Maryland raising the bar on defense

Unit not content with effort vs. UVa.

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Maryland’s defense celebrated last week’s 27-20 victory over Virginia much like it did its three previous triumphs.

There was, however, an unusual undercurrent: a whiff of disappointment in a slightly off performance.

It was a bit unexpected because the Terrapins (4-2, 2-0 ACC) won.

It was curious considering allowing a 386-yard day would have matched the third-best defensive performance of a year ago.

And it was, in some ways, a welcome sign for Maryland as it ventures into the second half of its schedule, starting with Saturday’s meeting with N.C. State (4-2, 1-1) at Byrd Stadium.

“We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard than I think we have in the past, especially last year for sure,” defensive lineman A.J. Francis said. “This year, we feel like as a defense we can keep our team in any game no matter who we’re playing. That’s why we have to play better than we did this past week.”

The most unnerving part of the Virginia game wasn’t the Cavaliers’ comeback attempt in the fourth quarter. Rather, it was their ability to stick around with a healthy rushing attack.

It was an atypical outing for the Terps, who yielded a season-high 168 yards on the ground. The most glaring facet of the outing wasn’t so much that Virginia established a running game so much as how it gashed the Terps.

Maryland permitted just nine rushes of at least 12 yards entering last week. The Cavaliers had seven.

“I thought we could do a better job versus the run, and when we came back and took a look at it, we wanted to make sure it wasn’t something schematically or just a person,” defensive coordinator Brian Stewart told reporters Wednesday. “We kind of looked at it and wanted to clean that up.”

The need to do so seemed clear to players in the moments after the victory and continued after the trip home. No film session was needed. Neither was a tongue-lashing from coaches.

By the time practice resumed, the Terps were eager to return to the strong play against the run that defined much of their first five games.

“As a defense, we didn’t think we played good enough at all,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. “We gave up way too many rushing yards in the first half, which is something we pride ourselves on. I think I can speak for most of the defensive players [by saying] we were not happy with our performance, which is a good thing because we have high expectations for ourselves.”

For the entire season, the Terps have declared a desire to have the best defense in the ACC. They are second in the league in rushing, passing and total yardage allowed, enough to cover up the offense’s limitations and keep Maryland in one-possession contests during the fourth quarter of all but one game.

Even a little slippage could torpedo Maryland’s burgeoning bowl hopes, which is why coach Randy Edsall is encouraged with the defense’s disappointment in a so-so (but hardly dreadful) day.

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