Monday, October 22, 2007

Homecoming Heartbreak

We've seen this movie before. The Terps get out to a comfortable lead, the offensive playcalling gets timid, the opponent gains momentum and the defense ends up falling apart at a critical moment. It happened again on Saturday against Virginia, who may not be a great team but knows how to win in close games. The Terps still don't. It seems Maryland blew all of its luck last season when they were winning almost every close game they played. The law of averages seems to have caught up with Ralph Friedgen's team.

I'm not sure when Fridge will finally accept that this group is not a power running team. Clinging to a 14-10 lead Maryland still went with a 60/40 run to pass ratio. It wasn't as if Maryland was having great success running the ball anyway as they finished the game with 148 yards on 36 carries for a 4.1 yard average (I excluded sack yards). That isn't an impressive average in the college game and certainly nothing that you can ride to victory. Neither Keon Lattimore or Lance Ball, who had killed Virginia in past games, were very effective in the second half. The two combined for 34 yards on 12 carries for a 2.8 yard average after halftime, yet Maryland doggedly stuck with run heavy playcalling. In fairness to Friedgen Maryland's pass protection had to scare the daylights out of him and with the loss of guard Jamie Thomas (broken leg) the line really has become patchwork.

Still, why not try some short or intermediate routes? Screens or delays to the running backs may have been effective and there should have been more quick hitting plays up the middle. Make the Virginia pass rush back off by pulling some screens or reverses. The offense simply had no imagination nor did it take any chances. On the first two scoring drives Maryland had great field position but in the second half the average field position was Maryland's own 14 yard line. Right now this offense doesn't have the ability to drive 80 yards for a touchdown, they lack the consistency to string out a long drive like that.

You could sense that the tide was turning before Virginia scored a touchdown in the 2nd quarter to pull within 4 points at the half. Once Chris Long sacked Turner in the end zone for a safety you had to think Virginia was going to march down the field and score. The coaching staff didn't act like they appreciated the precarious situation at that point in the game. The attitude seemed to be that they had the lead and were interested in just draining the clock out. Not that they accomplished that either.

The defense regressed badly in this game. They nearly gave up a game winning field goal the game before against Georgia Tech, and save for a holding penalty the Yellow Jackets probably win that game. This isn't a good defense. The scheme is predictable and not suited for the personnel that Maryland has at the moment. It is a reactive instead of aggressive defense. With undersized and mobile players you should want to get up the field and attack the offense. Virginia didn't do anything special in this game. They ran the same running play between the tackles probably a half dozen times, including the game winning drive. Maryland's defense had no answer and more to the point the staff didn't make any adjustments. Erin Henderson had 18 tackles but you could clearly see he was not healthy and his effectiveness was limited. Senior Dre Moore did play well with 2 sacks and 10 tackles but the rest of his line mates are not much better than average.

It wasn't just the last drive either. Virginia ended 8 out of 11 drives in Maryland territory. If Virginia's kicker had not missed a 32 yard chip shot they would have scored on three of their first six drives. I don't think Maryland got screwed by the officials on the final drive. If the calls had gone their way it would have been more accurate to say that Maryland got bailed out by those calls. Bad teams find a way to lose these kinds of games and, as in the Wake Forest game, Maryland found a way to lose.

Virginia really was the only power running team on the field. They ground out Maryland's smaller defensive line to the tune of almost six yards a carry when you remove the sack yardage. They nearly totaled 200 yards on the ground but also totaled 248 yards passing for a very balanced attack. It seems like Jameel Sewell should be better than he is when you consider his physical tools but he plays just well enough to win. Al Groh was confident enough to put the game in Sewell's hands and had him throw the ball 35 times even though the run game was working. To be blunt Groh had the courage to take some chances and Friedgen didn't. It has usually been the other way around when these two have coached against each other. Neither Sewell nor Turner had any interceptions or fumbles but a major difference was that Virginia trusted Sewell enough to put the game in his hands.

Running back Mikell Simpson was a revelation. He posted a complete game of 271 total yards and had over a hundred rushing and receiving. Maryland's offense had less total yards as a team. He sliced and diced Maryland's defense while Chris Cosh couldn't figure out a scheme that could stop him. It isn't even as if Virginia has a dynamic receiver corps to balance out their attack. Maryland may have a two headed running attack but neither back has that kind of flexibility or big play potential Simpson showed.

Chris Cosh should be on the hot seat right now. The defense must improve significantly if Maryland is going to qualify for a bowl game. He continues to get out coached by opposing offensive coordinators and doesn't make effective adjustments during the game. Not that the offense is off the hook. Ralph needs to give up the coordinator duties this off season and get a coach calling plays that he trusts. He is reminding me more and more of a timid Joe Gibbs in this role as head coach and coordinator. Even offensive coaches like Brian Billick, Mike Martz and Mike Holmgren struggled when they were wearing two hats.

It was most disappointing that Maryland was coming off a bye week while Virginia had squeaked out a last second victory against Connecticut the week before. It was a tailor made scenario for a big Maryland win yet the team came out flat. Does this Terrapin squad have the commitment level required to win? Do they have the fire in their bellies? It remains to be seen.

Injury Report
Guard Jamie Thomas is probably lost for the season with a broken leg. It was very similar to Andrew Crummey's injury a few weeks ago. This places the offensive line play past the critical point. Phil Costa and Jack Griffin filled in at the guard positions. I'm sure some readers are sick of my harping on this point but the lack of any depth at offensive line continues to hamper this team. It doesn't matter how many good skill position players you have if your line can't open holes or protect the quarterback.

Fullback Cory Jackson broke his hand. It is unknown how much time he will miss.


GoTerps said...

I don't agree with your assessment of the defense. I think Maryland's defense plays very well when they have a proportionate amount of time on the field. Virginia was spreading out the field in the second half, they were running an offense that was taking advantage of the defense's fatigue.
If anyone is not making adjustments, it is the offense. We need an Offensive coordinator. Solve the second half flame out on offense and that will give the defense a chance.

Esquire said...

I don't disagree the offense shares the blame for this loss. I would just say that the defense has been handed double digit leads 3 times this season and has blown it twice (Wake 24-3 and Virginia 14-3) and nearly blown it another time (GT 21-3). They are ranked at the bottom of the ACC in almost every catagory, even below the offense. The 2004 defense never had these kinds of failures even though the offense that season was way, way worse than what Maryland has now. That was a great defense that was screwed by a terrible offense. This defense is mediocre at best.