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Maryland football news and notes: Terps speak about countering loaded defensive fronts, special teams successes, Big Ten debut

Odds and ends from Tuesday's Maryland football media availabilities at Byrd Stadium. The Terrapins talked about their recent approach against loaded-box defenses, their kick-blocking prowess and their Big Ten debut.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland's offense has faced a series of loaded defensive fronts lately. Two weeks ago, West Virginia, which often places just six men in the defensive box, often had eight players camping there against the Terps. Last weekend, Syracuse brought pressure throughout the afternoon, also often using eight defenders in the box. That strategy aims to force C.J. Brown to throw Maryland to victory by stymying the Terrapins' running game.

Syracuse didn't have a lot of success with that approach, because Brown got the ball out of his hands quickly to nearby pass-catchers, who had blockers and room to maneuver.

On Tuesday, the Terps went into more detail about their counterattacking approach when defenses go heavy up front.

"What people are doing, people are loading up the box against us and forcing us to throw the ball," Randy Edsall said. "It seems like people want to try to make us throw the ball to win. So guess what? We threw the ball, and we won. So now we can throw the ball and get the guys out of the box like we did. That's going to open up the running lanes a little bit more."

Brown said releasing the ball quickly was the key against the Syracuse defense on Brandon Ross's 90-yard touchdown reception. The Orange brought six blitzers on that play, and all six of them were more or less irrelevant once Brown immediately swung the ball to Ross in the left flat:

"We knew that they were going to bring a lot of pressure," Brown said. "Any time teams are bringing pressure like that, you want to get the ball out quick get it to your playmakers, and our guys are able to shed tackles like Brandon did, and Stefon had a good block and you take it 90."

Ross said the play was an option. If Syracuse hadn't loaded the box and blitzed so heavily, the play likely would have been a handoff. Brown adjusted to the pass rush at the line, and Ross got his chance as a receiver.

"Based on what he saw, he threw it to me, and I had great blocks by my two receivers on the outside," Brown said.

Stefon Diggs and Marcus Leak took care of the defenders that remained in Ross's path after the blitz, and 90 yards later, the Terrapins led, 14-3.

Maryland's blocked kicks a mix of strategy, skill and good fortune

In his press conference, Edsall shed some strategic light on Maryland's recent spate of blocked field goals and punts. Astonishingly, in each the team's last three games, Maryland's special teams have swatted away opposing kicks.

The streak started with a Kenneth Goins blocked punt at South Florida in Week 2. Edsall said that block, more than anything, was a result of brute speed and strength from Maryland's starting fullback and special-teamer. On that block, Goins pushed a member of the South Florida blocking team directly toward the punter, creating the block.

"Kenny pushed the guy back into him," Edsall said of the first block of the season. "Kenny gets credit for the block because Kenny pushed the guy right into him. The punt hit off his butt."

The next week, Darius Kilgo blocked a go-ahead field goal try in the fourth quarter against West Virginia, keeping the game tied for the moment and giving the Terps' offense good field position and a shot to win. That didn't happen, but it was still an excellent play on Kilgo's part.

"The interesting thing is Darius [Kilgo] made a very good individual play [against West Virginia]. A lot of times when you block a PAT or a field goal, if everything is right, we should never get a PAT or field goal blocked. If we are executing, nobody should be able to come off the edge and if you're using good technique up front, they shouldn't be able to get a good push on you," Edsall said. "Usually the only way you get it is if the kicker kicks the ball low. Darius got some good push, and the kicker may have kicked it a little low, but we blocked it. That's what you hope for."

Then, last weekend, Anthony Nixon slipped behind the Syracuse punt team's front and blocked a Riley Dixon boot inside the Orange's 40-yard line. Edsall said Maryland spotted a flaw in Syracuse's pre-snap formation and pounced. The Orange, Edsall said, lined up two ineligible downfield coverage men on the inside of their punting formation.

"We ended up taking the guys that we had on them to say, 'Hey, if they aren't going to comedown, then we are going to block it and bring two extra guys that they can't account for.' They never made the adjustment."

Maryland took advantage for a key block.

Appreciating yet downplaying a conference debut

Edsall said the Terps appreciated that Saturday would be the team's first foray of many into the Big Ten, but that they couldn't afford to change their preparation or approach for the occasion.

"It's very significant, and it's historic. But it's also the fifth game on the schedule for us," Edsall said. "That's the thing that I want our kids to know. And I've told them: it is historic, it is a special moment because it is the first game; we want to go out and play well."

Ross said "starting it off right" with a 1-0 record in the conference gave the Terps a clear aim.

"It means a lot, especially to just get things started on the right foot," Ross said.

For some Maryland fans, the team's most noteworthy Big Ten first is its home game against Ohio State the following week. Asked if the Terps had even bothered to discuss the need to zero in on Indiana and not look ahead to the Buckeyes, linebacker L.A. Goree was unequivocal.

"I forgot we were playing them next week, to be honest with you," Goree said.