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October 4, 2012

In the trenches: Wake at Maryland

Wake Forest (3-2, 1-2 ACC) needs to get back on the horse after its 34-27 loss to Duke, but Saturday's visit to Maryland (2-2, 0-0 ACC) trip comes with obstacles.

Deacons Illustrated discussed Wake's upcoming challenge with TerrapinTimes.com football analyst David Lomonico.

How has true freshman quarterback Perry Hills performed since struggling in his debut versus William & Mary? "Since tossing three picks in his first game, Perry Hills has progressed steadily the last three weeks. In fact, it's been a game-by-game improvement for him. The numbers don't exactly bear him out (he completed less than 50 percent of his throws against UConn), but the game has slowed down considerably for him. He's making better reads, showing more conviction in his passes and standing taller in the pocket. Last week against WVU Hills had his best game yet, throwing for a career-high 305 yards and three touchdowns. He still makes mistakes and has a lot of room to improve, but he is no longer a liability under center."

What have the Terrapins experienced the most growth in Randy Edsall's second season, and what continue to be an area(s) in need of improvement? "The most growth has definitely been the defense as a whole. I described that in my answer to question 3 below."

"The biggest concern moving forward is by far the offensive line. Maryland has surrendered 15 sacks this season and Hills was dropped five times against WVU alone. Moreover, Maryland's running backs are averaging just 2.4 YPC, which is party, because the line hasn't been opening the holes. In their defense, the Terps did lose their two starting tackles -- R.J. Dill and Max Garcia -- who transferred before the season. That left them with five new starters up front, and the group has struggled to get in synch. In fact, Maryland just moved two of their starters during the first four games, guard De'Onte Arnett and tackle Nick Klemm, to the bench. Taking their place are a pair of freshmen, tackle Mike Madaras and guard Andrew Zeller."

How has Maryland's defense changed schematically under first-year defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, and how have those changes impacted the Terps on the field positively and/or negatively? "The defense under new coordinator Brian Stewart has been a boon to the Terps, to say the least. Last year, under DC Todd Bradford, who ran a 4-3, Maryland struggled mightily to stop the run and the pass."

"Stewart installed a 3-4 and shifted around a few veteran stalwarts like All-American DL/DE Joe Vellano, which was met with some skepticism early on. But it's worked out just fine as Maryland is ranked eighth in total defense after four games. The front seven, in particular, has been stellar so far this season. Vellano and defensive tackles A.J. Francis and Darius Kilgo are getting after it up front and plugging up the gaps. And the four linebackers have been the most consistent unit on the team. Led by senior Demetrius Hartsfield (a team-high 33 tackles), along with playmakers like Cole Farrand, Darin Drakeford and a combination of Alex Twine and Kenny Tate (he just returned from an injury last week), these guys have been setting the edge and stopping the run. Overall, the Terps are holding teams to just 2.3 yards per carry and well under 100 rushing yards per game. Granted, the front seven hasn't been generating much of a pass rush (just four sacks), which they'll need to do in order to help out a beleaguered secondary. If there's one area on defense that hasn't been great this season it's in the defensive backfield. Maryland's corners, Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson, have been inconsistent this year and Johnson was burned against WVU (338 yards passing allowed)."

Who/what has been the biggest surprise for Maryland this season, and why? "I guess it would be either Hills or Stefon Diggs, who I talk about in Question 5. But I'll throw out a different name for you so not to repeat myself. One of the biggest and most underrated surprises has been DT A.J. Francis, who is finally living up to expectations in his senior year. While he's not as well-known as the All-American Vellano, the tone setter of the defense, and he doesn't have the gaudy statistical numbers of some of the linebackers, Francis has been a key reason why the Terps' run defense has been so good this year. He takes on multiple blockers at the point of attack, allowing the LBs to make a stop. He penetrates the backfield, redirects plays and can make stops from tackle to tackle (occasionally sideline to sideline, but let's not push it). So far Francis has 16 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and a huge blocked kick that helped the Terps down Temple."

Who should the Demon Deacons be on the lookout for? "Stefon Diggs. The freshman receiver is this year's version of Clemson's Sammy Watkins (in terms of talent). He is a playmaker, plain and simple. Get him the ball in space and he'll make three guys miss. Stick him out wide and he'll burn a DB deep or out-leap/out-muscle the defender for a jump ball. Stick him in the backfield and he'll beat the linebackers to the edge on reverses. Diggs had a productive game against WVU with 113 yards and two touchdowns, and he's capable of more if Hills can get him the ball."

What is Maryland's injury report, and how great is its impact on the Terrapins? "This would actually have been a more pertinent question before any of Maryland's other games. The Terps have been riddled by injuries this year, from losing starting QB C.J. Brown for the season before Week 1; to starting safety Matt Robinson missing the first two weeks; to linebacker Kenny Tate missing the first three games; to starting running back Brandon Ross missing the first two weeks. But all of those guys have returned, and the Terps escaped WVU without any significant blows. Plus they had a bye last week, so any players with lingering injuries were able to rest up. There are a couple of guys lower on the depth chart who will miss the game like DB A.J. Hendy, but all the starters are back this week."


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