The anticipation for a new offense has grown since the pre-Christmas announcement James Franklin would take over as Maryland’s offensive coordinator.
The players on the other side of the ball might merit some attention, too.
The latest new beginning for the Terrapins arrives Saturday afternoon when Delaware arrives at Byrd Stadium. And no one could use one quite like a defense vulnerable to the run for much of the last few years.
Maryland (6-7 last year) was vulnerable to offenses that stretched the field horizontally. Plenty of opponents ran fly sweeps and pitches and plenty more to the edge against a rush defense that yielded at least 140 yards a game for the fourth straight season.
In response, defensive coordinator Chris Cosh installed new part-time scheme. Maryland will use what amounts to a 3-5 as a complement to its base defense, relying on a scheme much like the one favored by West Virginia as a different look.
The idea is it brings an extra safety closer to the line of scrimmage and will permit Maryland to better cope in the running game.
“That’s what to me is going to be pretty interesting,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I want to see how well they do that. Their quarterbacks are playing for the first time, too, and we have to still have every gap filled, too. There’s a lot of things I’m going to be interested to see how they turn out.”
He is probably inclined to think the Terps will fare a bit better than in the past, regardless of scheme, because of defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre’s move inside from end. The senior thrived throughout the spring and camp, and nose tackle Bemi Otulaja, who coaches and teammates consider suited for the position because of his 6-foot, 285-pound frame, will complement him inside.
Others could blossom even more in the alternate scheme. That’s true of the linebackers, a unit probably at its deepest since Friedgen arrived in 2001.
“It just gives a lot of linebackers opportunities to make plays,” middle linebacker Alex Wujciak said. “We’re able blitz, drop, make your reads. It leaves a lot of things wide open for you.”
The most crucial element of the new look is how seamlessly the Terps can shift into and out of it. Maryland doesn’t need to worry about substituting to match an offense’s personnel change because its base personnel all have roles in the 3-5.
More importantly, the versatility should provide the Terps an element of surprise during many situations - even against the spread offenses known to fluster Maryland.
“This new defense is going to help playing against the spread because we like to drop five under, three deep,” linebacker Moise Fokou said. “It’s going to give the spread a lot of problems because we have a lot of guys in coverage and three guys rushing.”
How well it will work for Maryland in games remains uncertain. Cosh said on the days the Terps consistently run to the ball, it can look good. Their more sluggish days yield tepid results.
That isn’t new for the Terps, who yielded seven 150-yard rushing days last season and went 1-6 in those games - hence the need for a new look to augment the old one.
“Since we’re doing it, we’re hoping it is effective,” Cosh said. “I think it’s going to be an asset to us. We have to play both pretty well and be able to mix it up.”
The Terps will receive that opportunity against last year’s runner-up in the former Division I-AA. The Blue Hens, who lost to Appalachian State in the national title game, run a no-huddle offense that poses its own problems.
“Anytime you play in a championship game, you’re not chopped chicken liver,” Friedgen said. “The team that beat them beat Michigan. This is a good football team we’re going to play. We’d better be ready to play or we’re going to be in trouble.”