Josh Woods was essentially an afterthought on Maryland football’s defense heading into the season. Five games in, he’s become one of the Terps’ trusted playmakers on that side of the ball.
Between Denzel Conyers being granted a sixth year of eligibility, Darnell Savage returning to a starting spot and the Terps adding Markquese Bell in the offseason, Woods seemed like the odd man out. Instead, he’s proving he belongs.
“When you start measuring guys of who has made the most improvements, he’s up there at the top of the list,” head coach DJ Durkin said Tuesday. “I think he’s made a real decision in his life to make football a priority, prepare the right way. I think he’s done a great job as a leader, an older guy in the room. He has good leadership ability and it’s shown.”
After being recruited as a cornerback, Woods spent the majority of his first two seasons as a special teams player. He made a transition to safety when Durkin came to town, allowing him to see more of the field, Woods told Testudo Times in August.
Due to injuries to Conyers and Will Likely last season, Woods was called on to make five starts down the stretch. That streak was expected to end at the start of season; due to his improvement, it’s doubled, as he’s started every game for Maryland opposite Savage.
“Somewhere along the line, the light came on and he flipped the switch,” defensive coordinator Andy Buh said Wednesday. “He was a totally different player, but he did it in the right way. He is not by any means a silent guy, but he did it silently. He just put his head down and worked.”
Woods is having a career year as a senior. He is currently Maryland’s second-leading tackler with 28, and is third on the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. Following his first career interception against Minnesota and a team-high seven tackles against UCF, Woods was one of the defense’s few bright spots against Ohio State. He made a career-high 11 tackles—two for a loss—and helped force a fumble early.
Woods nearly added his second career interception to his stat line last weekend, but came up just short. Early in the first quarter, he jumped a route by Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett and nearly came up with it, though it ended up going for a 35-yard gain. Woods said he recognized the coverage from film the week before and got a hand on it.
“The one thing I loved about watching [Woods] play against Ohio State was the confidence that he played with,” Buh said. “A year ago, I don’t know if he tries to jump in front of that ball. ... He made a great jump on the ball, and just the ball moves faster than the man sometimes. I thought he had it. I jumped up, I can’t lie to you.”
Woods’ confidence wasn’t deterred by the missed opportunity. He made up for it early in the second quarter by teaming up with linebacker Isaiah Davis to force a fumble on a run by tailback J.K. Dobbins. Davis was in on the tackle first to stand Dobbins up, while Woods came flying in to knock the ball loose and Chandler Burkett came away with the ball.
The Terps gang up and knock the ball out of Dobbins' hands for the fumble pic.twitter.com/mlURtK1Gqd— Lamar Johnson (@im_lamar) October 7, 2017
“I was just trying to go make a play,” Woods said. “I saw the guy running and I just went full speed at him. I didn’t even know the ball popped out until afterwards. I turned around and Chandler was running back towards me with it.”
Maryland is hoping for a bounceback game against a Northwestern team that is equally hungry after a blowout at the hands of No. 4 Penn State. Woods will once again be called upon to make big plays in the secondary, but he’s already settled in.
“Once you buy in off the field, it kind of just all falls into place on the field,” Woods said.