Maryland relies on power backs

Keon Lattimore referred to his partnership with Lance Ball as “thunder and lightning,” but in truth, the two Maryland senior running backs each emote more smash than flash.

The 5-foot-11, 223-pound Lattimore has combined with the equally physical Ball (5-9, 223) to form one of the more productive running partnerships in college football this season, as the Terrapins are one of just four Division I programs with two backs with at least 750 rush yards. And both Lattimore (789 yards and an Atlantic Coast Conference-leading 13 rushing touchdowns) and Ball (763, 12 TDs) say that as the clock winds down, they can see the cumulative effect of their powerful runs on an opposing defense.

“We both have the attitude that we’re going to keep pounding you until you don’t want to tackle us anymore,” Ball said Wednesday. “It’s a fun competition for us — if one of us makes a big play, the other wants to get out there and match it. And then things just snowball from there.”

Running the ball could be a challenge for Maryland (6-6) in Friday’s Emerald Bowl, as Oregon State (8-4) enters the game second in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 75 yards per game. But the Terps have found success on the ground the hard way all season, as three starting offensive linemen (including preseason All-America left guard Andrew Crummey) have missed significant action.

Still, the backs managed to produce in Maryland’s most important games, as Lattimore had 134 yards rushing and a touchdown in a 34-24 win on Sept. 29 over then-No. 10 Rutgers and Ball went for 109 yards and two scores in a 42-35 upset over No. 8 Boston College on Nov. 10. Both had two TDs when Maryland beat North Carolina State 37-0 in its regular-season finale to become bowl-eligible.

“We know [what linemen are] in the game but it doesn’t affect what we do,” Lattimore said. “We’ve been young before, so we just tell them ‘You’ve got two veterans behind you and as long as you stay on your blocks, we’ll make you look good.’”

The two running backs have now split time for the past three years, each typically getting all the carries on two consecutive series before being replaced by the other. Lattimore, whose older brother is Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, started off this season by going for more than 100 yards in four of the first five games before being slowed slightly by an injured hamstring midway through the year. Ball, who ranks fourth on Maryland’s career rushing list in yards (2,482) and touchdowns (26), then took over the bulk of the work until the bruising partnership could be resumed.

“We consider them both to be first-team backs,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “They’re on a rotation basis and we always have a fresh guy in there.”

melliser@examiner.com

EMERALD BOWL

Oregon State (8-4)

vs. Maryland (6-6)

WHEN: Friday, 5 p.m.

WHERE: AT&T Park

TV: ESPN

RADIO: KTCT (1050 AM)

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