Sunday, October 29, 2006

Terps block 'Noles

Maryland built a 20-14 lead at halftime and spent the next 30 minutes desperately trying to hang on against the once powerful Seminoles. This isn't your father's Florida State. Not to diminish the win but this isn't like beating Bobby Bowden circa 1999. These Seminoles are like a punch drunk former heavyweight fighter who has lost the ability to defend himself anymore and rely on connecting with a few good shots while getting pummeled by their opponent. The two deep that Bobby Bowden had coming out of the spring game was in the wastebasket a month ago due to injury after injury and last night he was forced to go with a new starter at quarterback with Drew Weatherford sidelined with tendinitis. Add in the swirling winds to disrupt the Florida State passing game and it was a perfect setup for Maryland.

It appeared that the Terps would cruise to any easy victory early on as a FSU turnover set the tone for a half that was dominated by Maryland. They had success running the ball and excellent special teams play helped them keep good field position on FSU. But the porous defense couldn't hold FSU giving up a 10 and 14 play drives in the second half. Jeremy Navarre blocked the Seminoles' last second field goal to try to send the game into overtime and escaped with a 27-24 win.

With a game this close there were several plays that made the difference in the game. Stopping Florida State on a critical 4th down at midfield resulted in a Maryland touchdown the other way. A Greg Carr fumble in the 1st quarter that also resulted in a Maryland touchdown to give the Terps some early momentum. Several great Danny Oquendo punt returns to keep Maryland from getting pinned in its own territory and win the field position battle. Dan Ennis getting a field goal to bounce off the upright and later hitting a 39 yard field goal in difficult conditions. All these little things add up to a tight three point victory.

The offense got very conservative in the 2nd half as FSU made halftime adjustments. After the opening touchdown in the second half Maryland had two three-and-out possessions. The playcalling the 4th quarter was fairly shaky and contributed to FSU getting back into the game. Maryland was out gained again 458-223, a staggering 2:1 ratio against the winning team. The formerly moribund FSU running game ground out 172 yards, their second highest total of the season behind the Rice game. Maryland has been out gained in five out of their six wins this season. That simply doesn't happen. How Maryland keeps winning while being out gained on offense with such a mediocre defense is hard to understand, but perhaps it is equal parts Big Ralph and pure luck.

Quarterback: B+
Ralph Friedgen gave Sam Hollenbach a little more slack and was rewarded with Hollenbach's best quarterbacking effort of the season. He threw three touchdowns and did not make a critical mistake the hurt his team. He had some splendid playfakes that helped trick FSU's aggressive defense.

Runningbacks: B
Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore both had moments of success against FSU in the first half but they combined for 2 yards rushing the entire 2nd half. Lattimore had some success with little swing passes out of the backfield but still takes too many losses on runs as shown by the 13 yards lost on his runs. True Frosh Cory Jackson showed some impressive flashes as a blocking fullback.

Wideout: A-
This may be the breakout game for Darrius Heyward-Bey that many have expected. He showed his exceptional speed but also his improving hands. He scored two touchdowns and had catches of 30 and 22 yards. This is the kind of big play ability the coaching staff was hoping for from the young wideout. Danny Oquendo had 18 yards on a reverse in addition to his great punt returns. Isaiah Williams struggled with a number of dropped passes.

Offensive Line: B
In the first half the line dominated the undermanned FSU front. In the second half it was the reverse. The line couldn't open any holes in the latter half of the game and Sam Hollenbach was under more pressure. Overall the line had a good but not great game.

Defensive line: B-
The inspired play of Jeremy Navarre and also Conrad Bolston are what earned this grade with the yardage the defense surrendered. Xavier Lee said he could have eaten a banana in the pocket in the 2nd half with how little pressure Maryland was able to muster. I've been critical of Navarre in the past but it is hard to think he could have played much better on Saturday. His five tackles, 2.5 for a loss, a forced fumble and block of the potential game tying field goal make him my game MVP.

