Inside the shell: The Maryland defense

Dec. 26, 2014, 11:59 p.m.

Inside the shell: The Maryland defense

This is the third installment of The Stanford Daily’s four-part preview series on the Maryland Terrapins, who will face Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Dec. 30. Today’s piece will focus on Maryland’s defense. Part one looked at Maryland’s season as a whole and part two looked at Maryland’s offense. The final story will focus on Maryland’s special teams.

In a nutshell

Yes, defense wins championships… but some offense won’t hurt, either. Just ask Stanford fans this season.

Let’s be fair, though: When Stanford lined up against less talented defenses (Washington State, Oregon State, Cal), the Cardinal came through. And fortunately for Stanford, Maryland also looks to fall into that grouping.

Although the Terrapins have some great individual contributors in both their front seven and their secondary, they have had issues playing solidly as a unit throughout the season (injuries certainly didn’t help on that front). Both the run and pass defense have been mediocre at best, and not only have the Terps had a propensity for giving up the big play, they have also just had trouble getting opposing offenses off of the field in general.

Even though Maryland plays in a conference that isn’t really known for fast-paced offenses, the Terps are in the top 20 in the nation in total plays run against them and are tops in the Big Ten in that metric. With that in mind, it’s really no surprise, then, that they rank 12th (out of 14 teams) in the Big Ten in rushing defense and 13th in passing defense.

And speaking for their vulnerability to the big play, they led the Big Ten this season in pass plays of 15 or more yards allowed and 25 or more yards allowed. Not to mention the fact that they’re in the bottom three of the Big Ten in run plays of over 10 yards allowed this season as well.

Now, with this year’s Stanford offense, pretty much nothing has been a sure thing. But the long ball has always been Kevin Hogan’s strong suit, and both Remound Wright and the offensive line resurrected the running game towards the end of the season. With that in mind, the Maryland defense may not be exactly what the doctor ordered, but it certainly seems like the next best thing.

The front seven

2014 Maryland front seven
Yannick Ngakoue (So.) L.A. Goree (Sr.) Cole Farrand (Sr.) Matt Robinson (Sr.)
Andre Monroe (Sr.) Darius Kilgo (Sr.) Keith Bowers (Sr.)

There’s experience all over this front seven, and the lone underclassman, outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, is probably the most physically talented member of the group anyway. Often lining up on the line of scrimmage as the weak-side rush linebacker, Ngakoue took advantage of a season-ending injury to senior Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil last year to break into the starting rotation and has taken off with his opportunities, ranking eighth in the Big Ten in tackles for loss (13.0) and 12th in sacks (6.0).

In addition, defensive end Andre Monroe can only be described as a monster. Although he doesn’t really stand tall with his diminutive 5-foot-11 stature, his relentless drive and his ability to get off blocks have cemented his status as one of the best linemen in the conference. Monroe is second in the Big Ten in sacks (only behind freakish athlete Joey Bosa of Ohio State) and 10th in tackles for loss and is tied for the all-time program lead in sacks.

Finally, Darius Kilgo, the nose tackle up the middle, is described by many as the Terps’ top NFL prospect in their senior class and can have his way with opposing offensive linemen if he’s not eaten up by a double team.

However, the inside linebacking corps — while solid — has been battered by injuries, and the front seven as a whole has below-average lateral mobility, which has limited its effectiveness on perimeter runs and misdirection running plays that have been a thorn in their side all season, especially against better offensive lines. In addition, the pass rush and blitzing have been inconsistent, as evidenced by solid conversion rates by the Terps’ opponents on third downs (Maryland also sits comfortably near the bottom of the Big Ten in third-and-long defense). In addition, the depth is really nothing special, which was shown to be the case when the linebacking corps couldn’t fill the holes adequately when the injury bug hit.

In all, while sacks and tackles for loss will happen on the backs of the aforementioned defensive playmakers, Maryland’s front seven as a whole has been rather inconsistent and should serve as a decent matchup for an inconsistent Stanford offensive line.

Also, their backup nose tackle is a freshman named David Shaw. So there’s that.

The secondary

That lack of pass rush certainly doesn’t help out the task of this secondary, which has presented a reasonably average matchup to opposing receivers all season — no team aside from West Virginia (Big 12 offenses don’t really count, anyway) really set sail on Air Maryland this season and the 237 passing yards/game average is decidedly in the middle of the rankings.

But that’s generally been because teams have generally elected to run the ball with fantastic degrees of success on the front seven (except Penn State, which has no measurable offense of any kind). To be fair, shutdown sophomore cornerback Will Likely probably had something to do with that, too.

2014 Maryland secondary
Will Likely (So.) Anthony Nixon (Jr.) Sean Davis (Jr.) Jeremiah Johnson (Sr.)

Likely has been a nightmare matchup for opposing No. 1 receivers this season, as he’s accounted for six interceptions (most in the Big Ten) and is also second in the conference in passes defended this season. The man is seriously talented despite standing at just 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds.

The sophomore Will Likely (sorry, I had to) be matched up against Ty Montgomery, assuming the latter is healthy enough to play the game, which isn’t actually looking all too likely at the moment (Devon Cajuste and Jordan Pratt are currently listed as WR1 and WR2 for Stanford on the depth chart). If Montgomery is healthy enough to play, that’s a second straight tough postseason matchup for him, after he was closely marked by current NFL cornerback Darqueze Dennard in last year’s Rose Bowl.

However, regardless of whether Montgomery is matched up against Likely or can’t play, it definitely won’t be the end of the world, as Hogan will look to spread the ball around more to the bevy of talented targets he has, which worked spectacularly against UCLA. If Montgomery can’t play, look for Cajuste to be covered by Jeremiah Johnson, the other cornerback, instead of Likely, if only because Cajuste, at 6-foot-4, is a full 9 inches taller than Likely and outweighs him by 55 pounds, which is almost certainly the top definition of “mismatch” you’ll find in a dictionary. Johnson, on the other hand, is 5-foot-11, which would be a much more reasonable matchup on Cajuste.

The secondary as a whole seems to favor rather loose coverage but has still proven to be beatable over the top (this is where Michael Rector’s ears should be perking up), especially when the quarterback has time to unleash a proper throw. However, because Davis, the strong safety, is also a skilled cornerback, Hogan’s going to need to make sure to place his throws with care or take advantage of the shorter routes that the loose coverage will give him. Expect more of Stanford’s bigger gains through the air to come on the long ball, though — although the Terps’ defensive backs have been known to take bad routes to the ball-carrier, Stanford doesn’t really have a shifty wide receiver that can take advantage of that if Montgomery is out.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’

Do-Hyoung Park '16, M.S. '17 is the Minnesota Twins beat reporter at, having somehow ensured that his endless hours sunk into The Daily became a shockingly viable career. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer and Business Manager at The Stanford Daily for FY17-18. He also covered Stanford football and baseball for five seasons as a student and served two terms as sports editor and four terms on the copy desk. He was also a color commentator for KZSU 90.1 FM's football broadcast team for the 2015-16 Rose Bowl season.

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