Sunday, December 30, 2007

Oregon State 21 Maryland 14

It was a familiar story for the football team in the loss to Oregon State in the Emerald bowl. The offense stagnated in the second half and the defense crumbled during the waining moments of the game to result in another losing season for the Terps. It is the third losing season in four years for Maryland. The game was a sloppy and poorly played contest by both teams as they combined for five turnovers and 14 penalties in the cold and wet Bay area weather. Oregon State was much like some of Friedgen's early Maryland teams with a powerful running game and stingy defense.

The loss to the Beavers had many of the same elements as games against Wake Forest, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State and Georgia Tech. Three of those were losses with the Terps escaping as a last second field goal by the Yellow Jackets fell short. In each game the offense sputtered in the second half and the shaky defense was ground down by the opponents running game. Some might look at those games and play the "what if" scenario but I think this team was what its record showed.

Chris Turner was solid, if unspectacular. He only had 205 yards passing in the game and only 49 yards in the second half. One of the interceptions was not his fault as the receiver should have caught the ball but knocked it in the air instead. Turner seemed unable to make the plays in the second half when Maryland needed them. Not that his receivers did him any favors. As a group they dropped too many passes and couldn't beat their man one-on-one in press coverage. Emani Lee-Odai probably should not be on the field in critical situations but with injuries to Danny Oquendo and LaQuan Williams he was pressed into service. He had to critical mistakes a pass he should have caught bounced off his hands and was intercepted and he failed to run a route on a critical third down pass the markers. It really isn't his fault, he shouldn't be put in those positions given he isn't a really even a fourth receiver on a good team.

Darrius Heyward-Bey had an good game with 99 yards and a touchdown but only caught three passes. He rarely saw the ball in the second half. Isaiah Williams is probably one of the most frustrating players on the team. He has the talent to be a very good receiver but lacks focus and maturity. He had several drops that killed Maryland's possessions. Joey Haynos and Jason Goode combined for six receptions but were not much of a factor after the first quarter.

Maryland was obviously one dimensional for most of the game. Turner has little scrambling ability and the running back tandem of Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore mustered nothing against the stout Oregon State front seven. The Beavers were disciplined in pursuit and got off their blocks well to plug holes. Neither Ball or Lattimore have the talent to break big gains on their own against a solid defense and the line didn't really open big holes for them. It was an ignominious end for the seniors as they combined for 21 yards on 17 carries. Lattimore also fumbled but got a reprieve with an Oregon State penalty that negated the turnover. Da'Rel Scott who has shown the speed and elusiveness to break a play when the blocking isn't great only got one carry all game. Without a running threat the Beavers could play the run with only the front seven and give safety help to the receivers.

The line ended the season on a low note. They couldn't open any holes in the running game and Turner was under regular pressure in spite of only 29 passing attempts. The unit needs a major upgrade next season.

The defense played well for about three quarters and took advantage of a slew of Oregon State turnovers including an inexplicable interception in the end zone by quarterback Sean Canfield. The pass rush, which was almost nonexistent for much of the season, recorded five sacks and knocked the Beavers' QB from the game a couple of times. As in many other losses the opponent made some halftime adjustments and Chris Cosh was unable to counter them. Oregon State clearly game out determined to pound the ball at Maryland's front seven. In the last two quarters they called 28 rushing plays and only 8 passes while holding the ball for 18 minutes to Maryland's 11. The tandem of running back Yvenson Bernard and freshman wideout James Rodgers rolled up 292 yards rushing against Maryland. Rodgers repeated big gains off of hand offs was especially galling. He had gains of 35, 18, 11, 10 and 9 yards in the second half. Maryland seemed caught off guard by his running even though Rodgers was the second leading runner on the team and had 50 carries.

The Beavers offense is pretty simple and they are not going to blow you away with big plays in the passing game as their quarterbacks are mediocre at best. Overall the defense played well but gave up big plays at all the wrong moments. Even if the offense had mustered a touchdown Oregon State was driving to end the game and could have easily scored.

The defensive line did get 3 sacks which is an explosion for this group. Trey Covington much have just returned from his hiatus as he got his first and only sacks of the year in the game. Jeremy Navarre added one as well. Much of that is due to the poor quarterbacking of the Beavers. Dre Moore and Carlos Feliciano were mostly handled by the OSU offensive line.

The linebackers were fighting off blockers all night long but Erin Henderson still managed 11 tackles in what could be his last game at Maryland. Adrian Moten showed more of his pass rush ability with two more sacks but he is more of a specialist right now. Dave Philistin forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by the Beavers but didn't have much other impact. Moise Fokou intercepted an errant pass in the end zone, forced a fumble and had two tackles for a loss.

JJ Justice had a fine finale to his career with 13 tackles but it is normally a bad sign when a safety is your leading tackler. The secondary wasn't tested much as Oregon State only amassed 108 passing yards. Christian Varner wasn't much help in run support and the corners main duty was to support the porous front seven.

Special teams had two mistakes that helped cost Maryland the game. Obi Egekeze missed a 32 yard chip shot late in the game and then the Beavers returned a 33 yard punt to the Maryland 36 resulting in the go ahead touchdown. Punting with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter was clearly the right call but Maryland never got the ball back.

The offensive play calling was somewhat shaky again and I am glad that Friedgen will be hanging up the play calling duties for James Franklin next season. Franklin proved himself as a recruiter before leaving for the NFL and then Kansas State. Hopefully he'll bring some more innovation to an offense that has stagnated the last few years. There was some grumbling in the locker room after the game about the playcalling by senior Keon Lattimore and junior Isaiah Williams.

It was a depressing end to a season that began with high hopes by some fans (myself excluded) and ended with the incongruous losing season despite a bowl appearance. Friedgen himself acknowledged that there need to be some changes and harder work if Maryland is going to become a contender in a weak ACC. With Miami and Florida State mired in mediocrity it would be a great opportunity for a team like Maryland to sneak into an ACC title. The formula that Fridge used his first three years has been absent the last four seasons. He must be feeling some heat as his rumored dalliance with UCLA may indicate but he needs to commit himself to returning his teams to the hard working blue collar roots that he had when he first got to Maryland.

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