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Maryland's defensive line improved more than expected in 2015

The Terps' defensive line was one of the best in the country at getting to the quarterback, but losing Yannick Ngakoue will hurt.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football switched to a 4-3 alignment in 2015, shedding the 3-4 the team had stuck to under previous defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, joining the majority of the Big Ten and the majority of college football. The Terps also graduated most of its front seven, but still saw marked improvement from its new defensive line.

What we thought was going to happen

In our preseason preview, we thought Maryland's switch to the 4-3 would improve upon a 2014 defense that got gashed by opposing team's running backs. From the end of the 2014 season to the end of 2015, Maryland's defense went from 72nd in rushing S&P+ to 34th. The defensive line held its own in 2015, and improved more than we expected.

The players

Name Pos Ht, Wt Year Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks FF FR
Yannick Ngakoue DE 6'2, 255 JR 31.5 4.4% 14.5 13.0 1 0
Quinton Jefferson DT 6'3, 289 JR 31.0 4.4% 12.5 6.5 1 0
Roman Braglio DE 6'2, 262 JR 27.5 3.9% 5.5 3.0 1 1
Azubuike Ukandu DT 6'0, 307 JR 19.5 2.7% 7.0 3.0 1 0
Jesse Aniebonam DE 6'3, 260 SO 18.5 2.6% 6.5 3.5 0 0
Kingsley Opara DT 6'3, 305 SO 12.0 1.7% 0.5 0.5 0 0
Chandler Burkett DE 6'3, 240 SO 6.0 0.8% 2.5 1.0 0 0
Cavon Walker DE 6'2, 240 JR 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0 0 0

The numbers

Team Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 61.2% 53 60.1%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 30.6% 97 33.8%
Overall Havoc Rate 16.8% 51 16.5%
DL Havoc Rate 6.9% 24 5.2%
LB Havoc Rate 3.1% 101 4.6%
DB Havoc Rate 6.6% 54 6.5%
PD to INC 29.4% 92 32.8%

All stats via SB Nation's Bill Connelly.

The basics

Maryland improved in almost every category defensively.

As you can see, the biggest improvement Maryland made was in the pass-rushing department. The Terps went from 88th in adjusted sack rate in 2014 to 20th in 2015. Yannick Ngakoue led that charge, finishing the season tied for second in the nation in sacks. Quinton Jefferson, Roman Braglio, Azubuike Ukandu and Jesse Aniebonam and had at least three sacks apiece, but Maryland's poor secondary contributed to the team still finishing 77th in defensive passing S&P+.

The Terps defense also finished 34th in the country in adjusted line yards, which measures how many yards the opposing offensive line accounts for in the running game. That means Maryland's lineman were holding their ground against the bruisers of the Big Ten. Quinton Jefferson's name flew a bit under the radar this season, but after moving from defensive end in the 3-4 to tackle in the 4-3, he was a big reason for the line's success. He had 31 tackles on the season, good for second on the defensive line, including 12.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks.

The future

Ngakoue already declared for the draft, so Maryland will be without its top defensive performer from 2015. However, David Shaw and Adam McLean should be back after the former suffered a season-ending elbow injury and the latter unenrolled from school after an eligibility issue, although he is expected to return to the program.

Adding Shaw and McLean to a line that already includes Jefferson and Azubuike Ukandu should give the Terps a stocked interior. Jesse Aniebonam, who should be a speedy pass-rushing threat, and Roman Braglio, who quietly had a breakout year in 2015, will probably man the ends next season.