Maryland has both controlled games and inexplicably conjured victories during its best start since 2001.
One thing the Terrapins have not enjoyed is superb play at a position they thought would be one of their greatest strengths.
It is hardly a secret Maryland (4-1, 1-0 ACC) is struggling on its offensive line entering Saturday’s game at Virginia (1-3, 0-1). The Terrapins cracked 100 yards in Saturday’s 20-17 upset at Clemson only because of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 76-yard reverse. Besides that, Maryland managed 47 yards on 28 carries.
It is an unexpected problem spot, since the Terps’ top six linemen include five fifth-year seniors and a fourth-year junior. And it’s a persistent enough problem that coach Ralph Friedgen admits he’s worried about the unit’s progress.
“I think we have not played up to the level we need to play at,” center Edwin Williams said. “That’s definitely true. Coach Friedgen doesn’t have to say that for us to know that. We’re an experienced group. We know what we can do when we play very well.”
So far, quality play has come in spurts. Maryland’s pass protection is better than a year ago, when injuries ravaged the line and forced the team into some creative solutions. The Terps yielded nine sacks in their first five games and did not yield a sack on Saturday.
Yet it was difficult to hide how little room tailback Da’Rel Scott was given to work. The athletic Clemson line mauled the Terps at times, and Maryland hardly looked like a group that averages 316 pounds up front.
“We didn’t play very well this week,” Friedgen said. “We’re still having too many missed assignments. We’re playing high. We’re just not very exact on things. I’m concerned about it right now. … We’re not playing the way we anticipated we would play. We felt that would be a strength of our team and it hasn’t been a strength right now.”
Besides a lack of precision, it is difficult to pinpoint a single problem plaguing the Terps. Tight end Dan Gronkowski acknowledged Maryland is forced to pick up several schemes new offensive coordinator James Franklin implemented. But with nearly half the season complete, that should be a secondary concern.
The problems, while not welcome, can be glossed over so long as the Terps continue their three-game winning streak. Eventually, though, the line’s play will likely become an issue if it cannot improve.
“We have to mentally put this team on our back and will us to win each and every week,” Williams said.
Moten undergoes surgery
The Terps squeezed a useful game out of linebacker Adrian Moten on Saturday. Two days later, he underwent surgery on his left wrist to correct an injury he suffered Sept. 20 against Eastern Michigan.
The versatile sophomore is expected to be out for four-to-five weeks, a loss made a bit easier to handle because Maryland’s two open weeks fall in that span. Based on the timetable Friedgen offered, Moten could return for the Nov. 6 game at Virginia Tech.
“The tough part about it for Adrian is that I think his last two games have been his best games,” Friedgen said. “He was starting to come on and play well. We’re going to miss him. Not only is he a good outside backer for us, but he’s also a good pass rusher and played very well in the second half and gave us some good pass rushes. Hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible.”
Moten had three tackles, including a tackle for loss, as well as a recovery of a botched lateral that led to the Terps’ second field goal while wearing a cast on Saturday. Maryland will keep Antwine Perez at strong-side linebacker while Moten is out and use Terrell Skinner and Kenny Tate at free safety to compensate for Perez’s move.
Four significant contributors remain questionable this week, including three who played on Saturday.
Nolan Carroll, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury, is expected to have a chance to return and augment the Terps’ depleted cornerback corps.
Defensive end Mack Frost (knee), defensive tackle Travis Ivey (foot) and tailback Da’Rel Scott (shoulder) all played at Clemson and are also questionable.