USA TODAY Sports
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Even with a few players still suspended, Maryland has an embarrassment of riches right now in the secondary. With Terps defensive backs competing day in and day out for playing time, results of immense progress from last year have shown and now a new standard has been set in College Park for cornerbacks and safeties.
“Everyday we want to compete to what we call ‘The Jungle Standard,’” Terps senior safety Josh Woods said. “No matter if you’re third or fourth on the depth chart, or if you’re a one on the depth chart, everybody’s out there competing every single rep, every single day.”
So what exactly does “The Jungle Standard” consist of? Woods explained further.
“The Jungle is a place where not many people like to be,” Woods said. “If a defensive linemen or linebacker makes a mistake or misses a fit, unless you know football or know the scheme, you don’t really notice. But everybody notices when a defensive back makes an error. So the Jungle is a dark place. Not many people want to be there, but we thrive in the Jungle. We say the [defensive back] standard is: You compete; you’re technically sound; and it’s a violent finish every single time to every single play.”
Woods and the rest of the Terps secondary is looking forward to bringing that mentality to the field in College Park Sept. 23, when Maryland hosts Central Florida, a program the Terps are somewhat familiar with after needing double overtime to beat the Knights in Orlando last year.
“I just look at it as a great opportunity to see how much our kids have grown,” Terps defensive coordinator Andy Buh said Sept. 20. “Obviously, UCF is a veteran team. They bring eight or nine starters back from last year’s squad, so it will be interesting to see how we play.”
But based on what Woods has seen so far on film and the improvement he knows he and his teammates have made, he’s confident in what Maryland’s defense will bring to the table on Saturday.
“When I watch the film, I don’t see the same team from last year,” Woods said. “Obviously they’re making strides. But I know watching our defense play against their offense from the film last year, we’re so much better. So I can only imagine what’s about to happen this time. I think we’re about to play a great game.”
While energy and attitude from the secondary will have an impact on the Terps defense, Buh pointed out another factor that will be key in determining the outcome of the game--depth.
“It’s a difficult offense to prepare for week in and week out because they’re going at lightning speeds,” Buh said of the UCF offense. “It really depends on our depth--how many guys we can roll in. That will be the focus in the game. How many opportunities are we going to have to roll different guys in and keep guys fresh in the game. That’s always the big thing going into games like this. To think that we’re going to keep all 11 starters on the field for 80 or 90 snaps is crazy. So that’s where the strategy lies--how well we manage the game in terms of that. And then getting off the field is a big part of it, being able to get off the field and manage the clock on our side.”
Buh, Woods and the rest of Maryland’s defense also knows that a key to victory on Saturday is containing UCF sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton, who burned the Terps several times with his arm and legs last season.
“We want to keep [Milton] in the pocket,” Woods said. “Most of his big plays come when he’s scrambling around, extending the play. So we want to bottle him up. That means the contain guys on the defensive line or if somebody’s blitzing, just making sure everybody does their job. If everybody does their job, we should be fine.”
One Terp whose job will certainly entail keeping tabs on Milton is NICKEL Antoine Brooks, who plays a defensive back-linebacker hybrid role that is ideal for spying mobile quarterbacks.
“Oh, he’s very physical,” Woods said of Brooks. “The strength of his game is that he’s going to go hit somebody, whether it’s the right person or the wrong person. He’s a natural football player. ‘See ball, hit ball,’ that’s what he says all of the time. I like having Antoine there. He’s a very controlled natural athlete. He makes plays. He’s a natural playmaker.”
Besides the presence of Brooks in the starting lineup, another factor that could help Maryland stop the UCF offense is the Terps familiarity with a spread attack. Not only does offensive coordinator Walt Bell like to space things out in his offense that the Maryland defense practices against every day, but the Terps also played against a spread offense this season when they beat Texas in Week 1.
“[The UCF offense] is pretty fast,” Woods said. “They like to get the ball out on the perimeter. It’s kind of like Texas. It’s a perimeter game. As long as we have hard edges and keep them in between the hashes, it will be good for the Terps.”