Monday, September 25, 2006

Time to panic?

The home team has a bad night and suddenly the whole town is in a spasm of fatalistic dread about the prospects for the rest of the season. Reason and sense, balance and perspective go out the window in a message board and sports talk radio vortex of despair. Should sound familiar to the average Washingtonian. In the case of the Maryland Terrapins that bad feeling in your guts isn't just that spinach salad you should have avoided. This team is bad, friends. It is just that simple. These Terps nearly lost at home to a football program who's name sounds like its play by play man should be telling you what gate your connecting flight is boarding. Florida International had yet to play a game when Ralph Friedgen was leading Maryland to the 2001 ACC title in his first year. Now Big Ralph is sweating out a last second incompletion to preserve a somnolent 14-10 victory.

The offense looked lethargic and the defense gave up too many big plays. I won't do grades for the game because against a team that was I-AA until recently it doesn't matter much. Sam Hollenbach is still holding onto the ball too long. He threw a couple of passes that should have been picked off and continues to underthrow his speedy wideouts. For some reason he just hasn't been sharp this year. He nearly got Joey Haynos and Danny Oquendo killed with lazy passes across the middle that set them up for FIU's headhunters.

The offensive line struggled again and I shudder to think what will happen against a big and powerful defensive front. Hollenbach was sacked three times, though at least one was his fault, and pressured on numerous pass attempts. Friedgen started calling screen passes out of fear for his quarterback or lack of faith in his young receivers. It was a fairly timid display of playcalling for an offensive wizard. I'm not sure why Fridge keeps trying to convince everyone that Maryland is a power running team. At 2.9 yards per carry it isn't surprising that the score was so close. A power running team doesn't get stuffed on 3rd and 2 with a chance to close out the game with a first down like this group did on the last drive. Maryland is only averaging 4.0 yards a carry against some fairly weak competition to this point. William & Mary is the only opponent that the Terps rushed for better than 4 yards a carry against.

The defensive line was largely irrelevant again and Chris Cosh resorted to blitzing two and three players to pressure the quarterback late in the game. Safety Marcus Wimbush needs to shut his taunting yap and learn to tackle as the FIU tight end shook off his tackle and rumbled 89 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

The lone bright spot is that Friedgen has found a talented group of young receivers. Danny Oquendo, Isaiah Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey are going to be a special group in College Park, if only Friedgen can find the right quarterback. Isaiah Williams is only one touchdown away from besting the highest total for a wideout all of last season.

This is going to be a rough season for Maryland. Perhaps the team is still hung over from the whipping they got last week. That is the best case scenario, unfortunately. With a trip down to Georgia Tech in two weeks it is going to get a lot harder for this club. The coaching staff are going to have to work some magic to get this team turned around before then, but if they don't another beating could make the fragile psyche of this group shatter for good.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

This is the ACC?

So this is what the ACC threw 50 years of history in the trash heap for? Two broken down football programs in Miami and Florida State who are a shadow of their former selves and totally irrelevant in the national championship hunt three weeks into the season. Great job, Commissioner Swofford. But we'll be getting all that extra BCS money and NCAA basketball bids, right? Or so we were told by the expansion spin miesters. Boston College squeaked by BYU at home, Virginia lost to Western Michigan, NC State got creamed by Southern Miss after losing to Akron last week, "The U" got embarrassed on national television, and Maryland started off the weekend by getting its pants pulled down on ESPN. The ACC is terrible. That is the cold, hard truth. The ACC only has three undefeated teams after just three weeks and BC is coming off back to back overtime wins. You won't be hearing much about the league on TV in the next month because, unless Virginia Tech can keep winning, there won't be any point in discussing the league in regards to the national title game. This just in: Virginia Tech won't keep winning.