Linebackers: C-
Erin Henderson had a nice game with 12 tackles but the rest of the unit struggled, particularly in pass coverage. Florida State was able to expose Maryland's vulnerability to a good short passing game. The safeties and linebackers struggle to close the gaps in zone coverage. FSU ball carriers were able to break tackles with alarming regularity.

Secondary: C-
I'm not sure the secondary deserves even this grade. They safeties gave up a number of big plays and the unit gave up 166 yards passing in the 2nd half. The anemic pass rush contributed but this is not a great coverage group. Opposing quarterbacks continue to pick on Isaiah Gardner. Still, they held when they needed to.

Special Teams: A
Dan Ennis hit two field goals in difficult conditions going 6 for his last 6. Danny Oquendo was great in the return game amassing 85 yards on only three returns. Navarre blocked FSU's final field goal attempt to preserve the win. Adam Podlesh had a number of kicks for touchbacks that could have pinned FSU back but that is the only critique of a excellent effort by this group.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Seminole Scout

We have a guest commentator regarding the upcoming Florida State game. Rich from ChantRant was gracious enough to answer a few questions on the state of FSU's season. I'm not sure anyone expected Florida State to be sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Division at this point in the season and Rich helps to shed some light on why that has happened.

The FSU offense seems to be fairly one dimensional at the moment. While Drew Weatherford has been able to pile up stats the offense as a whole seems to struggle scoring. What is the major factor causing this problem?

The offense went one-dimensional in the Duke game. The coaches never announced that they've given up on the run game, which they were determined to establish beginning in spring practice, but that seems to be the reality. Why? Mainly because of the offensive line. Injuries, graduation and too many guys falling out along the way has thinned the OL ranks. A new zone blocking scheme introduced last year isn't paying great dividends. And the line is just far better at pass blocking than opening big holes. So it was simply smart to go with their strength. Now FSU uses the pass to set up the run, instead of the other way around earlier in the year. But backs still get plenty of chances to run, thanks to shovel passes, screens and short stuff.

The Seminole defense is known for keeping opponents out of the endzone and creating turnovers. This season the unit hasn't excelled at either, ranking 8th in scoring defense and 9th in turnover differential. At times they have looked dominating and then merely mediocre, why the inconsistency?

Big problem with FSU's defense is simply injuries. Three or four starter are lost for the season, and other key players for several games at a clip. But backups is where the team really hurts. Three backup linebackers, who played a lot early in the year, all are out. Last week FSU started FOUR true freshman — a first for a team that likes to redshirt rookies. So a defense that's always had the luxury of rotating lots of guys in and out, now is playing younger guys with little or no rest in-game. At least they're catching on fast. Last week that patchwork, youthful defense gave up only ten points and allowed B.C. just two sustained drives (the Eagle's other scores came off an interception and a fumble that set them up at FSU's 1-yd. line).

If WR De'Cody Fagg isn't able to play who will take the pressure off of Greg Carr in the passing game?

The Noles would miss De'Cody Fagg at WR. But two of the threestarters, Greg Carr and Chris Davis, are healthy. Fagg's backup last week was Joslin Shaw who made one catch. The wild card is pure freshman TE Brandon Warren — if he's back from an injury that kept him out of the B.C. game. In the first half of the season he gave the Noles a real weapon at a position usually consigned to blocking. He reminds me a lot of Maryland's super TE who was drafted in the first round this year.

Any player who could be ready for a breakout game versus Maryland?

De'Cody Fagg's absence or limited play could open the door for a breakout game by freshman Damon McDaniel. The kid demonstrated confidence, speed and absolutely no first-game jitters during the Duke game where he snagged his first TD pass.

