By: Eric Myers
Maryland’s defense came into Saturday’s game against Rutgers with a decided advantage on the stat sheet, as the Scarlet Knights’ offense has struggled moving the ball and retaining possession all season.
The Terrapins defense still needed strong performances from their key contributors, especially in the first half without their leading tackler Tre Watson, whose second-half targeting penalty against Michigan kept him out of the lineup, to ensure they did not overlook Rutgers.
Darnell Savage, Antoine Brooks Jr. and Byron Cowart led the way for the Maryland defense, who held Rutgers to seven points and 179 yards in the game, 92 of which came in the fourth quarter when a number of second-string players were on the field with Maryland’s 34-0 lead.
Pro Football Focus College named Darnell Savage to their All-Defensive team for the week and he received their highest grade among any defensive player in the country. Savage did this despite not registering a tackle on the stat sheet because of his sound pass coverage, and the senior safety ended up with two of the team’s five interceptions.
Interception on a wheel route:
On this third-and-8 play, Savage lined up in the box, traditionally where a linebacker is. In an obvious passing down, Savage is a good fit to be in this position as his range allows him to get to where he needs to be in pass coverage.
On this particular play, Savage dropped back to outside the hash in zone coverage. Rutgers’ play was designed to draw the cornerback to the inside of the field to clear out the edge and leave a wheel route to the running back available. But Savage’s eventual positioning was right where he needed to be to take the play away by either making a play on the ball or laying a big hit.
Interception after undercutting a route:
Savage is playing a similar area of the field as his first interception, but this time coming from his usual alignment at safety. The Rutgers’ tight end and wide receiver ended their routes very close to one another on the play, giving a two Maryland defenders a chance to intercept the pass. After the ball sailed just beyond the reach of Nnambi Egbuaba, Savage undercut the receiver and collected his second takeaway of the game.
The transfer from Auburn had the breakout game of his career on Saturday, totaling three tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and one interception.
Cowart also had two other tackles for a loss, but due to personal foul penalties, one of which was a horse-collar penalty by Cowart on a sack, neither counted. Nevertheless, the former No. 1 recruit in the country had an imposing presence in the game.
Cowart lined up across from the left tackle, but directed his rush to the interior of the line as Brooks Jr. blitzed off the edge and was taken on by the tackle. Cowart was then one-on-one with the left guard on his quest to take down the quarterback.
Using a stutter step to the outside shoulder of the guard, Cowart left the lineman off balance and on his heels. Next came a quick move to the inside coupled with a swim move to neutralize the lineman’s unsuccessful last-ditch effort to deter his path to the passer. From there, it was just a matter of time until Cowart registered his third sack of the season.
Cowart tackle for a loss:
Cowart’s sack left Rutgers with a third-and-22 and on the very next play, and the senior defensive lineman made another stop for a loss.
Rutgers ran the ball inside on third-and-long, hoping to either gain yards to improve field positioning before a punt or catch the Maryland defense anticipating the pass. Cowart wasn’t fooled by the play and made the tackle.
Even after the sack, Cowart wasn’t solely intent on getting after the quarterback and used his increasing football IQ to notice what the Scarlet Knights were trying to do. So he cut inside the block of the offensive tackle and took down the ball carrier.
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Before the snap, Brooks Jr. can often be found roaming around the defense on the line of scrimmage. Sometimes he drops back in coverage and sometimes he attacks and wreaks havoc in the backfield. Although listed as a defensive back, Brooks Jr. leads the team in tackles for a loss with 6.5 on the season. Brooks Jr. was once again disruptive at the point of attack against Rutgers for the Maryland defense.
Cowart ends up snatching the ball out of the air for his first career interception, but it was the play by Brooks that made all of that possible.
Lined up just outside the right tackle, Brooks broke toward the quarterback immediately after the snap. Just before his pursuit of the quarterback was about to culminate in a sack, Brooks noticed that a pass was about to be thrown to the running back on a swing route. The junior defensive back timed his leap exactly right and tipped the ball high into the air.
Brooks tackle for a loss:
Just before the snap, Brooks slid down from covering the slot to lining up just off the end of the line of scrimmage. Rutgers didn’t notice Brooks lining up off the edge and the play was run right to his side. Unblocked off the edge, Brooks was right in position to make the stop for a one-yard loss.
Brooks tackle for no gain:
This play didn’t result in a tackle for loss, as the ball carrier made it back to the line of scrimmage, but Brooks’ play ensured that the running back didn’t make it past the first level. On the run play to the right side, Brooks shot the gap on the left side opened up by the Rutgers’ down blocking. His furious backside pursuit led him to make a diving tackle at the ankles of the back.