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Maryland strives to improve Big Ten's worst defense

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Maryland strives to improve Big Ten's worst defense

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland's season is spinning out of control, and the Terrapins find themselves defenseless in their bid to stop it.

Although much of the attention at Maryland this season has focused on the quarterback position, the team's most obvious flaw is its porous defense.

The Terrapins have yielded an average of 36.5 points per game, which ranks last in the Big Ten and 115th of 129 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They are permitting 439 yards per game -- last in the Big Ten and 104th in the FBS.

Over the past two games, Maryland (3-3, 1-2) has given up 99 points and 1,115 yards. One big reason is that the Terrapins have one sack in their last three games.

"We definitely need more pressure on the quarterback," coach DJ Durkin said Tuesday. "That's pretty much a staple of football. If you allow a quarterback to be patient and calm in the pocket, they usually find a guy open."

That's happened more times this season than Durkin would care to remember, and goes a long way toward explaining why Maryland's pass defense is 107th in the FBS.

Even though injuries have cost the Terrapins their top two quarterbacks , perhaps the most notable injury is the broken ankle sustained by defensive end Jesse Aniebonam in the season opener. Aniebonam had nine sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and 30 quarterback hurries in 2016.

"It's been a little shaky getting through it," defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr. said.

"When you lose Jesse off the bat like that, he's your main pass rusher," end Brett Kulka said. "So it's going to be an issue to work through."

Durkin got the job at Maryland after a successful runs as a defensive coordinator at Florida and Michigan. In his second season at Maryland, he's tried just about everything to turn things around with this unit.

In the end, though, it comes down to individual effort.

"I'm sure there's always times when you can have a better call in certain situations, but guys have to win 1-on-1s," Durkin said. "If they keep enough guys in the block, someone's got to win a 1-on-1. It's really an attitude and a demeanor. It's about having the right attitude of, `I'm going to go win. I'm going to beat a block.'"

That didn't happen often last weekend in a 37-21 loss to Northwestern. Not only did the Wildcats pass for 293 yards, but tailback Justin Jackson rambled for 171 yards.

It was the third defeat in four games for the Terps. Things don't get any easier Saturday against No. 5 Wisconsin and Big Ten rushing leader Jonathan Taylor, who amassed 219 yards on the ground last week in a win over Purdue .

"He's hard to tackle," Durkin said. "He's got good speed, good vision. He understands what they do. Where to hit the hole, when to be patient how the blocks are going to unfold."

It's going to take a huge effort from the Maryland defense to pull off an upset.

"We need to go back to the basics," Brooks said. "We need to run to the ball more, make more tackles, cause more turnovers."

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Ravens lose in OT after offensive struggles haunt team once again

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Ravens lose in OT after offensive struggles haunt team once again

BALTIMORE -- When the Chicago Bears weigh the good and bad facets of their performance against the Baltimore Ravens, it's likely they will come up with this conclusion:

Who cares? We won.

After blowing a 14-point lead, allowing two long kick returns and committing two turnovers, the Bears used a 40-yard field goal by Connor Barth in overtime to secure a 27-24 victory Sunday.

"You got to be able to take whatever situation you get and make something out of it," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "I wanted to get a good W, go home and relax. The coming down to the wire thing is not my favorite style, but . however you get it, you just got to appreciate it."

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Jordan Howard ran for 167 yards, including a 53-yarder that set up the game-winning score for the Bears (2-4), whose two wins this season have come in overtime.

Howard's long run in OT put Chicago at the Baltimore 40. After rookie Mitchell Trubisky completed an 18-yard pass to Kendall Wright, Barth delivered the decisive kick.

"It wasn't always perfect -- it seldom is -- but we're just happy to get out of here with a win," Bears coach John Fox said.

Making his first career start on the road, Trubisky directed a conservative game plan that leaned heavily on the run. The first-round draft pick completed 8 of 16 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

"We took what the defense gave us," the rookie said. "The run game was working, so let's keep pounding the rock."

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Howard had 36 carries and the Bears gained 231 yards on 54 attempts.

"Whatever it takes to win," Fox stressed. "This week, we had to run the ball -- and we did."

Baltimore (3-3) trailed 17-3 in the third quarter and 24-16 late in regulation before capitalizing on special teams play to get back in the game.

Bobby Rainey took a kickoff 96 yards for a score to begin the comeback and Michael Campanaro brought back a punt 77 yards for a touchdown with 1:37 remaining. The 2-point conversion was successful , setting up overtime.

"Those two special teams touchdowns were huge," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

The Ravens weren't the only ones to capitalize on big plays. Chicago used a halfback pass from Tarik Cohen to Zach Miller for a first-half score, and Adrian Amos returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown for a 24-13 lead with 5:08 left.

Baltimore was in position for the go-ahead score when Amos got his first career interception on a pass that bounced off the chest of receiver Chris Moore, who was covered tightly by Kyle Fuller.