Thanks to Rich for some great insights!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Primetime Terps

Maryland's game against Florida State on Saturday will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 7pm. The game will be shown in glorious high definition. It was also announced that ESPN2 had also picked up Maryland's November 4 game at Clemson. The game will be broadcast at noon.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Terps take next step

Maryland took a step closer to being bowl eligible with a 26-20 win over nemesis NC Sate. Standing at 5-2 Maryland has now equaled their win total in each of the last two seasons and probably only needs to win two of its final five games to secure a bowl bid. It is a good thing too since the schedule makers didn't do Maryland any favors in the last five weeks of the season. The remaining opponents for Ralph Friedgen's squad are a combined 28-8 so far this season. Of that group Florida State and Miami are the two weakest opponents. But that is something to worry about next week when the Seminoles come to College Park.

Maryland was again out gained by their opponent yet still managed to win the game, mostly because of three NC State turnovers. NC State had more total yards, more first downs and had an amazing 14 play advantage on offense over Maryland. The Terps kept turnovers from being their normal bugaboo and only suffered one fumble by Josh Wilson. The offense played another vanilla gameplan well. They ran the ball well with Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore but it was the unexpected scampers by Sam Hollenbach that was a new dimension in the offense. Sam Hollenbach admitted after the game that he managed the game at quarterback which was evidenced by his 9 passing attempts, with only three passes in the entire second half. Coach Friedgen still seems to lack trust in his passing game. In the coming weeks he won't be able to play the conservative dink and dunk style against defenses like Clemson, Miami and Florida State. The defense bent all game long but got some timely turnovers to give the offense some great opportunities to score. The run defense continued to be porous giving up large chunks of yardage to Andre Brown and Toney Baker but Maryland did show more ability to rush the passer and force the opposing quarterback into mistakes. Some of that pressure came from multiple blitz packages and it would be nice to see some of the front four getting pressure on the quarterback.

Quarterback: B+
Sam Hollenbach only threw nine passes but showed some determination and leadership. He had several nice playfakes and rushed for 62 yards adding a new wrinkle to his game. It does make me nervous to have Hollenbach running around but it worked on Saturday.

Tailbacks: B-
Keon Lattimore showed had some nice receptions on screens but his running was sub par. Lance Ball was the workhorse again. He showed some good vision and rarely gets dropped for a loss. Neither back piled up big numbers but ran well enough to win.

Offensive Line: B+
The line is shaping up and has shown more consistency from early in the season. The line helped grind out 165 yards on the ground and displayed a toughness that had been lacking all season. There was one sack allowed on only 9 passing attempts and one holding penalty by Jared Gaither. Overall it was one of the better performances of the year. The gameplan also helped minimize the line's weaknesses

Receivers: C+
With only 9 pass attempts the receivers were not much of a factor in the game. They did a decent job of blocking down field.

Defensive Line: C
The line got blown off the ball too many times. NC State enjoyed great success running the football due to the lack of penetration by the down linemen. Phil Costa was placed in the LEO position in an attempt to generate some pass rush. None of the interior players seem to be able to anchor against the run.

Linebackers: B
Erin Henderson came up with another big play for the second week in a row. He seems to have some of his older brother's flare for making big plays in critical moments. His interception in the second half helped to give Maryland a 20-0 cushion. Wesley Jefferson is solid and makes the plays you expect him to but doesn't produce much more than that.

Secondary: C+
Josh Wilson had two sacks but also fumbled a kickoff at a critical part of the game. The secondary didn't play very badly but didn't play well either. JJ Justice did manage to get an interception late in the game on a Daniel Evans pass that was thrown up for grabs. The secondary will have to improve its safety play with the potent Florida State passing offense coming to town.

Special Teams: A-
Dan Ennis hit all four of his field goals and Obi Egekeze had three touchbacks on seven kickoffs. Adam Podlesh was his normal stellar self averaging 48 yards per punt. The only blemish was a 65 yard punt return for a touchdown that gave the Wolfpack a chance to come back.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why the ACC should drop Miami football.

