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Irish face Terrapins’ versatile attack

Allan Joseph | Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Shamrock Series has seen the Irish host “home” games in such unfamiliar locales as San Antonio’s Alamodome and Yankee Stadium in New York and includes games in Chicago and Dallas in the future. But perhaps no off-site contest will feel more like an away game than this weekend’s matchup against Maryland at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

“We’re back on the road with Maryland this week, and I know it’s technically a home game, but we’re in Washington, D.C., and that’s Maryland’s backyard,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We are mentally preparing ourselves to go in to play on the road again and all that goes with that.”

While the Irish (6-3) will be wearing their green jerseys and special Shamrock Series helmets, the Terrapins (2-7) will don their “Maryland Pride” uniform set for the second time this season — and with FedEx Field less than half an hour from College Park, why not?

“We play an away game this weekend, but we are treating it like a home game,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “We are looking forward to playing on Saturday night.”

Edsall is currently in his first year at the Terrapins’ helm, having left Connecticut to take over the Maryland program after previous coach Ralph Friedgen was fired in an acrimonious end to the Terrapins’ 2010 season. While Friedgen’s final year saw Maryland win 10 games, including a bowl game victory, the Terrapins have struggled this year under Edsall.

Despite the struggles, Edsall believes his program is on the right track.

“All anyone looks at from the outside is how many we win and how many we lose. That is the business we are in,” he said. “I look at the big picture though. When we are installing a program, there is more than just wins and losses. I feel that it is the total program that we are installing that needs to develop.

“We are improving in a lot of areas. We just aren’t winning on the field right now. That will happen; I am confident of that.”

As Edsall finishes up his first year as coach and begins looking towards his second year, he said he believes next year will be easier than the first.

“There is no question it will [be easier.] Everyone has a philosophy and a plan of action, and you are going to install that plan of action,” Edsall said. “The press and the fans only see what happens on Saturday and they judge us on that, and I understand that, but it is more than just that. It’s a big part of it, but there is a lot of progress being made.”

Sophomore quarterback C.J. Brown may be the most tangible evidence of that progress. Brown replaced fellow sophomore gunslinger Danny O’Brien as the starter in Maryland’s 56-45 loss to Clemson on Oct. 15 and turned in an eye-opening performance, rushing for 162 yards and adding 177 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. Brown and O’Brien continue to split time under center, posing a challenge for the Irish.

“They have a real one-two punch at quarterback,” Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “[Brown is] a real runner, a fast not flashy runner, but he can really gas it. [O’Brien] is an excellent passer.”

In addition, Diaco said the rest of the offense is better than the Terrapins’ record may indicate.

“Maryland has talented wide receivers, talented backs, a talented tight end, a big physical offensive line … I try to bring the evaluation honestly each week. This is an outstanding offensive line,” Diaco said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for our defense.”

While Brown, O’Brien and the rest of the Maryland offense pose a threat to the Irish defense, Kelly said he expects Edsall to provide a stiff challenge, especially after Edsall’s experience leading Connecticut to an upset victory at Notre Dame Stadium in 2009.

“I know Randy Edsall,” Kelly said. “He’s a darned good football coach, and he’ll have the memories of coming in here to Notre Dame and beating Notre Dame and playing physical. That’s what his teams will do, so we have to be prepared and worry about ourselves. “