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Monday, December 29, 2008
Maryland's defense faces stiff challenge with interim coordinator

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

In early December, Maryland linebacker Dave Philistin was one of the few players who got a phone call from his position coach, former defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, informing Philistin of his decision to take a job at Kansas State.

What Philistin didn't realize after he hung up the phone was that Cosh wouldn't coach the Terps in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl. Cosh left so abruptly that not even his interim replacement, assistant Al Seamonson, got a chance to talk to him about it.

"It's huge," Philistin said. "What surprised me was the timing of it. I thought he was going to do the bowl game and then afterwards part ways. It's pretty devastating. You don't know what to think when you go to work the next day, but everything happens for a reason.

"What you lose is a sense of guidance almost. This guy has been my mentor for the past two seasons as an inside linebacker. It's like where do I go now? Especially for a bowl game. Coach Cosh, he knows his stuff. He preps us well as far as the game plan and all that."

Of all the opponents Maryland needs to be at its sharpest on defense for this season, Nevada would be at the top of the list. The Wolf Pack boast a 2,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver. Oh, and the quarterback rushed for more than 1,000 yards, too.

"It's crazy," Philistin said. "I haven't heard anything about them except when I watch film, but the way they play, you would think you hear more about them."

The Wolf Pack have quietly put together one of the most productive offenses in the country, as Nevada is No. 2 in the nation in rushing offense, fifth in total offense, and 12th in scoring offense. They're among the best at earning first downs and controlling the clock. 

"They put up a lot of yards," Navarre said. "They're a big-play offense. A lot of plays we watched the quarterback was going for 60 yards and the running back was going for 60 yards. The quarterback, he's 6-6, he's not real heavy but he runs real fast. He's got real long legs. He's not going to juke you or anything, but once he gets in stride he's gone."

Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 2,479 yards with 19 touchdown and five interceptions during the regular season. The sophomore also rushed for 1,115 yards with 16 rushing touchdowns, ranking 12th in the nation in total offense (299.5 ypg).

The Terps will also have to worry about sophomore running back Vai Taua, who had 1,420 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 213 carries. He ranks ninth in the nation in rushing. Senior wide receiver Marko Mitchell is Kaepernick's favorite target, having recorded 56 receptions for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season.

Still, it was only good enough to finish in a tie for second place in the Western Athletic Conference.

Maryland's defense isn't bad -- they've only allowed more than 30 points twice this season -- but it was as inconsistent as the entire team.

Right up until the final two weeks of the regular season, Maryland was poised for a run at the Atlantic Division and a chance to play in the ACC title game. The trip to Boise was their consolation prize. Not only did the season unravel, so did the staff.

Special teams coach Danny Pearman took a job at Clemson, and Cosh returned to Kansas State, where he had worked with coach Bill Snyder before.

Defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre said most of the players found out about Cosh by reading the internet, since many of them were home for their first break.

"It was a big surprise," Navarre said. "He went on to a better position, but it still sucks. Three weeks before the bowl game you lose your defensive coordinator, but coach Seamo, he's picking it up right where coach Cosh left off."

"He's got a lot of respect. He's a real smart coach, knows everything about every position. He's not the type of guy who's going to get in your face and scream at you. If you make a mistake he'll yell at you and tell you what you did wrong, but he's a real good coach and knows what he's doing.

Seamonson is regarded highly enough that many inside and out of the program thought he deserved a shot at the coordinator spot when it first opened three years ago. Now he's got a chance to earn it, but he has had to juggle coaching the inside and outside linebackers, recruiting, and bowl preparation for the entire defense. Seamonson said he'd like the position permanently, but "whatever is best for the team."

"If opportunities present themselves, make the most of them, but it's like anything else, you're all in it together," he said. "It's not so much who's calling the defenses as what we're running and the execution of it. Everyone likes having their name on it as long as it's successful. It's always a collaborative effort."