It should be obvious to most longtime ACC fans why expansion has been a disaster for the traditional soul of the conference. The latest evidence was the ugly brawl this past weekend between Florida International and the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl. Dozens of players have been suspended and FIU coach Don Strock has kicked two players off his team. As usual the administration at Miami and in the ACC office is in a state of denial about the ugly fallout from this disgraceful exhibition. I'd say Larry Coker had lost control of his football program but that would assume that he ever had control over his players. For years and through many coaching regimes the head coach at "The U" has had little control over his program's misbehavior. Some like Jimmy Johnson or Dennis Erickson were just as oblivious to the rules as their miscreant players. Others have been like the spineless sheriff in the old western movie who pretends to still be in charge of his town but doesn't have the courage or conviction to stand up to the outlaws who really run the place.

More than a few folks during the expansion debate suggested that Miami had cleaned up its image under Butch Davis. Clearly that sentiment was merely naive wishful thinking. This is what you get with Miami. Lest we forget that Miami suspended four players to start the season against Florida State. Senior captain Brandon Meriweather was seen trying to stomp on a number of FIU players who had fallen to the ground in the melee. This is the same Meriweather who was involved in a shooting during the offseason. This is the same program that recruited Willie Williams, the celebrated high school linebacker and juvenile felon. This is the same program that has recently produced such character challenged NFL players as Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle. Not that previous alumni like Comcast Sports Southeast commentator Lamar Thomas are much better. His idiotic comments as the riot on the field unfolded got him fired from his job earlier this week.

Is Miami the worst program in college football? Probably not, but then that isn't the point. Places like Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida State and Auburn are as bad or worse depending on the year. Every college football program has some questionable characters on its team but they don't have a systematic and pervasive history of stocking their rosters with individuals who revel in being above the law. Being a player at "The U" is as much about having a bad attitude as having athletic skills. To argue that other programs are as bad and thereby suggest that Miami doesn't deserve special criticism when their team runs amok is worse than fatuous reasoning. In many ways the former players at Miami treat their program as a tight knit clan that comes too close to a gang like mentality for my comfort. Clearly the response of Miami president Donna Shalala shows that she doesn't have a clue about the sordid history of her university's football factory. Her indignant response to the suggestions that the suspension of a few players for the Duke game didn't amount to a repudiation of the disgraceful brawl was an embarrassment to college sports and highlights how cowardly and unprincipled the leadership at most colleges are in the face of a misbehaving revenue sport.

John Swofford and his cronies flushed 50 years of proud tradition down the toilet for some quick and dirty football money. They tossed aside the crown jewel of college basketball conferences for a thuggish and low class football factory. Saturday was just another nauseating reminder of that fact. It was a sad day for what once was a great conference.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Terps don't lose

It was a game on Saturday that Virginia lost more than a game that Maryland won. Virginia blew a 20-0 lead late in the 3rd quarter by a series of mistakes that you'd expect from a 2-4 team. The muffed punt that all but gave Maryland a touchdown to pull the Terps to within a score of Virginia and an interception return for a touchdown all but sealed the game for Maryland. Maryland's offense did nothing of note until Virginia's Emmanuel Byers fumbled on his own one yard line. Virginia's offense out gained Maryland's in every category: rushing, passing, first downs. Maryland's defense yielded almost 200 yards rushing and nearly surrendered a game winning drive to a redshirt freshman quarterback. I'm somewhat perplexed by the borderline euphoria that followed the skin-of-their-teeth victory. Virginia is a bad team. Maryland should have won the game if they are as good as they seem to think. The coaching staffs for each program probably view this game as a bigger rivalry that either school's fans do and that certainly had something to do with Ralph Friedgen's whooping in the postgame celebration. There is nothing wrong with taking pleasure in a win, especially given that there have not been many worth celebrating the last two years but Maryland's four victories have come against teams with a combined 7-19 record this season. They will have to improve dramatically to have a chance at a low tier bowl game. Remember that Maryland beat Virginia last season in a thrilling game and it didn't lead to any cathartic break through for a group of young players. Coach Friedgen couldn't help himself from pointing out in the post game interviews that Maryland was still in the hunt for the Atlantic division title. Maryland needs to just focus on the next game. They are not playing anywhere near well enough to start looking that far ahead.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The kids don't graduate

More news from the recent release of the Graduation Sucess Rate(GSR) that doesn't paint a pretty picture for college sports and particularly Maryland's basketball team. Maryland scored an ACC low 18 for it's men's team. It even got mentioned on Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column which can be read here, until he makes another vaguely anti-Semetic comment and gets fired again.

