- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, noted for his imaginative offensive schemes, is letting the Terrapins’ defense win games. Can doing it with dropkicks be far behind?

With the offense struggling in Saturday’s 21-7 victory against Clemson, Friedgen bypassed a field goal attempt with 9:36 remaining to punt. The Tigers were pinned on their 1, and the defense forced an interception to ensure the victory. The Terps won with their fewest points in regulation during Friedgen’s three-year tenure.

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“I’m turning into Bobby Dodd,” Friedgen said, referring to the legendary Georgia Tech coach. “Play that kicking game and defense.”

Maryland’s defense quietly has fueled the Terps’ four-game winning streak entering tomorrow’s date with Duke at Byrd Stadium. Maryland is seventh nationally in scoring defense (13.7 points), 12th in overall yardage allowed (275) and 16th against the pass (171). The only shortcoming is zero recovered fumbles.

“You don’t know what you’re going to get from us week in, week out, so that creates a lot of problems for offenses,” safety Dennard Wilson said. “We’re faster this year. We try to punish everybody. I think this could be the best defense of the last three years.”

The Terps blanked The Citadel 61-0 and also would have shut out West Virginia and Clemson if not for offensive turnovers and the use of defensive reserves. Florida State’s 35-10 victory was the only game in which Maryland’s defense was regularly beaten, and even then the Terps led briefly on linebacker D’Qwell Jackson’s interception return for a touchdown.

Maryland replaced 2002 All-American middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who was perhaps the Terps’ best defensive player since end Randy White won the 1974 Outland Trophy. An experienced secondary with 105 combined starts and an emerging linebackers unit that has gotten unexpectedly sharp play from Jackson, Leon Joe and Shawne Merriman has Maryland stuffing offenses. Clemson lost 14 yards rushing in the first half and gained 10 overall. West Virginia and The Citadel completed three passes each.

“We’re just playing smarter,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. “There’s not a lot of missed assignments or relapses. We make a lot of smart plays without anything looking too spectacular because we’re not out of position.”

Practices between the starting offense and defense are often so intense that injuries and arguments sometimes arise. Receiver Steve Suter said games are a relief from workouts.

“It makes the games easier when we face defenses that aren’t as tough as ours,” he said. “Every day in practice they shut us down a lot. I definitely understand the frustration other offenses go through when they face our defense. They can all hit you and shut you down.”

Said quarterback Scott McBrien: “We get yelled at in practice, but going against the seventh-ranked defense in practice helps the offense.”

Defensive coordinator Gary Blackney regularly refits the defense to counter an opponent’s strength. Maryland can play a 4-3 or 3-4 defense on alternate downs and even shifted to a 3-5-3 against Clemson to halt the Tigers’ medium-range passing game.

“Coach Blackney has every defense God ever created, just like we’ve got every [offensive] play ever created,” Friedgen said. “Gary likes to blitz a lot, mix up a lot of different fronts. I like to see a lot of different looks, be as complicated as possible but simple in our structure. … I think these defensive coaches all went to the same clinic on how to make nightmares for the offensive coaches.”

Blackney may have to reshape the line against Duke because defensive end Kevin Eli has bruised ribs. The Terps don’t have an experienced backup, so tackle C.J. Feldheim may move over and a freshman could start inside. It’s just the latest challenge for a team plagued by injuries this season.

“Gary sees what he has as material and tries to get them in the right spot,” Friedgen said. “He’s able to adjust to a lot of different things.”

Notes — Guard Akil Patterson has withdrawn from school. … Quarterback Orlando Evans will be excused against Duke for personal reasons, making Joel Statham the No.2 quarterback. … Nearly 5,400 tickets remain in the only probable non-sellout at Byrd this season.

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