Speaking of my favorite school for wayward boys, Hokie defender Aaron Rouse was flagged for two 15 yard penalties in the 36-0 blowout win against Duke. He may be going for the ACC career record for personal foul calls. He knocked Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis out of the game with a concussion on a blow to the head. Rouse later said that he takes full responsibility for his actions. Don't worry about that Aaron, seems the ACC league office is going to punish you in spite of your lame attempt to show some integrity. This isn't anything new for Rouse who is a cheap shot artist and the dirtiest player in the ACC. Let's hope the ACC suspends Rouse for a league game and takes it out of the hands of Frank "sit 'em against Cincinnati" Beamer.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Border Bore

There isn't really much point in analysing the game against West Virginia since all that really came out of it was that Maryland isn't ready to compete against upper tier teams and probably won't be until next season, if then. The defense was totally ineffective and coordinator Chris Cosh's big game debut was a disaster. Cosh failed to make adjustments against a team that only passed the ball 9 times all night and ended with 43 yards passing. Now that is what people mean when they say an offense is one dimensional. West Virginia had a short field on two of their first four touchdowns but the defense looked totally flummoxed by an offense that despite all of the moronic ESPN booya commentary is fairly sparse on trickery and innovation. The Maryland offense didn't do much until West Virginia was sitting back in soft coverage with a comfortable lead. The special teams was a carnival show style fiasco.

Here are the grades:

Quarterback: C
Sam Hollenbach didn't have much to work with being down 14-0 before even touching the ball. His passes didn't look sharp and he underthrew his receivers repeatedly. One interception wasn't his fault as he was hit by a WVU defender while throwing.

Running Back: C
Even though Maryland got blow out they still ran the ball 33 times. Lance Ball did the most with limited opportunities. Keon Lattimore had his usual game in ripping off a few nice runs but also losing yardage on a number of critical carries. Fridge should end this silly running back by committee system he has and go with Ball.

Wide Out: C-
Joey Haynos had a nice stat line but most of his receptions were check downs late in the game. He doesn't have the ability to stretch the field but has a good set of hands and runs good routes. Darrius Heyward-Bey fumbled the kickoff exchange with Josh Wilson but also showed the tantalizing physical ability he possesses. Isaiah Williams had another nice game, including his first touchdown catch. Danny Oquendo was solid. This trio will be a very good corps for Maryland, perhaps as soon as the season's end, but it is too soon to expect them to take over a game.

Offensive Line: D+
Hollenbach was pressured often by a fairly mediocre West Virginia defense. Jared Gaither struggled again and Andrew Crummey is nursing an injury. Gerrick Glig showed a nice nasty streak in his place. Center Edwin Williams was also flying around looking for people to hit. It wasn't an impressive showing by this bunch. With the game on the line they could not dominate an undersized WVU defensive front.

Defensive Line: F
I'm not sure where to begin. Jeremy Navarre was totally ineffective at defensive end and was drawn out of position on many occasions. There isn't a single player on the line that deserves a double team and that is making things difficult for the linebackers. Maryland gets little push up front from anyone on the line and there seems to be a lack of strength and athleticism in this group. When you give up 300+ yards rushing the line just didn't do its job.

Linebackers: C-
This group had West Virginia linemen in their faces all night as the defensive line wasn't getting the job done. This group is talented but isn't designed to take on offensive linemen. They are quick linebackers who are supposed to flow to the point of attack and pursue sideline to sideline. There are not many in this group that can take on a guard or center and win regularly. No one had a standout game. David Holloway is too slow to be very effective at outside linebacker and is getting more time as a pass rusher because Jeremy Navarre and Trey Covington are not getting the job done.

Secondary: D+
I'm not sure where the run support was from the safety position. You would think with all the long runs by Slaton and Pat White that they would have had some downfield tackles. There isn't a heavy hitter in the bunch with the possible exception of JJ Justice, who hasn't put things together enough to win a starting job. That may change soon if the safety play doesn't improve. Isaiah Gardner showed some willingness in run support but he's still giving up too much cushion in pass coverage.

