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Maryland football: Playmakers old and new, on the line and off, key Terrapins' homecoming victory over Iowa

Dominant line performance, big plays from Maryland's usual stars help Terps overcome early deficit for win.

Stefon Diggs and Randy Edsall celebrate Diggs' 53-yard touchdown catch on Saturday.
Stefon Diggs and Randy Edsall celebrate Diggs' 53-yard touchdown catch on Saturday.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff is a big man with a big pedigree. He's listed at 6 feet 5 inches and 320 pounds, and CBS ranks him as the sixth-best prospect in next year's NFL Draft.

Andre Monroe is a smaller man with a smaller pedigree. He's 5 feet 11 inches and 230 pounds. He was a two-star recruit. He entered Saturday's game with five sacks in six starts this year, but he's listed nowhere in CBS's top 1,000 prospects for the professional draft.

That didn't stop Monroe from chewing up Scherff for much of the afternoon on Saturday, putting serious pressure on Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock and helping to bring the Hawkeyes' offense to a halt after a fast start in the Terrapins' 38-31 homecoming win before 48,373 spectators at Byrd Stadium.

Other Maryland defensive linemen – Darius Kilgo, Keith Bowers, Spencer Myers and Roman Braglio – found themselves in the Iowa backfield frequently as well. The Terrapins' line controlled the flow of the contest and forced Iowa into a game it almost certainly didn't want to play.

"They threw the ball 56 times," Edsall said of Iowa. "If you go back and try to find out when the last time Iowa threw the ball 56 times, I think you're going to be searching for a while. That's a good thing; that means we probably held up well in the run game against their offensive line."

They did. Iowa ran for a 3.7-yard average, just 116 yards on 31 carries. As a result, Rudock had to throw a lot, and members of Maryland's front seven harassed him on many of his drop-backs. The Terps notched four sacks as a team but forced Rudock into 24 incompletions and one game-turning interception. When the Hawkeyes scored 45 points in a win over Indiana last weekend, they threw 24 fewer passes.

Particularly in the first half, Monroe seemed to slide by Scherff with ease along the left edge of Iowa's offensive line. In the second half, Monroe got a lot of help from outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, who had similar success penetrating against Scherff.

"I just treat him like a regular person, respect him like a regular player, and that's how I go about my business," Ngakoue said.

Monroe wound up with a half-sack and one tackle for loss. Ngakoue wound up with one sack, his only TFL. But those two, along with Kilgo and a cast of others in the Maryland front seven, kept Rudock under duress for most of the game. Iowa's receivers had little time to get open, and normally Rudock didn't even try to find them.

Just after halftime, with the ball and down three points in his own territory, Rudock did try. Running back Damon Bullock lined up as a receiver opposite Terrapins cornerback Will Likely, to Rudock's left in front of the Maryland sideline.

Rudock dropped back and fired. Big mistake. Likely jumped in front of Bullock for an interception and 45-yard walk into the Iowa end zone. Ultimately, it was probably the game's deciding play.

"I thought that was the biggest play in the ballgame," Edsall said. "We did not have a lot of momentum at that point in time, and I was on the sideline hoping we would get a defensive score or a turnover." He got both.

Likely, not targeted for most of the game, had been waiting for his chance. He got it, with help from his linemen.

"It was a big play. We came up clutch as a unit to make that happen," Likely said. "The defensive line put good pressure to make the ball come out quick, and I was just able to make a play on it."

Likely now has four interceptions this year, including two touchdown run-backs. Iowa's wide receivers totaled 59 yards, mostly matched against Maryland cornerbacks. The Hawkeyes threw primarily to their tight ends and backs.

"Will made a great play," C.J. Brown said. "Someday, the other offense'll learn not to throw his way."

On offense, the Terps were rough around the edges. Brown made a series of bad throws to end the first half, culminating in an ugly interception to Iowa cornerback Sean Draper that ended any Maryland hopes of increasing what was then a 17-14 lead. Marcus Leak had a brutal drop on what would have been a 47-yard first-half touchdown. Brown had a few other misses of wide open receivers early on, too.

