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Terps' defense gets its dancing steps straight

September 30, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - To D'Qwell Jackson, playing defense is like going to a big dance.

To be successful, you not only have to get in a flow with all the steps, you have to act like you know them.

Some of the choreography had been missing from the University of Maryland's defense. The Terrapins seemed to be tripping over their own feet trying to get the job done.

It all turned around last Saturday in the Terps' 22-12 win over Wake Forest.

"Last week we got our swagger back and we got our rhythm," said Jackson, Maryland's middle linebacker and All-American candidate. "The two games before that, we were looking for it, but now we have got our rhythm. Now we have to build off of it."

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Maryland's defense had been one of the cornerstones of the Terps' success in the four previous years under coach Ralph Friedgen. But inexperience on the defensive line and in the secondary has surrounded the veteran linebacking corps, making for an uneasy mix for Maryland.

The Terps were shredded for a combined 469 yards rushing in their two home losses to Clemson and West Virginia. The biggest problem with the figure is that 263 yards of that total came in the fourth quarter.

"That was not our defense out there," said Jackson, who is averaging 14.5 tackles per game. "If we let someone put that many yards up on us, that's not our defense. It really hurt our pride."

But Maryland tightened the screws on the loose ends to smother Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons entered the game as one of the top running teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference while Maryland ranked 10th out of 12 teams in defending the run.

But the Terps held Wake to just 111 yards on the ground, a week after the Deacons rolled up more than 400 yards against East Carolina.

"The biggest thing with us is that we have to make plays," Jackson said. "If we make plays, everything else takes care of itself. The secondary made guys drop the ball and that benefited us. We didn't make any penalties and we got some turnovers and that got us off the field."

Until last Saturday, Jackson had to do a lot of heavy lifting in order to get his job done. Jackson and fellow linebackers William Kershaw and David Holloway have been fighting off the downfield blocks of linemen who have penetrated past the Maryland line.

The constant pounding and pushing wore down the linebackers and opened up big chunks of running yardage for Clemson and West Virginia. Against Wake, it was a little different.

"The defensive line played well and got penetration," Jackson said. "I expect teams to come after me. It's my responsibility to get loose. I have to do what it takes to get free. I just go out and play the game."

Maryland's next challenge will be trying to harness Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans, a mobile quarterback who has improved his passing game.

"He's not going to hurt them. He makes good decisions," Jackson said. "Last year, he beat us on the ground. If he gets the call, he usually makes things happen."

The rivalry aspect of the Maryland-Virginia game, along with Homecoming, gives the Terps added incentive for Saturday's game at Byrd Stadium.

So, the dance will be on for the Terps in a big way.

"We took the game to Wake, but this week will be our first true test," Jackson said. "Last week we showed that we work hard and it finally worked out for us."

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