Sunday, September 23, 2007

No Waking up from this nightmare

Last season an improbable comeback against Virginia was the turning point in a season that ended in a thrashing of Purdue in a bowl game. The collapse of this Maryland team against Wake Forest yesterday could have the same bell weather effect for this season. Losses like that can wreck a team's confidence or that can steel their resolve to work harder. We'll have to see which result comes to pass for this group.

There isn't any single thing that resulted in the blown lead. Jordan Steffy was erratic, the offensive and defensive playcalling was shaky, the defense couldn't make a stand when they had to, the offensive line and running backs couldn't get crucial yardage. It was a myriad of problems. I'll need to review the game tape to see the details but a few observations can be made today.

A number of articles about the game mentioned the defense getting worn out in the 4th quarter when the offense sputtered. Even Friedgen himself suggested that the defense was on the field for a long time. Perhaps they did wear down, but there are two points that seem to contradict this theory. First, Wake Forest had the ball for just under five minutes of the 3rd quarter and only half of the 4th quarter. So from halftime the defense got worn out by being on the field for under five minutes before the crucial possessions late in the 4th quarter? Unlikely. In the two possessions that ended the 3rd and went into the 4th quarter (one of which ended with the 100 yard interception return for a touchdown) Maryland's offense held the ball for about six minutes. If the defense got worn out by that then they have some serious conditioning issues. For the game Maryland won the time of possession battle 33 minutes to 26 minutes. I'm not sure where this argument comes from. Certainly the offense should have been able to grind out the clock when Riley Skinner threw the last of three interceptions but that doesn't mean the defenses' implosion was because they were tired.

The second point is based off of a quote by defensive leader Erin Henderson.

Towards the end of the game we started running some basic stuff and they were able to do more things with that. But we did a good job in the first half of mixing it up. They went into halftime and made some good adjustments.
Hmm, is that a commentary on Chris Cosh's playcalling at the end of the game? Seems like it to me. Not that it should surprise anyone because Cosh is regularly outwitted by opposing offensive coordinators. Henderson and Cosh have not always seen eye to eye so we'll have to see if this rift causes more problems. Cosh probably can't afford to bench Henderson like he did last season. To be blunt the coaching staff choked at a critical time in the game.

Jordan Steffy obviously had an off game. I'll reiterate my point made on Friday about Steffy being too afraid of making a mistake. He admitted in the post game interview that on a second down play late in the 4th quarter he was more concerned with not turning the ball over than getting a first down.

I didn't want to throw a dumb pass. I didn't want to take a hit and cause a turnover.

You can't have an ultra conservative offense for 30 minutes of the game and then expect your quarterback to make critical long yardage passes. The coaching staff bears much of the blame for this. On the interception that Steffy threw Maryland had the ball on the three yard line of Wake Forest. They ran once for no gain and then passed twice. Dreadful decisions that practically set Steffy up for failure. Even if Maryland had just kicked a field goal they would have been ahead by four scores and Wake Forest would not have been able to mount its comeback.

Ralph Friedgen doesn't seem to have an idea of what he wants his offense to be and will even go back and forth during the game. If you want a conservative running game then stick with it, if you want to open things up then do that from the beginning, but don't try to do both. It won't work. Pick a philosophy and stick with it. You can't ask your QB to make plays late in the game and in overtime that he hasn't been asked to make all game long.

Wake Forest is a good team. They've had close losses to Nebraska and Boston College, both top 25 caliber teams. Maryland's lead was built on the miscues by Wake Forest and when they stopped shooting themselves in the foot Maryland's defense suddenly looked very ordinary. Wake turned the ball over four times and still won, to me that shows they were the better team. The Terps on the other hand are not as talented as most fans think they are and that will become more obvious now that the schedule is devoid of cupcakes.

This was only the first league game so all is not lost. Maryland needs to play well at home to have any chance of getting back to a bowl game. If they can hold serve against Virginia, Georgia Tech then they will be in decent shape to eek out the 6-6 record I predicted. That is no easy feat but they then need to steal a couple of wins on the road if they can't upset Clemson or Boston College. The game against Rutgers will show what kind of character this team has, win or lose.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever, in football, heard of a running back platoon like Fridge has? He has two good RBs, and he refuses to switch off between the two in the middle of a series. You'd think he'd want to keep the fresh one coming in, to wear down the defense, but he doesn't. It makes no sense.

Esquire said...

I'm not fond of the platoon concept to begin with. Switching out backs by series just prevents either of them from getting into any sort of rhythm. This kind of system is something Ralph seems to like, unfortunately. He's done this most of the last 4 years. Just look back to last year with Ball and Lattimore. The year before it was those two and Mario Merrils, the year before that Josh Allen and Sam Maldonado, the year before that Josh Allen and Bruce Perry. Fridge does this all the time. Is it just coincidence that the running game has been mediocre ever since he started this rotation scheme?