Jay Carlson
Jay Carlson

John Tillman isn’t overthinking the Terrapins men’s lacrosse team’s dip in offensive production during the past two games. The third-year coach figured maintaining the Terps’ torrid 16 goals-per-game pace in the season’s first five contests wasn’t necessarily a realistic goal.

But the nation’s second-ranked offense seems to have hit a snag after grinding out a sloppy 10-7 victory at Villanova on March 16 and suffering through a 33-minute scoring drought in a 10-8 loss to North Carolina on Saturday.

Opposing defenses are slowly finding unique ways to guard the Terps. The Wildcats used a zone, while the Tar Heels played a man-to-man with long poles guarding the Terps’ midfielders to keep them away from the crease. Both teams experienced relative success, holding the Terps to their two lowest-scoring outputs all year.

The No. 2 Terps will have a chance to return to form tomorrow in their ACC regular-season finale at No. 15 Virginia. They don’t need to make any fundamental changes to their game plan to do so, Tillman said. They just have to make small tweaks.

“I think as the season goes on, people start scouting you and goalies get a better idea of how you shoot the ball,” Tillman said. “We’ve got to adjust to that. We got to make sure we’re taking good shots in good areas of the field.”

That could prove difficult, though, considering the Terps (6-1, 1-1 ACC) aren’t sure what strategy the Cavaliers (5-4, 0-0) will employ. Virginia has played both zone and man-to-man this year, and recent game film will show the Cavaliers how each system has stymied the Terps’ offense.

So the veteran bunch has plans in place to attack either defense.

“We’ve worked hard on practicing against the man-to-man and against the zones,” attackman Jay Carlson said. “We just need to be prepared for every situation. And I’m sure [Virginia] will come out in new things that we need to improvise and play against.”

If the Cavaliers choose to play zone tomorrow, Carlson will likely be a focal point in the Terps’ offense.

Despite struggling for much of the game against the Wildcats, the Terps did develop a blueprint of how to attack a zone during the three-goal win. Attackman Kevin Cooper held the ball during offensive possessions on a mud-soaked Villanova Stadium field, using his 6-foot-4 frame to see over defenders. Meanwhile, Carlson would often find a seam in the zone, receive a pass from Cooper and absorb contact while scoring a goal.

After the Terps chose to run the offense through the two attackmen, Cooper finished with four assists and Carlson notched five goals. The Terps may need the duo to emulate that effort if they hope to beat a Virginia zone tomorrow.

“Kevin’s a very unselfish player; he’s got very good vision,” Tillman said. “And Jay Carlson is a guy that if you want to play zone, that is a great ‘X’ factor for us because he is great inside.”

The Terps wouldn’t have to change much if the Cavaliers play man-to-man, attackman Owen Blye said. They know they can rely on their midfield group to take advantage of specific matchups, after primarily facing man-to-man coverage during their blistering five-game start to the season.

But Blye believes the Terps need to be more patient if they want to avoid duplicating last week’s performance against the Tar Heels — a game in which ill-advised perimeter shots led to a .216 shot percentage and the team’s first loss.

“We don’t want to change our mindset. I just think teams throw some different things at us, and we have to adapt,” Blye said. “We want to be an unselfish group that follows the game plan and we want to be efficient and take good shots.”

The Terps certainly aren’t panicking. After all, they still rank second in the nation with 14 goals per game and a .384 shot percentage. But if they want to break out of their recent offensive rut, they’ll have to adapt to whatever the Cavaliers throw at them.

“Depending on what teams do defensively, we just want to be able to get our guys in a couple of different sets,” Tillman said. “As we go and we watch what those guys are doing, we have to do a good job as coaches of making those in-game adjustments.”