Defense and team communication will be key for Maryland football, Mike Locksley says

Maryland football is on the road again, this time to Bloomington, Ind. where they’ll face the Indiana Hoosiers (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten). Terps head coach Mike Locksley opened his Tuesday press conference praising the fans for their support in a tough loss to Purdue on Saturday.

“The environment that was created in the Shell last week was something that our players were really excited to see, and I know that they stayed for four quarters. We knew it’d be a four quarter game, a tough game. To be able to create that type of environment was something that was very welcoming for us as a team and as a football program. We just asked that our fans continue to support that way, and we look forward to continuing to work [and] put a product on the field that they can be really proud [of].”

Locksley added the team avoided the finger-pointing following the loss with another half of the season still left to play. “We use the mantra that you don’t lose, you learn,” Locksley said. Though quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa recorded his 11th career 300-yard game, he recognized there were opportunities he missed.

“Like I said, after the game, there are some shots I missed. Some of those I [want] back. We’re always gonna have games like that. [In] big-time games like that, especially at the Shell, those are plays that we need to make. [We have] players that are capable of making [them]. [The] coaches trust me to make those types of plays, and I just didn’t come through for them. But, move on to the next game.”

On the bright side, Maryland football is the only team in FBS to score points on their opening drive in every game this season. They have scored 27 points in each of the last eight games. Tagovailoa believes the credit for the opening drive efficiency goes to everyone.

“I think the credit for success [goes] to the coaches, our players, the [offensive] line, and seniors. Getting [off] to a good start, especially when you defer the toss, the defense gets a stop and when [the offense] comes out, we strike early. It’s a good momentum [shift] for us. [I] think the biggest thing for us is just continuing to build on it, and we know we’re capable of doing that.”

In discussing the defense, Locksley spoke about the three takeaways that the unit got. No points were scored off of those turnovers. Purdue Boilermaker’s tight end Payne Durham had open space to run on the last drive of the game at a time when the defense needed to get off the field.

A common theme that Locksley has preached all season is Terps vs. Terps, reinforcing the need to execute and avoid self-inflicted mistakes. Penalties have been an issue at times this season and against Purdue, Maryland had nine penalties for 75 yards which stunted their momentum. They’ll have to clean it up with Maryland entering Saturday with the most penalties and penalty yards in the Big Ten.

On the flipside, Locksley spoke highly of Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen who’s in his sixth year with the football program. The Hoosiers let offensive line coach Darren Hiller as the Hoosiers have allowed over three sacks per game for a total of 165 yards, the highest in the Big Ten. Still, Locksley sees the positives. “[He] has done a really good job of building a foundation at Indiana. I know he’s battled some injuries. They battled some injuries this year. But still, a quality opponent that has our attention. When you look at them on offense Walt Bell’s their offensive coordinator, who people here are very familiar with, they play a fast pace, tempo offense. They try to get a bunch of plays  [in every game].”

The Hoosiers are second in the nation with 86.4 plays per game, behind Texas Tech (95.8 plays per game).

“They’ve had a couple of games where they’ve had over a hundred plays. For us, we’ve gotta do a really good job on the defensive side of the ball, of getting ourselves lined up, communicating, and making sure that we got everybody on the same page as they try to play fast, ” Locksley said about what the Terps defense needs to do well. “On defense, they’re [a] heavy blitzing [team]. They’re a team that’s gonna attack our quarterback. About 60 percent of the snaps in normal down and distance are pressure, and that’s five, six, and seven-man pressures, which we’ve gotta be able to handle [with poise] and confidence and make sure that we are very sound in our protections.”

Maryland football will depend on center Johari Branch to make the right calls at the line of scrimmage, and Tagovailoa has to do a good job of identifying where Indiana’s pass rush pursuit is coming from.

Locksley spoke at length about Freshman linebacker Jaishawn Barham who had five tackles (four solo), two sacks, two tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. He earned Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week honors because of that performance.

At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Barham’s size, length, and first-step quickness stick out, and the coaching staff saw that when they put him down in their dime rabbits package the last few weeks.

He becomes a matchup issue when he can get skinny on the big tackles, and Locksley admires the way Barham loves attacking the quarterback and the football.

“If you ever have a chance to talk to him, but you won’t get until next year, because freshmen don’t talk to the media. Jaishawn is like a robot. Like, I don’t even think he has emotions. If you ever see him, he’ll deadpan face you when [answering] questions,” Locksley said about his impact freshman linebacker. “He doesn’t get overly excited, or overly low. He’s pretty consistent almost to where it’s funny because you’re talking to him, and you get the deadpan look. So I think what that does is it leads him to where there’s nothing too big for him.”

Defensive back Jakorian Bennett is close with Barham, and they call each other the “real JB.” It wasn’t hard for Bennett to see his talent, either.

“Like [Locks] said, he’s quiet, but he’s gonna go out there and just give it all he’s got, and he just plays fast. He’s smart and he’s just a playmaker. You can’t really like coach a football player. That’s what it seems like he was born to do; just play football. I’m glad to have him on this team.”

Maryland football takes on Indiana at 3:30 p.m. eastern time on the Big Ten Network.

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