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Terps fail to fill in blanks

October 12, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland defense relies on football being an open-and-shut case.

Its main objective is to find the holes and fill them to prevent opposing teams from running. It is the rallying call of the Terrapins' 4-4-style alignment - "Stop the run."

The philosophy hit a snag on Saturday against Georgia Tech. It left Maryland shopping for answers when the Terps didn't fall into the gaps.

"We could do better," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "We had trouble with gap responses and that's when we break down. I know on the last one they popped for a touchdown, it was a gap response."

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The gap response is the assignment for each Maryland defender on each play. The Terps shut down Georgia Tech for the first three quarters - even 52 of the 60 minutes in the game - but down the stretch, in the fourth quarter, Maryland's stiff defense softened.

"I don't know if we got whipped at the end or they turned it up a notch, but in the end they got to us," Friedgen said.

In fact, Georgia Tech opened up its offense in the fourth quarter. The Yellow Jackets trailed 23-14 heading into the final 15 minutes of play, but made the big plays down the stretch to pull out a 27-23 victory.

Offensively, turnovers and execution mistakes were Maryland's downfall.

On defense, Georgia Tech suddenly found all the answers. After spending most of the day with their most potent weapon - receiver Calvin Johnson - somewhat under wraps, the Yellow Jackets broke through to score 13 fourth-quarter points.

"It was a game that you walk away from saying, 'If I could have made one more play or I should have made one more play,'" said Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson. "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth."

Georgia Tech took down the Terps with the running game. After Maryland had controlled Johnson to an extent, the Jackets went after the main concern of the Terrapins' defense.

Tech rushed for 68 yards in the fourth quarter, including two touchdowns. The Yellow Jackets ran for 229 yards for the game against a defense which had allowed an average of 152 yards per game through the first four games. West Virginia rolled up 340 yards in defeating the Terps, bumping up the average by 62 yards.

Tech got 116 of its 390 yards of total offense - 29.7 percent of its yardage - in the fourth quarter.

Maryland double-teamed Johnson for much of the game and hampered the Jackets. But Tech moved Maryland around and caused some weaknesses in areas of the defense and exploited it.

"It wasn't one play that did it," Henderson said. "There is no excuse for not being in the gaps. We have been practicing it ever since spring. It's a matter of going out and executing."

Still, getting to the fourth quarter in a game with a nationally ranked team on the road is a major step for Maryland, win or lose.

Friedgen was upset about losing, but looked philosophically at what a close call at Georgia Tech could mean.

"We're close, very close. Once we get through this, it will make a difference in the team," he said. "We just have to keep working at it and stay positive."

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