they’re going to put us in the right position.”

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