Monday, October 08, 2007

Victory at a high price

As a fellow Terps fan wrote in an email to me it was a "bizarre" game against Georgia Tech on Saturday. It made me think back to another game that Maryland played against the Yellow Jackets back in 1992. I thought about that game because I remember it very well as I was a Maryland student watching from the stands. The final score of that game was also 28-26 except the Yellow Jackets won that contest. The Terps went on to go 3-8 in the first year of the Mark Duffner era. Those Duffner teams didn't win very often but they were exciting as they ran the run-and-shoot offense that went up and down the field. The only problem was the other team's offense went up and down the field too against some of the worst Maryland defenses in history.

The offense under quarterback Chris Turner was reminiscent of those Duffner days with big plays in the passing game that Maryland hasn't seen this season. In this game the run to pass yards ratio was turned on its head for the first time all season. Turner threw for 255 yards even though he only passed the ball 17 times. The run to pass play calling was still heavy on the run end but without the big plays by Darrius Heyward-Bey and H-back Jason Goode Maryland probably doesn't win that game. The running game was fairly good as Lance Ball finally took over for an ineffective Keon Lattimore and ran for three touchdowns and 86 yards. In his normal fashion Lattimore had 4 carries that lost yardage out of 13 total. Once Ball replaced him in the second half the running game improved. Lattimore seems to be wearing down already and I would not be surprised to see Ball get more carries as the season goes on.

Turner only had one bad mistake and that was when he tried to scramble before the half and fumbled the ball. It was scooped up by Georgia Tech and ran in for a touchdown. A 21-3 lead suddenly went to 21-10 before halftime. As was the case against Wake Forest and Rutgers the opposing team started moving the ball up and down the field against Maryland's defense. (By the way did you notice that Rutgers has now dropped out of the rankings only two weeks after getting beat by Maryland. So much for that "top ten" victory.) Taylor Bennett gathered himself and started picking apart the Maryland secondary, completing 13 of 16 passes in the last two quarters. It probably wasn't all that hard given that he wasn't sacked once in 34 pass attempts. The total lack of a pass rush is going to hurt Maryland in the coming games. I shudder to think what Boston College's Matt Ryan would do to this secondary.

Bennett wasn't alone as Tashard Choice finished with 135 yards rushing for the day. When the quarterback was struggling Choice started taking direct snaps. You may wonder how the Yellow Jackets had a 300 yard passer and a 135 yard rusher and still lost. The short answer was they almost won. Had it not been for a crucial holding penalty on the last drive that moved them back from the 25 yard line of Maryland to the 35 yard line and a 50+ yard field goal attempt they probably would have won the game on a last second field goal.

Consider that GT outgained the Terps in all offensive catagories: rushing yards, passing yards, and total yards. The last catagory by almost 150 yards. They won the time of possession battle 37 to 22 minutes. Georgia Tech converted 53% of its third downs and didn't surrender a single sack. Yet they still lost. Perhaps the play that decided this game wasn't Travis Bell missing a 52 yard field goal. Maybe it was the 2nd quarter fumble by Tashard Choice on the Maryland 28 yard line, which resulted in a Maryland score after two big passing plays. In all the usual measures except turnovers it was a game that Maryland should not have won.

Turner's pocket presence is certainly the best on the team and he has a way of getting the ball to Maryland's playmakers. Darrius Heyward-Bey has 170 yards on 9 catches the last two weeks as a result. Even Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams have been more effective with Turner at quarterback. It is exactly what Ralph Friedgen needs for a more balanced offense. With Jordan Steffy still out after his concussion I think the starting job is now firmly in the hands of Turner. He did struggle a little more after halftime (5/9, 59 yards, 2 sacks) when Jon Tenuta made some adjustments. Opponents will study the 2nd half film of this game to blitz Turner more and play underneath zone coverage.

The cost of this win was high. Guard Andrew Crummey is probably lost for the year with a broken leg. Phil Costa replaced him and did a decent job. Phil's brother Rick was replacing the injured Erin Henderson at linebacker and was himself injured. He strained his neck in a scary looking collision with teammate Carlos Feliciano. He was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center but was later released. Costa will likely miss at least two weeks if not more. Backup defensive tackle Travis Ivey has a knee injury of unknown severity. The second and last bye week comes at a good time as Maryland needs to get some players healthy, most notably Henderson. Dave Philistin was named ACC defensive lineman of the week for his 21 tackle performance. Many of those tackles were in pursuit not near the line of scrimmage, however.

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