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Maryland Notebook: O-Line Shuffle, Conservative Canada, Defense

Maryland Notebook: O-Line Shuffle, Conservative Canada, Defense Maryland interim coach Matt Canada isn’t shy about experimenting with unc...

Maryland Notebook: O-Line Shuffle, Conservative Canada, Defense

Maryland interim coach Matt Canada isn’t shy about experimenting with unconventional formations as an offensive coordinator, but the decision to line up with only 10 players on the field and a without a right guard on the first offensive play of the game and let the clock run out was one made by the Terrapin players to honor the late Jordan McNair. Texas was informed of the plan a couple days before the game and respectfully declined the resulting delay of game penalty.

“Thank [Longhorns coach] Tom [Herman] for allowing us to do that … That was a class move by Texas,” Canada said after Maryland’s 34-29 win over No. 23 Texas Saturday. “That’s something that [our players] wanted to do. They wanted to go out there and make sure Jordan was remembered.”

It was one of the many ways McNair was remembered Saturday, along with his No. 79 on helmets and a giant red flag waved around by fellow offensive lineman and McDonogh (Md.) School alum Ellis McKennie. The announced crowd of 47,641 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. also observed a moment of silence in McNair’s honor before the game.

Then Maryland went ahead 24-7 early in the second quarter and left the large contingent of Longhorn fans that made the trip from Austin -- the site of the Terps’ 51-41 win last year -- speechless.

“Our motto was to stick together and the result of today was us sticking together,” sixth-year wide receiver Taivon Jacobs, who had a team-high five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown, said. “Day in and day out during camp and even now [that was our motto]. [The win] was the result.”

O-line shuffled

While Maryland returned all five starters from its offense line this season, only three of them played Saturday. The two who sat out -- left tackle Derwin Gray and right guard Terrance Davis -- are recovering from offseason surgeries. Gray and Davis were replaced by redshirt freshmen Marcus Minor and Johnny Jordan respectively. Jordan played center with Brendan Moore moving to guard.

Davis not playing was no surprise after he was listed as a backup on the first depth chart released last Tuesday. There was no indication that Gray wasn’t going to play, though, until kickoff approached.

“Derwin was ready to go pregame and then he just didn’t feel right,” Canada said. “Obviously he’s coming off injury, he’s practiced all week, he just revved it up and didn’t feel like he could go.”

For a brief period, Minor was sidelined with an injury as well, forcing McKennie, a backup center, in to protect the quarterback’s blind side. The injuries upfront caused Canada to use less six-linemen packages than planned.

Still, Canada got a little creative with his offensive line at times, including motioning offensive tackle Damian Prince pre-snap. Two years ago at Pittsburgh, Canada had an offensive lineman run for two touchdowns, and once Gray and Davis return he’ll have more options to experiment with.

Conservative Canada

After Tayon Fleet-Davis capped off an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 17-yard rushing touchdown to put Maryland up 31-29 early in the fourth quarter, Canada became noticeably more conservative with his playcalling.

Out of the final 17 plays, only four were passes, three of which came on the third-to-last drive where Maryland failed to finish in the endzone after first-and-goal from the two. The final two drives went three-and-out and totaled just five combined yards.

On one hand, Canada’s decision to stick to the run for much of the final quarter while the team clinged to a two point lead could be viewed as him lacking a degree confidence in Kasim Hill. But at the same time, he showed faith in his defense, which rewarded him by forcing the Longhorns to turn it over on each of their final three possessions.

Canada said he thought Hill had Jacobs for a first down on the second-to-last drive had the pass not been tipped. On the final consequential possession, which began with 2:43 left in the fourth quarter, Canada was intent on making Texas use its final three timeouts.

Canada didn’t second-guess his playcalling given the end result.

“If I’d have thrown a pass that’d been incomplete and they’d have had more time, you probably would’ve asked me why you did that, right?,” Canada replied when a reporter asked him if he felt he was too conservative down the stretch. “I’m just saying that in my mind I was going to make [Herman] use all three timeouts. We thought we had a shot to get a first down, we ran the one jet and just fell off. I don’t think [I was too conservative]. Since we won, I’ll stick with it.”

Canada, however, did blame himself for not calling a timeout on a fourth-and-inches play in the third quarter which ended with Hill unsuccessfully attempting to sneak past the first down marker. It was the fourth time Maryland faced fourth down in Texas territory and the first time Canada elected to keep his offense on the field. The Longhorns began the ensuing drive at Maryland’s 36 and took the lead on a two-yard touchdown run by Kyle Porter a minute later.