But the Terps still mustered 31 points on offense. They did it by winning the line of scrimmage just as often on offense as they did on defense, settling down as the game went on.

Iowa defensive end Drew Ott had an interception on Maryland's first play, then ended the Terps' second drive with a third-down sack of Brown. After that, though, Maryland left tackle Michael Dunn handled him admirably. Highly-regarded defensive tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis were barely factors at all, dealt with by the interior of the offensive line – Silvano Altamirano, Sal Conaboy and Andrew Zeller. Right tackle Ryan Doyle, who's taken deserved criticism this year, did a fine job against end Nate Meier.

The Terps' running game benefited, going for a 4.6-yard team average and pushing the ball up the field with consistency. When the offensive line did get beat, Brown took off running effectively a few times, carrying 21 times for 99 yards in total. Jacquille Veii had a 23-yard touchdown run where he spun out of a tackle near the line, picked up some downfield blocking from receivers and sprinted home.

And in the passing game, Maryland used some duct tape and Stefon Diggs to make things work. Brown threw the ball poorly outside of a couple excellent throws. When he missed time in the middle of the game with a trapezius injury, new backup Perry Hills showed understandable rust.

Fortunately for Maryland, Stefon Diggs was there from the start and never left. The Terps' best player finished with nine catches for 130 yards and a score, on a nice 53-yard catch-and-run from Hills.

"He came off the bench and did everything that we thought he could," Diggs said of Hills. "You all know that I had him my freshman year, so I have complete faith in him."

Hills threw a little screen to Diggs on that touchdown, and Diggs did the rest of the work with help from, again, downfield blockers. Iowa's defense hadn't given up a lot of splash plays, but this was certainly that.

"If Stefon's going against anyone, I don't care if they let up big plays or not," Hills said. "He has a great chance to make a big play."

Diggs was often going against Iowa cornerback Desmond King, one of the better coverage men in the Big Ten. Neither King nor the rest of the Hawkeye secondary managed to slow him down..

"I had a couple of chances to check at him, but I wasn't surprised after studying him last week," King said.

In Brown's brief absence during part of the second half, Hills saw his first taste of action since he tore his ACL on this same homecoming weekend two years ago. The circle story wasn't lost on him.

"I was thinking about that a little bit," Hills said. "You would love to see C.J. there the whole game, finish out the game, we win. But I'm glad I got an opportunity also, this game exactly two years ago. That was in my mind."

On the whole, Saturday had a lot for Maryland to like. The offense had its problems but still managed a solid point total. The defense struggled at the game's very beginning and very end but was a force in between. Brad Craddock made his school-record 17th-consecutive field goal try, a 41-yarder in the first half.

But Maryland's defensive front was the afternoon's defining story. The Terrapin defense was torched on the ground through its first six games. It stared down one of the country's better offensive lines and didn't blink, and the the season's second half is very much off and running. On Saturday, the Hawkeyes weren't.

"I felt like for the most part, we shut the running game down. I think we gave up one big one, but that was pretty much it," Kilgo said. Indeed, Iowa's Mark Weisman had a 38-yard run, but other than that, the Terps ceded none of more than 15.

"When you're able to take the run game out of an offense, it makes them one-dimensional. So that was our goal, and I think we were pretty good at doing that," Kilgo said.

After Maryland took a 38-21 lead with five minutes to play, the Hawkeyes mounted a credible comeback threat. After a touchdown and onside kick recovery, Rudock eventually had a minute of clock and 80 yards in front of him, a tie game waiting at the other end.

But Rudock's fourth-down pass to Tevaun Smith fell incomplete just shy of midfield with five seconds left, securing the final in Maryland's favor. After an early 14-0 deficit had become a 17-point and then one-touchdown lead, the Terps were finally home.