Chicago forced three turnovers and frustrated quarterback Joe Flacco throughout the afternoon. Operating without injured receivers Jeremy Maclin (inactive) and Breshad Perriman (second-quarter concussion), Flacco went 24 for 41 for 180 yards with two interceptions.

Trubisky put Chicago ahead 17-3 in the third quarter with an on-the-run, 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dion Sims, who outfought Tony Jefferson for the ball in the end zone.

That put the Ravens in a precarious position, especially with a struggling offense.

Rainey alleviated the pressure by taking the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. After being tripped by a teammate, Rainey popped to his feet, broke right and went the distance.

Campanaro did his part later, but it wasn't enough.

"Sometimes your special teams kick in and score two touchdowns, which is great," tight end Benjamin Watson said. "But Chicago did a better job of closing than we did."

The Ravens were coming off a 30-17 win in Oakland in which they did not commit a turnover, didn't allow a sack and were penalized only once.

In this one, Baltimore gave the ball away twice, permitted two sacks and was flagged five times -- in the first half.

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Nationals suffer postseason heartbreak yet again in lengthy, controversial Game 5 loss

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Nationals suffer postseason heartbreak yet again in lengthy, controversial Game 5 loss

WASHINGTON -- The Chicago Cubs win whenever they need to, with whatever it takes, even a seven-out save by Wade Davis to preserve a shrinking lead and a "Did that really happen?" four-run inning against Washington's Max Scherzer in a thriller of a Game 5.

That wild, bat-around fifth inning Thursday night for Chicago included Addison Russell's go-ahead two-run double, a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, and a disputed dropped third strike followed by a throwing error, helping the defending World Series champion Cubs come back -- and then hold on -- to edge the Nationals 9-8 and reach the NL Championship Series for the third year in a row.

Russell drove in a total of four runs, and Davis, Chicago's seventh pitcher, turned in his longest appearance since 2012. The Cubs trailed 4-1, then led 8-4 and 9-6, in a game that lasted more than 4 hours and ended after midnight on Friday.

Catcher Willson Contreras picked off Jose Lobaton at first base to quash a Washington threat in the eighth and Davis fanned a swinging Bryce Harper for the final out.

Chicago, which surpassed its total of eight runs in the first four games of the NL Division Series, advanced to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will start ace Clayton Kershaw at home in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night.

For manager Joe Maddon and the Cubs, this was their fourth consecutive victory in a win-or-be-eliminated postseason game. That includes three straight to end the 2016 World Series, when Chicago trailed the Cleveland Indians 3-1 before forcing a Game 7 won by the Cubs in 10 innings.

The Nationals, meanwhile, went one-and-done yet again: This is the fourth time in the past six years that the club won the NL East and immediately lost its opening playoff series. And this is the third time in that span that Washington bowed out with a Game 5 NLDS loss at home; that also happened in 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals and last year against the Dodgers.

This one was played exactly five years to the day after the decider against the Cardinals, which the Nationals lost 9-7 in Washington. Just like that night, the Nationals started Gio Gonzalez. Just like that night, Washington raced out to an early lead (6-0 back then). And just like that night, Gonzalez had control problems and started giving back some of the edge.

Homers by Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor -- whose grand slam off Davis backed Stephen Strasburg's 12-strikeout masterpiece in Washington's 5-0 victory in Game 4 at Wrigley Field on Wednesday -- gave the hosts a 4-1 lead in the second against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks.

But Gonzalez gave back two of those runs, so it was 4-3 as two-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer entered for the fifth. He started Game 3 of this series, pushed back because of an injured right hamstring, and hadn't come out of the bullpen since 2013 with the Detroit Tigers.

By the time Scherzer's one inning was over, the Cubs had taken a 7-4 lead. They scored two earned runs and two unearned runs, on the strength of three hits, one hit by pitch, one intentional walk, a catcher's interference, and one very odd play.

What could have been a potentially inning-ending strikeout turned into a run, as Javier Baez swung and missed, but the ball went under catcher Matt Wieters' glove and through his legs. When Wieters collected the ball, he threw it into right field for an error, then appeared to argue that the play should have been ruled over because Baez's follow-through carried the bat into the catcher's mask.

Russell made it 8-4 in the sixth on an RBI double when left fielder Jayson Werth tried to make a sliding catch but whiffed. The lead was 9-6 when Washington got one run in the seventh on Harper's sacrifice fly, and one in the eighth on Taylor's RBI single.

But the Nationals wasted some opportunities. In the eighth, with two on and no outs, pinch-hitter Adam Lind hit into a double play. Later in that inning, again with two men aboard, Lobaton was nailed by Contreras' snap throw for the third out -- Lobaton was originally ruled safe, a call that was overturned on replay.

In the seventh, Ryan Zimmerman was up as the go-ahead run with two men on, but Davis struck him out. That was part of an 0 for 4, three-K night for the first baseman who had a resurgent season, leading the Nationals with 36 homers and 108 RBIs.

That season is over for him and his team. The Cubs, though, will play on.