Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Terrapins Stick Neck out on 'D'; Attacking, Blitzing Defense Has Become One of Nation's Best under Blackney

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Terrapins Stick Neck out on 'D'; Attacking, Blitzing Defense Has Become One of Nation's Best under Blackney

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits, The Times-Union

The University of Maryland offense has tended to hog the headlines under coach Ralph Friedgen. But even Friedgen, the offensive guru with a 600-page playbook, doesn't want his team to be one-dimensional.

"I like to have a good defense, too," he said.

He does. And it's getting better every year under defensive coordinator Gary Blackney, one of two assistants Friedgen lured away from head coaching jobs to join him in rebuilding the Terrapins over the last three years.

Maryland (9-3) earned a berth in the Gator Bowl, Thursday at Alltel Stadium against West Virginia (8-4), in no small measure because of a defense that attacks from all angles, in any down-and-distance situation. The Terps led the Atlantic Coast Conference in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense; and are 12th in the nation in scoring defense and 16th in total defense.

The year before Friedgen arrived, and hired Blackney away from his job as Bowling Green's coach, the Terps were ahead of only Duke in total defense among ACC teams. Maryland's average of 314 yards given up this season is the lowest since 1985.

Blackney said the difference wasn't getting bigger, faster or tougher players. It was simply a matter of coming up with a style of defense that matched the talent and selling the players on it.

"Before we came, Maryland was playing a bend-but-don't-break kind of defense," Blackney said Saturday after the Terps went through a rugged practice lasting more than two hours. "We wanted pressure, a full-court press, every game. It's a fun defense for the kids to play."

The biggest weapon the Terps use is their pass rush, which involves blitzing from the linebackers and secondary. Three Maryland players, sophomore linebacker Shawne Merriman (eight sacks), junior tackle Randy Starks (7.5) and junior end Kevin Eli (six) are among the top-10 in the conference in sacks and as a team the Terps are second in the ACC with 33. …

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