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Maryland football: Defense gets a change of pace with Iowa's pro-style offense

Maryland has faced a lot of spread offenses and option plays this season. Against Iowa, the Terps will finally have a look at a more standard, pro-style offense

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Three common threads have stuck out among the offenses Maryland has played this year: the option, the spread and speed. The Terps have seen a lot of offenses that line up wide and try to pick up yards on option reads and misdirections, or by throwing the ball to speedy receivers in space.

When Iowa visits College Park on Saturday, the Terps will see newer yet more normal looks. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz runs a professional-style offense, heavy on running backs and tight ends and light on option trickery. Iowa also tends to huddle, while opponents like Ohio State and Indiana sometimes took just a few seconds between plays.

"Every week and every game, every team, presents a different challenge," Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. "I think that as long as they're huddling up, it gives us a chance to be right when the ball's snapped instead of trying to hurry up."

There's another simple difference between Iowa and the Terps' most recent opponent.

"I don’t think Iowa is too much of an option team like Ohio State was," linebacker L.A. Goree said.

The Terps have seen a handful of mobile quarterbacks – James Madison's Vad Lee, Syracuse's Terrel Hunt and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett – and played them to mixed results. West Virginia's Clint Trickett, a drop-back gunslinger working out of a spread, torched them. But the Terps did well against Indiana's Nate Sudfeld, another drop-back thrower in a somewhat more standard offense, holding him to 14-of-37 on passes for 126 yards and an interception.

Iowa has used a two-quarterback system at times, but junior Jake Rudock looks settled as Ferentz's primary quarterback. Rudock is, like Sudfeld, a thrower who doesn't create a grave threat with his legs. Iowa's other quarterback, C.J. Beathard, runs more often but won't start against the Terrapins. Ferentz said this week he would "probably" use Beathard at some point in the game.

"Rudock's more of a thrower. I think they are both good quarterbacks and they obviously have packages for each one of them," Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said. "The things that you do is rep things you see them do on film and have your guys take a look at it and try to base your calls on who's in there at quarterback."

At receiver, Kevonte Martin-Manley leads the Hawkeyes with 29 catches for 245 yards. No Iowa wideout averages more than 41 yards per game, and none has scored more than two touchdowns. That's at least partially a function of personnel packages: Iowa runs a lot of plays with either two running backs or tight ends on the field, which limits chances for receivers. That could bode well for Maryland, as the Terps will break in a new fourth cornerback this week, freshman Josh Woods. He's replacing the injured Daniel Ezeagwu behind starter Will Likely.

"He plays long. He has a long reach. I'm excited for him, this opportunity for him to play," Stewart said, though he hoped he wouldn't need Woods on defensive downs this week.

On the ground, whatever problems Maryland has had running the ball this year, Iowa has had them to match. The Hawkeyes average 3.8 yards per rush, which is fourth from last in the Big Ten (Maryland is fifth). Their struggles come despite a highly regarded offense line that includes left tackle Brandon Scherff, whom CBS rates as the sixth-best prospect in next spring's NFL Draft.

"He's long, he's physical and he's smart," Stewart said of Scherff.

Linebacker Yannick Ngakoue said it was one of the best lines the defense has faced this year.

"Iowa's offensive line is pretty disciplined. They get key blocks to help out the running backs, and I feel like they're a pretty disciplined team," Ngakoue said.

The Terps have given up more than 200 rushing yards per game, but Iowa hasn't been at all effective carrying the ball.Even behind that offensive line, running back co-starters Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri average just 3.4 and four yards per carry. Running back Jonathan Parker did rip off a 60-yard touchdown run last week against Indiana last weekend, the Hawkeyes' longest rush of the season by 25 yards.

Nose tackle Darius Kilgo said Maryland has a hard time getting off blocks and staying with ball-carriers. Saturday, he said, presents a chance for a turning point against a physical offensive line.

"We're putting the six games behind us," Kilgo said. "We just want to have a fresh slate. I think we just want to come out Saturday and execute our jobs and just show that we're capable of stopping the run."