The Associated Press
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd tries to outrun Maryland linebacker Marcus Whitfield.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- When teams begin studying video on the next opponent, they don't need a program to match numbers with names.No, they don't need no stinkin' names.And they really don't need pen and paper to track the better players, because they become evident after a few clips. The best players tend to burn their jersey numbers in opposing brains.So it is with Maryland's No. 41, Marcus Whitfield.Whitfield, a 6-foot-21/4, 247-pound senior from Germantown, Md., is notable for both what he does and how well he does it.Marshall's offensive players have seen a few formidable defenders this season - for example, Virginia Tech had six defenders on the second- and third-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference list. Shoot, Whitfield is "only" an honorable mention All-ACC pick at linebacker.But few defenders are utilized quite like Whitfield is. The buzzword around the Thundering Herd camp is "hybrid" -- the Terrapins list a 3-4, but one adjustment by Whitfield can turn that into a 4-3.
MU offensive linemen will have to contend with that next Thursday, as MU plays Maryland at the Military Bowl. Kickoff in Annapolis, Md., is 2:30 p.m., with the game airing on ESPN."They're really athletic, especially their hybrid, stand-up No. 41," said right tackle Clint Van Horn. "He's presented a lot of problems for tackles all throughout the season, and every game he has played in . . . the guy's standing up for a reason. He's obviously very active - he is a true hybrid, he's going to be more athletic than most of the guys on the defensive front."Preparation, you have to have it down."Whitfield leads the Terrapins with nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, as well as a forced fumble and a recovery. He was named the ACC's linebacker of the week for his three-sack performance in the Terrapins' 32-21 win over Connecticut.
A notable aspect about his nine sacks for the season - those total 90 yards in losses, a fairly high average of 10 yards per setback. That probably means a few quarterbacks have run backward in their futile attempt to evade him.MU quarterback Rakeem Cato, renowned for his Houdini-like escapes from would-be tacklers, certainly has seen those sacks. Then again, the Herd's overriding goal is to keep Whitfield away from Cato altogether. Or from Cato's passes, as Whitfield certainly can drop into coverage."It starts up front, and they create some confusion," said Bill Legg, MU's offensive coordinator. "One of the ways they are able to do so is they give you multiple looks because 41 can play outside linebacker in the alley, or he can play defensive end or he can play inside linebacker."When you've got a guy who's as multitalented as that young man is, that allows you to be very diverse - aka, offensively, Gator Hoskins. . . . The other 10 players are really good, but it centers on him because of his ability to do multiple things, and their ability to give you multiple looks from the same package."
Legg rattled off several other top defenders, such as cornerbacks Isaac Goins and William Likely. Likely doubles as a big-time return threat, averaging 12.8 yards on punts and 27.0 on kickoffs.On the three-man line, end Andre Monroe is a close second in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (14). The other end, Quinton Jefferson has seven tackles for loss and three sacks, while Darius Kilgo is what you want in a 3-4 nose guard - a 6-foot-3, 310-pound load who can tie an offensive line in knots."They've got some depth. I'm not saying they've got a full-22 depth, but they've got at least three corners, at least three safeties, at least three inside linebackers and so forth," Legg said.Maryland's defense is not an ACC powerhouse, statistically - seventh in scoring defense (24.8 points), fifth in total yardage (366.0 yards), sixth in rushing defense (150.2) and sixth in third-down defense (33.7 percent). But with Whitfield leading the assault, the Terrapins are tied with Virginia Tech for the lead with 37 sacks.Legg sees the capability of a defense that, like the team in general, has regathered itself down the stretch run."Even some of the games they've come up on the short end of, with the exception of one, it wasn't exactly like it was a high-scoring game," Legg said.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.