Sunday, November 27, 2005

Tidy Bowl

7 Sacks allowed
14 Penalties for 93 yards
4 turnovers
2 missed field goals

In the most important game of the year, what amounted to a bowl elimination game, Maryland produced that ignominious collection of statistics. You would have expected a undisciplined rabble like NC State to produce those yardsticks of failure but it was Ralph Friedgen's squad that bumbled its way to a second consecutive losing season. The kinds of teams that produce those kinds of performances have one thing in common, poor coaching. What else explains the sending poor Dan Ennis out to attempt two field goals of 44 yards or more when he had missed his last 3 field goals from greater than 40 yards, often badly?

It might be considered heresy to take a harsh look at the holy budda coach that Ralph Friedgen has become but it is about time that Terp fans taste a little dose of reality. In the last two seasons Maryland is 1-8 versus teams coached by Tommy Bowden, Chuck Amato, Rich Rodriguez, Al Groh and Chan Gailey. Ponder that for a moment. All coaches that most Maryland fans feel are inferior to the "offensive genius", also known as Ralph Friedgen. Only one win against the trio of Clemson, West Virginia and NC State would have made Maryland bowl eligible in each of the last two seasons, but there were no wins to be had against any of them. In the last two seasons Maryland is a combined 3-7 in its last five games.

Maryland wasn't prepared for their game against NC State. The Wolfpack had come into the game having lost 6 conference games in a row at home, including the last three by a combined 82-50 score. This season NC State had only scored over 20 points in one conference game. I could go on but I think you've gotten my point. They were the kind of team that in years past would have been a tasty morsel for budda to scarf down on his way to a major bowl game. These days Maryland is the team that schools step on to climb up the conference ladder.

When balls were bouncing the Terp's way in the first three years of Ralph's tenure he was the jolly, lovable, and portly coach. Now that the losses are piling up he's become a prickly, grouchy and generally unlikable whiner. Who can forget his comment after last season's rout by Virginia Tech that he would quit if things kept going that way. For a guy who has a 10 year contract that was renegotiated I expect more than a threat to quit when things look bad. He snapped at reporters who asked about the status of seniors Derrick Fenner and William Kershaw who were suspended for their roles in the Halloween night brawl at a local bar. The most inexcusable comment in my mind was his verbal cheap shot to quarterback Sam Hollenbach.

"We can't have a quarterback playing the way he did the last three games," Friedgen said. "Some changes are going to be made somewhere if we keep throwing interceptions all the time."
Hmm, I seem to recall Joel Statham throwing 15 interceptions last season without this kind of statement. To the contrary he started game after game, or should I say loss after loss, and gave Maryland virtually no chance to win with his impotent play. Friedgen kept repeating his mantra about how Statham was a good practice player and just needed to translate it into his gameday play. He never did of course and it took 10 starts for Friedgen to realize that Statham wasn't a legitimate division I-A player. This is from a coach that some consider a quarterback "guru".

Let's briefly review what Sam Hollenbach has done for Maryland the last 12 months.

He won the last game of the season in 2004 so that Maryland could salvage a 5-6 season and end a two game losing streak. In the offseason he stayed at Maryland instead of transferring like most expected him to do even though he was given no promises by Ralph Friedgen. Without Sam the "offensive genius" would have been lucky to win 3 games this season. It would have been the Joel Statham horror show without any safety net since Jordan Steffy was injured and unavailable most of the season.

In spite of a makeshift and mediocre offensive line, which was starting a tight end at left tackle for the first third of the season, and no settled running back, Hollenbach was effective enough to go 4-2 in the first 6 games of the season. He was 1st or 2nd in passing yards for most of the season and completed over 60% of his passes, incidentally the only QB in the Friedgen era to accomplish either of those feats.

In the 7th game of the season against Virginia Tech Hollenbach injured his non-throwing shoulder while scrambling for a first down. He tore ligaments surrounding his clavicle that will require offseason surgery but continued to play after missing most of the Florida State game subjecting himself to further risk of injury. He was sacked 18 times in his final four games, hurried about twice as much and pounded with hits in all those games because of an offensive line unable to protect him. This coincided with the emergence of Lance Ball, which makes you wonder how bad it would have been without that running game.

His mistakes hurt Maryland badly, there is no doubt, but to throw him under the bus like that after the last game that the entire team appeared unprepared to play is inexcusable. Hollenbach knows he made some critical mistakes, as did several other players during the game who were not called out by their coach in the postgame press conference, and there was no point in Friedgen reminding him of that. Nor was it appropriate to threaten Hollenbach with benching in public. I lost a large amount of respect for Friedgen after hearing those comments.

This football program is teetering on the brink of complete disarray. There are rumors that Friedgen lost some of his team during the stretch run which saw Maryland go 1-4. Defensive coordinator Gary Blackney retired hours after the final loss to NC State. Vernon Davis is likely to skip his senior year for the NFL leaving a receiver corps decimated by graduation. Two out the three starting linebackers will depart. Few young players on either side of the ball showed much promise to replace those players. Friedgen dismissed the "doomsayers" and said that the program is about to "take off". Unfortunately, I think he couldn't be more wrong. I see little to make me think Maryland will be much better than 5-6 next season. Does a trip to Boise in 2006 indicate a program on the rise?

I'm not advocating that Maryland replace Ralph Friedgen. I still think he is a good coach and I doubt College Park is an attractive enough place to lure a better coach than him. Maryland fans need to recalibrate their expectations. Friedgen is no messiah or savior, and the last two seasons have shown he is certainly fallible.

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