Dion Armstrong was awed at the size of the crowd at Lane Stadium. Then he couldn’t help but notice the camera hovering over Maryland‘s huddle throughout the night.
Finally, he endured some pain - a natural inclination for a nose tackle after watching Virginia Tech roll up 273 yards rushing against his team.
“We’ve had some losses this year that hurt, but that one hurt bad because it felt like that game was lost by us,” the redshirt freshman said. “[Defensive line] coach [Dave Sollazzo] is always preaching that the game is won and lost with us, but you always take that as just a saying. When you really feel like it was your fault, it hurts bad.”
Armstrong wasn’t the only one feeling steamrolled after Maryland’s worst performance against the run this season. The outing, coupled with the acceptance of an injury’s impact, prompted Maryland (6-3, 3-2 ACC) to juggle its line entering Saturday’s meeting with No. 17 North Carolina (7-2, 3-2) at Byrd Stadium.
Jeremy Navarre will move from defensive tackle to defensive end, where he started for the last three years. The senior’s move fills a spot in flux for most of the season because of Mack Frost’s stalled recovery from knee surgery last year.
Junior Travis Ivey slides into Navarre’s place at tackle, and Armstrong will take over Bemi Otulaja’s starting spot at nose tackle.
“I think it’ll be a good transition shuffling people around because we all know all the positions,” Ivey said. “For the most part, it’s interchangeable.”
The greatest difference in the new look is size. Navarre is listed at 285 pounds, more than 30 pounds heavier than Frost. Meanwhile, Ivey is the Terps’ one true run-clogging tackle, checking in at 325 pounds.
His rise to the starting lineup might have arrived sooner were it not for a fractured foot suffered early in camp. Ivey missed the first four games, then gradually assumed a larger role while spelling Navarre.
“He’s kind of a load,” defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. “He gives you more size and girth. He still needs to progress, but compared to this time last year he’s miles ahead.”
Armstrong was already receiving substantial work even before the lineup shuffle. And at 299 pounds, he also provides a slightly bigger option than Otulaja, who is listed as questionable with an ankle injury.
The revamped look might provide a deterrent to opponents to trying to replicate Virginia Tech’s performance, the worst yielded by Maryland in its last 19 games. And since both Armstrong and Ivey are reasonably fast for their size, the Terps won’t face much of a drop in speed up front, either.
“A lot of people think they can run on us because it’s a 3-4 or a 3-3, but now that we have some big guys at their respective positions, they might give us a little more respect and stop trying to run it so much,” Armstrong said.
While the struggles against Virginia Tech partially prompted the changes, so too did the Terps’ next opponent. North Carolina tailback Ryan Houston runs with a punishing style befitting his 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame, and Maryland can ill afford to permit the sophomore to find gaps in the same way the Hokies’ Darren Evans did last week.
“Their running attack is kind of right at you,” said Friedgen, who added the Terps will continue to rotate defensive linemen liberally Saturday. “If we were playing Florida State, they’re going to stretch you out and use their speed. We may do a different lineup next week.”
Perhaps by then, Maryland’s revamped look will have limited any new pain.
Note — Friedgen said cornerback Nolan Carroll (ankle) is questionable. Carroll practiced throughout the week, but Friedgen added, “He’s been kind of gimpy, so I don’t know where he’s at.”
If Carroll misses the game, Maryland would be without three of its top four cornerbacks.