There is little to argue with, the numbers are what they are. I do have a hard time believing that places like Florida State(75), Miami(69) and Virginia Tech(71) care more about graduating their players than Duke(67). It serves to illustrate the inherent flaw with the NCAA trying to shame their members into caring about education when everything else engage in encourages cheating and a win-at-all-costs mentality.

Easterbrook says that Maryland "embarrassed college sports" a few years ago with their 2002 national champion team that didn't graduate a single player. That kind of hyperbowl has a long way to go before it is even purile given the sewer that is college sports these days. Has he seen the arrest records of some recent football squads? Was Easterbrook in the country when UNLV was buying itself a national title? Did he miss Chris Weber's staring role in a Federal grand jury proceeding? I'm not offended as a Maryland fan but as someone who apprecaites the corrosive nature of ridiculous eggzaggeration. If Gary Williams embarrassed college sports by giving someone like Jaun Dixon a chance to make millions of dollars as an NBA player then where does that leave us in trying to catagorize men like Jim Calhoun, John Calipari or their ilk?

Three of the players from that team are cashing large paychecks from the NBA and at least two others are playing for nice six figure salaries in European leagues. Does that make it okay they didn't graduate? I'll leave that up to you to decide. To set the record straight there were players on that team that graduated.

Still, with the recent shame of Chris McCray flunking off the team in midseason and a number seniors from the same team dropping out of school without finishing their degrees it can't sit very well for a Maryland fan who actually cares about the school beyond Debbie Yow's little kingdom. At the moment it appears that keeping players in class isn't a large priority for the staff. If for no other reason than to avoid the atomic destruction that occurred this past seaosn when Chris McCray decided he didn't care about passing any of his exams, that needs to change.

Friday, October 06, 2006

ACC play opens

Maryland faces a perhaps the toughest challenge of any team in the ACC this season to open league play. There isn't a team in the ACC that is playing as well as Georgia Tech right now. Fresh off a thumping of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg the Yellow Jackets are brimming with confidence. The soul of this team is the defense lead by Jon Tenuta, who is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. Many of his players are undersized but have great speed and agressiveness. Maryland's offensive line and running backs need to quickly improve their pass protection if Sam Hollenbach is going to leave Georgia upright. The core of Tech's defense is its feroucous linebackers KaMichael Hall and Philip Wheeler. They are great blitzing linebackers and are quick to fill the holes against the run. Wheller will blow up runners on delays. Both are very impressive and can dominate stretches of a game. With a 2.4 yards per carry average opponents have not been able to run on the Tech defense. The Yellow Jackets have been able to jump on opponents quickly with a 56-13 edge in the 1st quarter. This has allowed them to keep the burden of winning the game off of quarterback Reggie Ball's shoulders. Right now the formula for Georgia Tech is to have Ball manage the game and take a few shots down field with Johnson. This normally amounts to Ball throwing it up and letting Johnson go get it, which he normally does. I'm not sure there is a corner in college football who could shut down Johnson and Josh Wilson will certainly have his hands full with this assignment. The best way to keep Johnson from hurting you is to pressure Ball into mistakes. Ball has limited his mistakes so far this season but has a history of poor decisions and has never been a great passer.

If Maryland can force Ball to try to beat them with his arm then the Terps have a great shot at an upset. If Chan Gailey takes Johnson out of the game himself like he did against Notre Dame earlier in the season, all the better. Still this is a tough test for a Maryland squad that has yet to prove it can compete on the road. I think the Terps will drop to 3-2 in a low scoring, but not close game. Say 21-6 Georgia Tech.