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Maryland football news and notes: Terps' pivotal stretch starts with Wisconsin

Maryland faces down a crucial five-game stretch, and details on recent success of Andre Monroe, Yannick Ngakoue and Jacquille Veii.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The next five games for the Maryland football team mark the most pivotal stretch for the program under head coach Randy Edsall. The Terps are 5-2 and 2-1 in the Big Ten, and a 4-1 finish would leave them in position to play in an upper-tier bowl game. A 3-2 finish would leave them at a solid 8-4, and a 2-3 finish would leave them at an underwhelming but not altogether disastrous 7-5. Simple mathematics. Wisconsin waits this week, then Penn State, then Michigan State, then Michigan and Rutgers.

Why are these five games so critical?

For one thing, they figure to go a ways toward determining whether or not Edsall receives a contract extension at some point after the year. If the Terps finish strong, that'll very likely be the case. As Aaron Kasinitz detailed smartly in The Diamondback recently, a lot could depend on the trajectory of the rest of the season.

For another thing, these games could represent the highest upside the Terps will have for some time. They will lose eight regular defensive starters next season, including every starter from the front seven and No. 2 cornerback Jeremiah Johnson. They'll still have Will Likely, Yannick Ngakoue, Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon and Jesse Aniebonam. Others will rise. But players like Andre Monroe and Darius Kilgo have taken years to develop into the linemen they are right now. Filling the holes they leave behind won't be simple or quick.

A few members of the current defensive front said they were savoring the time they had left as a unit.

"It's definitely bitter," linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil said. "You see the games going down. It's going to come around the corner. The last game of the season's going to be right around the corner. It's just about having no regrets."

Monroe said the players, though aware, hadn't spoken much about what lies ahead.

"If we start worrying about too far ahead, then we miss what's right in front of us, and that's the time we have with each other." -Andre Monroe

"We haven't really talked about that, because we have the aspect of just living in the moment, doing everything in the moment, worrying about it right now," Monroe said. "If we start worrying about too far ahead, then we miss what's right in front of us, and that's the time we have with each other."

Veii thrives in limited sample size

Before this season started, Maryland technically transitioned sophomore Jacquille Veii from a running back to a wide receiver. In reality, he's still carried the ball almost twice as much as he's caught it – 13 runs against six receptions.  He's been a sort of Swiss Army Knife for Mike Locksley's offense.

The common thread in Veii's 19 touches, no matter how they've come, has been production. His six catches have gone for 108 yards and a touchdown, an 18-yard per-play average. His 13 runs have gone for 91 yards, a seven-yard average, and two scores. In sum, that's 199 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns on 19 offensive touches, a per-play clip of more than 10 yards for a player who's most often been a running back. That's a tremendous showing.

"Jacquille is a young man that we knew had that kind of athletic ability when we recruited him," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said.

Veii was rated a two-star recruit by Rivals and a three-star by ESPN. Edsall praised him but didn't say whether he and Locksley had plans to get Veii more touches. He averages not even three per game.

"He's a guy that can run the ball. He's a guy who can catch. He can be a return guy for us," Edsall said. "What you want to do is not be one-dimensional. You want to be able to utilize all your pieces to be as productive as you can, and that's what we're doing with Jacquille. He's a productive piece for us offensively."

Monroe, Ngakoue pack a punch near the line

Lately, many words have been written, including in this space, on Monroe, the Terps' undersized yet prolific defensive end. Seven games into his season, the (technically) 5-foot-11 senior leads the Terrapins with 5.5 sacks. He has 20 in his career, placing him third on the school's all-time list. Last Saturday, he obliterated Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff, considered a top-end NFL Draft prospect.

"Just using my hands," Monroe said. "He is a good player, and if I did not use my hands I knew that he could get a hold of me and then that would be a problem. I just made sure I was constantly reminding myself, 'You've got to use your hands more than ever today.'"

Edsall made an interesting analogy to describe Monroe.

"The thing with Andre is he's a little bit like a possum sometimes," Edsall said. "You don't think that he's kind of going hard, but all of a sudden, he's a lot quicker. People take a look at his size and think that a guy's at 5'11", with heels on, can't maybe play on the defensive line and be as productive, but he's got a motor, he's got great quickness, he understands leverage."

At one point on Saturday, Iowa's Scherff got his bearings and began to provide more resistance against Monroe. Around that time, the sophomore linebacker Ngakoue began to apply more pressure on Scherff himself.

While Monroe wasn't a highly touted recruit, Ngakoue had big expectations from the start. He was rated the best player in Washington coming out of Friendship Academy two seasons ago and chipped in a bit as a freshman last year. Still, Edsall said Ngakoue struggled to adjust to coaching in College Park.

"He was built up too much in high school in terms of what everybody thought of him. For a young kid, that's hard," Edsall said.The coach said getting Ngakoue to buy into coaching and play within Maryland's system took time.

Seven games into his sophomore season, Ngakoue is tied for the Big Ten lead in total tackles for loss.

"He was not where he was going to be, and the only way he was going to get to where he wanted to be was to listen to us, instead of thinking that we were the bad guys," Edsall said. "We were actually the good guys, and he needed to block out all the extraneous stimuli outsisde the program."

Ngakoue, for his part, has stressed his work this year with outside linebackers coach Lyndon Johnson.

"Just working on the fundamentals with my coach," Ngakoue said when asked about his progression a week ago.

Maryland personnel sometimes refer to Ngakoue as "Young Yannick." His linebacking partner in name, the senior Cudjoe-Virgil, said he hasn't been surprised by Young Yannick's step forward. The two watch film together "a lot," Cudjoe-Virgil said, and regularly trade tips on each other's games and how to approach certain offensive tackles.

"I knew since summer workouts. I could see him develop and his work ethic. I always feel like if you put in the work, you will receive the results," Cudjoe-Virgil said. "It was just a matter of time."