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Communication is key for Maryland football’s secondary

Despite a lopsided final score, Syracuse’s passing attack found success against the Terps. They’ll need to improve to stop Temple from doing the same.

Maryland football vs Syracuse Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

With then-No. 21 Syracuse in a 14-0 hole last Saturday, quarterback Tommy DeVito had his team driving to cut the deficit and ensure that the game wasn’t going to get out-of-hand.

On second-and-6 at Maryland’s 38-yard line, DeVito took the snap with three receivers to his right, two on his left and an empty backfield. With Maryland linebacker Chance Campbell closing in on him, the redshirt sophomore threw a pass off of his back foot that fell into a 16-yard gap between Maryland defensive backs Antoine Brooks Jr. and Jordan Mosely to wide receiver Taj Harris for a 29-yard completion.

Maryland’s offensive explosion blew the Terps past No. 21 Syracuse in a 63-20 victory, but head coach Mike Locksley and the secondary know that communication between the defensive backs needs to improve if the Terps are going to be successful this season.

“[If] we’re all not on the same page then it’s all just going to fall apart,” Brooks said. “You know, it’s just like a roof — if you don’t have a certain foundation on the roof it’s going to fall down.”

Against Syracuse, Maryland’s defense allowed four passing plays for 29 or more yards, including the connection of DeVito to Harris that culminated in Syracuse’s first scoring drive of the game.

The secondary, consisting of seniors Tino Ellis and Brooks, redshirt senior Marcus Lewis and sophomore Mosley the majority of the time, has a combined 58 starts but is still adapting to one another and the new defensive system.

“The coaches did a good job of letting us know what route combinations we were going to get out of what formation,” Mosley said after the game. “I feel like we still got to be better — we let up too much. But when we were in zone, we did our job.”

That will be especially important against Temple this weekend, led by quarterback Anthony Russo. In the Owls’ season opener against Bucknell, Russo threw for 409 yards with four touchdown passes and one interception. Through one game, the team currently ranks first in the NCAA in passing yards per game with 507.

Statistically speaking, Maryland’s defense is currently ranked No. 17 in the country, allowing an average of 3.69 yards per play, three total touchdowns and 234 yards per game. The Terps have three players in the double-digits in total tackles, including Ayinde Eley, Keandre Jones and Brooks. Jones is also tied for the fourth most sacks (3.5) in the country.

A lot appears to be clicking right now in defensive coordinator Jon Hoke’s new system. But with the recent ranking and the additional attention that the team will get, communication will be essential for the defense to be effective as Maryland competes against tougher opponents.

“Coach Hoke always tells us how important communication is,” cornerback Marcus Lewis said. “When you’re out there in the stadium, 40,000, 50,000 fans, a lot of times communication is key because so many things [are] going on at once.”

With the departure of Darnell Savage, who was crucial in organizing the defense, to the NFL earlier this year, Brooks has previously said that he’d like to be a more vocal leader for his team.

Through two games, the Lanham, Maryland, native says he has accomplished about “95 percent” of the vocalized goals. But Brooks knows that he can still progress in his vocal leadership when talking to linebackers Ayinde Eley and Campbell and the rest of the secondary.

“I still [am] a little quiet during the game sometimes,” Brooks said.

While Brooks admits that he is a little hush during the game, Mosley is probably the least vocal, and the youngest, of the core group of defensive backs. Despite grabbing his first-career interception against the Orange on Saturday, Mosley is one of the guys that will be forced to be more vocal if the secondary is going to become more polished and limit the opposition’s explosive plays.

“Jordan Mosley is not a talkative guy,” Locksley said. “And he’s got to do some things communication wise to get everybody on the same page.”

While Maryland recognizes its miscommunication mistakes, the team also makes it clear that they are correctable. And with the scheme they plan to implement, an occasional big-time play or deep ball is expected from Maryland’s opponents.

“Some of the communication errors are things that we’re going to continue to have to just hammer home with our secondary and the back end guys,” Locksley said.