That’s when Canada decided he “didn’t want to do anything to hurt [the team].” He entered protect-the-lead-mode after Fleet-Davis put Maryland back on top.

Overall, though, Canada’s debut -- and his offense -- was a major success. Canada’s quarterbacks historically have taken care of the ball at an impressive rate, with his last three signal callers combining for 63 passing touchdowns to just 15 interceptions under his tutelage, so he deserves plenty of credit for Maryland winning turnover battle 3-0. He also deserves credit for how the offense fared when it was in attack mode, as the 24 points the Terps scored in the first half was the most the Longhorns let up in the opening 30 minutes of a game since last year’s opener.

Canada said it felt strange calling plays from the sideline instead of the coaches’ booth for the first time in his career.

“You talk about the thing I was most worried about, it was calling the game from the field,” he said. “I’ve never done that. I didn’t want to screw that job up. That’s my job. I’m the offensive coordinator and I call the plays. Sometimes I’m good at it and sometimes I’m not.”

Defense By Committee

With DJ Durkin on administrative leave, it was unknown exactly who would call plays for Maryland’s defense Saturday. Turns out, it was a group effort, with linebackers/special teams coach Matt Barnes handling most of the responsibilities on the field while defensive coordinator Andy Buh and safeties coach Chuck Heater served as his eyes in the sky. Cornerbacks coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh also helped when Barnes shifted his focus to special teams on third downs.

“They worked together,” Canada said. “They worked on [the gameplan] for a long time. We knew we were playing Texas for a long time, right? So all of them as a staff worked together.”

Canada said he listened to their conversations on the headsets “once in awhile” but didn’t chime in. He joked that he normally doesn’t ever watch the defense at because “it just gets me mad either way”, but said he had to pay attention down the stretch given the timeout situation.

Canada couldn’t help but be proud of the way the defense performed, though. The Longhorns didn’t have a drive longer than 69 yards and each of their four scores against Maryland’s defense started at their own 31-yard-line or better, including two that began inside the Terps’ 40.

After ranking among the worst defenses in the Big Ten last year, it was an encouraging start for a unit boosted by transfers Byron Cowart (Auburn), Tre Watson (Illinois) and Marcus Lewis (Florida State) and a healthy Jesse Aniebonam.

Perhaps the biggest stars, though, were returners Antoine Brooks and Darnell Savage, who highlighted a particularly impressive showing from Maryland’s secondary. Brooks finished with a team-high 11 tackles, recorded the game-clinching interception and played a part in Watson’s pick by hitting Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger as he threw. Savage, the unquestioned leader of the defense, added six tackles -- including two for a loss -- and one pass breakup. Junior corner Tino Ellis (five tackles, two TFLs, a PBU and a fumble forced) also had a strong showing in the defensive backfield, while Lewis recovered from allowing a 22-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter with a strong second half performance.

Junior defensive tackle Keiron Howard recorded the team’s lone sack in relief of Mbi Tanyi, who left the game with an injury but later returned. Despite the lack of a consistent pass rusher and only two tackles, Cowart, once the top high school recruit in the nation, appeared to make the biggest impact among Maryland’s defensive linemen.

Hill Starts, but Pigrome Plays

Perhaps Canada should’ve been taken literally when he listed Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome as co-starters on his initial depth chart last week. Both quarterbacks saw action Saturday and at times subbed in and out for each other mid-drive.

“Some quarterbacks would have an issue if you’re going back and forth, but those two guys want to win,” Canada, who last rotated two quarterbacks at Northern Illinois in 2011, said. “They both want to play, like everybody [else].”

Hill was on the receiving end of a targeting penalty that saw Texas linebacker Gary Johnson get ejected early in the second quarter. He was just happy to be back on the field after missing most of the 2017 season with a torn ACL.

“For me, I wouldn’t say sometimes you take things for granted, but it was different not being able to go out there with your brother and play a football game,” Hill, who completed 17-29 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown, said. “I think today it was fun to be back out there with everybody. [There are] just things that you miss on the sidelines like all the emotions and conversations and the flow of the game. Just being out there with the dudes, that’s the love of it right there.”

Pigrome was a little more effective in the run game than Hill and his lone incompletion was inches away from turning into a touchdown catch. But don’t expect a quarterback controversy in College Park. Hill’s completed 35-50 passes for 452 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in his career and he should only continue to get better. Canada is 100 percent behind him.

“I’ve said it a lot, Kasim’s got it,” Canada said. “Some guys have got it and some guys don’t. He’s got great knowledge of the game.”

Source: Google News Canada | Netizen 24 Canada

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