Special Teams: F
What a disaster. A couple of fumbles killed any chance Maryland had for an upset. Josh Wilson may want to stick to defense. Obi Egekeze may be replaced on kickoffs since he has no coverage ability. At least it didn't come down to Dan Ennis making a field goal.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Eve of Destruction

Some interesting things coming out of the Washington Post sports section today about the Terps. First let me say that it should be easy to get to bed early tonight as I forecast a quick demise for Big Ralph and his not so merry bunch. I'm thinking something in the 35-13 range. It won't be like that horrible night against the halfway house squad in Blacksburg a few years ago, but it won't be pretty. Given the running game of West Virginia it'll probably be a steady diet of Steve Slaton and Pat White down the throats of the Maryland defenders all night. It's that slow lingering death of watching the run defense get gashed repeatedly by runs between the tackles.

In the regular story on the game the mantra of "the most talented team" of the Friedgen era continues to be repeated. On the Comcast broadcast it has also been uttered that this is the most talented offensive line at Maryland, maybe in history. Both assertions are ridiculous on their face but that hasn't stopped them from being trotted out again and again. It would always bug me that after a blowout by Florida State or Florida that Friedgen would suggest he just didn't have the athletes to compete against those programs. Now he seems to suggest he has the athletes but is working on a 6 game losing streak to West Virginia, Clemson and NC State. In the words of Frank Costanza, "Somethings Missing!" It would be more accurate to say that this group of players haven't lived up to their lofty recruit rankings, not that they are the most talented team of the Friedgen era.

A number of comparisons have been made to the Georgia Tech game in 2001. This certainly is a big game for the 2006 Terrapins but the analogy doesn't hold since that Maryland team was already 5-0 with wins over North Carolina, Wake Forest, West Virginia and Virginia going into that game.

Mike Wise, who seems to be the resident Maryland scribe these days, makes two good points in his column today. The time when Friedgen was being romanced by desperate NFL owners and was widely considered the offensive "guru" in college football are gone. Maryland has been as ordinary the last few years as they were extraordinary the first three years of Ralph Friedgen's time in College Park. The early winner in the ACC expansion fiasco is clearly West Virginia. The top three teams in the Big East all left for the ACC making the path to a BCS bowl that much easier for the mediocre Rich Rodriguez to reach. Is it a coincidence that strong programs like Maryland, NC State and Virginia have all started to sink to Boise bowl level or worse since expansion? All the arrogant ACC-philes predicted it was only a matter of time before the Big East lost its automatic bid to the BCS and schools like Pittsburgh and West Virginia were out in cold. Well that isn't happening and West Virginia is on its way to another BCS payday this season.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Terps Plod to Win

Remember the victims of terrorism.

So this is the "new" offense of Ralph Friedgen? After the first two games it appears far more Woody Hayes than Steve Spurrier. So much for innovation. The conspiracy theorists might be saying that Friedgen is just holding back his arsenal of offensive weapons for the game against West Virginia this Thursday. I'd probably be more concerned if those theories had some weight to them. With a two year starter at quarterback and a stacked tail back position it would seem a rather timid pair of performances by the Maryland offense. The players seemed to suggest that the coach had yet to take the gloves off in regards to his playcalling, yet the coach himself suggested that he was scared to rely too much on his young receiving corps. Not the kind of scenario you want to be going into the land of the flying Wild Turkey bottles.

The pass protection troubles continued for the offensive line and the 3rd down conversion rate of the offense was slightly alarming for the 2nd straight game. Over the first two game the offense is only converting at a 27% rate inspite of a strong running game. It is hard to explain. The defense on the other hand has struggled with the 3rd down defense, still hasn't been able to cause many turnovers, and has given up yardage late in games. They did show some ability to rush the passer and Dre Moore demonstrated some pass rush ability with two sacks.

The Terrapins will have to thrown the ball to win on Thursday. If they throw the ball 16 times against the musketstuffers it will be a blowout in the wrong direction. Williams and Oquendo have the ability to stretch the defense if the pass protection can give Hollenbach the chance to connect on those deep patterns. The run defense of Maryland is another concern. The defensive line will have to raise its game tremedously to slow down the 300+ yard per game WVU steamroller.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Work in Progress

After reviewing the game film there were a few positives for Maryland to take from the William & Mary game last week. The offensive line did a fantastic job opening huge holes for the running game. Fullback Tim Cesa seems to be developing into a fine fullback after being shifted from linebacker last season. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach silenced the chatter about his starting job for at least another week. The passing game showed some deep threat and big play capability.

