Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Magical Ride Continues

I wasn't sure how Miami would respond to the death of senior DT Bryan Pata earlier in the week. They could use it as a point to rally upon and unleash their anger at Maryland or it could have deflated them and resulted in an effort that they clearly didn't have their hearts committed. In the end, oddly enough, both scenarios occurred. I had thought that whatever happened in the first 10 minutes of the game would decide the winner. A big play for either side would be the spark to ignite a blow out. As it turned out Maryland got two big plays, including the longest pass play in Maryland history, to start the game but the blowout failed to materialize as Miami fought hard for the rest of the game. Miami's offense seemed to move the ball at will until they got down into Maryland territory when the Terps shaky defense would suddenly stiffen. Four times Miami got within Maryland territory and came away with no points, including two drives in the first quarter that were 11 and 12 play monsters but were dry holes for the Hurricanes. During this five game win streak this group has been the model of a bend-but-don't-break defense. They are not a particularly talented group with a few exceptions but they seem to make just enough plays to win.

The offense came out with two amazing bombs down the sideline to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is no longer the best kept secret in the ACC, but could muster almost nothing for the next three quarters. After a 10 play drive to start the second half Maryland went 3 and out four times in a row failing to managed a first down for the final 25 minutes of the game. The running game, which was the backbone of the first half of the season, has disappeared the last three weeks. Maryland hasn't netted over 100 yards on the ground in the last three contests and neither Lance Ball or Keon Lattimore have rushed for over 100 yards since the Virginia game.

Maryland has been carried by the arm of quarterback Sam Hollenbach the last three games. Ralph Friedgen has admitted that his playcalling has been conservative but it has been the clutch play of his quarterback that has allowed the coach to continue collecting victories. In the last three weeks Hollenbach has thrown for 580 yards and 6 touchdowns with only one interception. His 6 touchdown passes are the entire touchdown output for the offense. Maryland doesn't have a rushing touchdown since the North Carolina State game.

Maryland was out gained by their opponent again yet still managed to win the game. All of the victories during the current win streak have been close games decided in the final minutes but it is still absolutely amazing the way Miami dominated in almost all aspects of this game and still lost. This was the seventh win out of eight that Maryland was out gained on offense by their opponent. As I have written the last few weeks that kind of trend defies all logic or probability. As Ralph Friedgen said, "It's miraculous."

Terrapin guard Donnie Woods had a head injury which required him to carted off the field on a stretcher and then flown to Maryland shock trauma. It was a scary scene but Maryland officials indicated that Woods was released from the Hospital early Sunday morning and that all the test were negative for permanent injury. Woods will be evaluated by the team medical staff but is unlikely to play this Saturday.

Grades
Quarterback: A-
Hollenbach's connection on two deep touchdowns to Darrius Heyward-Bey were the difference in the game. He has improved the touch on his long passes dramatically. He forced a few passes in the second half but didn't make a critical mistake and managed the game just well enough to win.

Runningbacks: C
Lance Ball ran with limited effectiveness against a tough run defense. Keon Lattimore was largely ineffective with only 12 yards on the ground. This group couldn't help Maryland close the game out late in the 4th quarter.

Receivers: A-
Darrius Heyward-Bey had the game of his career. Great things are ahead for this exciting talent but it would be hard to imagine a game in the future where he would have a collection of bigger plays. He blew by some decent Hurricane corners like they were standing still. In the last three games Heyward-Bey has 580 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns. Heyward-Bey has rapidly become Sam Hollenbach's number one option and has gained the confidence that Heyward-Bey will go and get the ball. The rest of the receivers didn't have an effective game.

Offensive Line: C+
The line wasn't able to muster much of a running game but did a good job of pass protecting for Sam Hollenbach. With the talented front of Miami that is no small accomplishment.

Defensive Line: C
This group struggled again rushing the passer and showed a real weakness against mobile quarterbacks. Kirby Freeman exploited Maryland with roll outs and bootlegs to the tune of 51 yards rushing. Miami had good success running between the tackles against the front and piled up 180 yards on the ground. Dre Moore showed some flashes that he might be reliable week to week, which he has been unable to do this season. Trey Covington had a critical interception late in the game to help seal a Maryland win.

Linebackers: B-
Wesley Jefferson and Erin Henderson were tackling machines with 27 combined tackles on the day. Jefferson was active on the blitz as well and seemed more aggressive than in the previous few weeks. Henderson is maturing from game to game and is working on a streak of double digit tackle performances. He also does a good job in coverage and was effective in covering Miami's excellent tight end.

Secondary: B-
Josh Wilson had another phenomenal game with 5 pass breakups including a touchdown saving deflection. He also tipped the pass that was intercepted by Trey Covington to help end a Miami drive late in the game. He was playing the short coverage on the touchdown Hurricane wide out Ryan Moore caught and safety Christian Varner failed to cover deep resulting in the score. He is a 1st team All-ACC caliber player this season. The rest of the secondary was average at best. Marcus Wimbush continues to struggle in coverage and Varner has trouble playing his deep safety responsibilities. Isaiah Gardner should have given up a touchdown that was simply dropped by Ryan Hill. There were opportunities for deep plays against the secondary but Miami wasn't able to exploit them.

Special Teams: B+
Maryland didn't need any heroics by Dan Ennis this week. Adam Podlesh was able to gain field position for Maryland several times late in the game when they were pinned deep in their own territory. He was also able to keep Miami back on their side of the field with four punts dropped inside the 20 yard line. Miami deliberately kicked away from Josh Wilson most of the game.

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