The team still has many, many things to improve before the trip to Morgantown next week. The pass blocking was still shaky against an active but undersized Tribe front. Perhaps the return of Jared Gaither from his suspension will shore up a line that struggled with protection last season.

The defensive line failed to mount any pass rush or get much penetration against William & Mary's spread offense. Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh will have to blitz linebackers to pressure the quarterback unless Trey Covington or Jeremy Navarre can suddenly demonstrate some pass rush ability.

Though Keon Lattimore got the start at running back there isn't much of a controversy in my opinion. Lance Ball is a more complete player at the position. He has excellent vision, is a better pass catcher, superior at blitz pick ups and more sturdy than Lattimore. While they both piled up the rushing yards against the Tribe it wasn't really a fair assessment since they often were not touched until four yards past the line of scrimmage. Lattimore is quick but lacks break away speed. In spite of his strength he often will go down at first contact and dances along the line of scrimmage too much. Against fast and aggressive defenses he would be ineffective.

Jordan Steffy should have put to rest any chatter about the starting spot at quarterback. He was clearly nervous and overexcited about his first real action since the 2004 season. Hopefully Maryland will put away Middle Tennessee early and give him a chance to redeem himself.

The team as a whole was sloppy and unfocused in the 4th quarter. The defense slacked off and allowed backup QB Mike Potts to go 9 for 10 with 99 yards passing in the last 10 minutes. Corner Kevin Barnes was beaten deep for a touchdown with under five minutes left in the game. The offense wasn't much better and only score a field goal the entire 2nd half.

Let's hope for dramatic improvement by Saturday.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Terps top Tribe

Everyone seemed fairly satisfied after the game but the final score should make the average fan a little nervous. Maryland got out to an early lead that was comfortable and seemed to coast in the rest of the game. At one point it was 27-7 in the forth quarter before William & Mary scored a late touchdown but with a margin of only 13 points at the end of the game it should hardly make the players or coaches feel comfortable about where this team is at the moment. In the post game interviews it seemed everyone was eager to find positives in a game that really didn't demonstrate this year's Terrapins are ready to compete with the big boys. In the heyday of Friedgen's early years this would have been the kind of blow out that made you feel sorry for the Eastern Michigan or Wofford squad that came for the payout. It isn't clear that this offense has that kind of explosiveness in them, with or without Ralph Friedgen calling the plays. I'll have a full review of the game once I've had a chance to review the tape.

Around the ACC

Most of the teams in the league had those kinds of stat padding games that hardly mean anything but there were a few games that may be an early indicator of how teams will fare this season.

Georgia Tech gave the Golden Domers all they could handle. The Yellow Jackets defense was ferocious and seemed to intimidate Notre Dame for most of the first half. Reggie Ball is still Georgia Tech's Achilles heel as he was unable to mount any scoring drives in the 2nd half. Without PJ Daniels' ground game to back him up Ball doesn't have the ability to run the offense. He had his normal 50% completion rate and can't seem to complete a pass to anyone other than the singular wide out Calvin Johnson. With a competent quarterback Georgia Tech would be very dangerous.

Virgina had a tough road opener at Pitt and got blow out in the process. The early returns at running back and quarterback for the Cavaliers are not encouraging. Three different quarterbacks and four different running backs saw action for Al Groh but none seemed to distinguish themselves. Virginia's run defense was decent but the secondary was shredded by Pitt QB Tyler Palko. I think Al Groh's group will rebound from this debacle but unless they find a decent backfield it will be a long season in Hooville.

North Carolina lost to an improved Rutgers team in Chapel Hill. There is no shame in losing to Rutgers these days but with three top 20 teams in the next for games and another out of conference game at Notre Dame later in the season it wasn't a game the Tar Heels could afford to give away.

The poor Dukies lost to Richmond. Worse still they didn't even score.

Wake Forest beat Syracuse 20-10 but lost starting quarterback Ben Mauk for the season after he broke his arm. It is a harsh blow to the Deacons bowl hopes.