Monday, October 27, 2008

A look back at 2007

The first part of my preview of the upcoming season is a brief look back to 2007 in the ACC. Below you can see the number of expected wins based on the offensive and defensive efficiency ratings for each team in its ACC games, meaning the number of games you would have predicted a team to win based on its efficiency. The number of actual wins is adjacent to the number of expected wins giving you some idea of which teams performed better or worse than you would have expected. The efficiency margin is merely the difference between a team's offensive and defensive ratings in ACC games. The better the number the more dominant a team was and it also gives some further insight into how much luck a team had during the season. 

2007-8 SeasonExpected Wins(actual wins)Efficiency Margin
Virginia Tech8.5(9)+0.81
Georgia Tech7.4(7)-0.96
Wake Forest5.7(7)-3.7
Florida State4.8(7)-5.3
Boston College4.1(4)-7.03
NC State1.7(4)-13.8

As you can see the expected wins and efficiency margin correspond fairly closely to the order of finish with a few notable exceptions. N.C. State, Florida State, Wake Forest and Miami were top four overachievers in ACC play while Duke, Clemson and North Carolina were the top three underachievers. Interesting to note that as bad as N.C. State was in 2007 they did much better than you would have expected, which should make any Wolfpack fan who thinks they will be much better this year doubts. They were far and away the worst team in efficiency margin and easily deserved the title of worst team in the ACC. Florida State did much better than expected with a senior laden backcourt and is probably more likely to fall dramatically this season even with some talented freshmen. 

Looking at those numbers you might think Wake Forest and Miami are slightly overrated this season. I think that is true in the case of the Hurricanes but if you remove a early season blowout to a horrible Boston College squad Wake Forest's expected wins shoot up to 7.7 and their efficiency margin climbs to -0.44 putting them solidly in 5th place behind a slightly overrated Virginia Tech squad. The Hokies probably overachieved a bit last season and everyone should be leery of putting too much emphasis on their late season surge, which was hardly all that impressive when you consider their best win was against Miami. The 2006 Wolfpack squad was far more talented than this Virginia Tech group yet fell flat on its face the following year when it lost Engin Atsur. Deron Washington was probably equally if not more important to the Hokies last season. For each close loss to North Carolina or Clemson they had two overtime victories against Virginia and two games that the Terrapins let slip away in the waining moments. They certainly got better as the season went along, after losses to ODU, Richmond and Penn State but the numbers show they were really much closer to the middle of the pack than the top tier of Clemson, UNC and Duke.

Of that elite trio Clemson is probably the team that should have done better than it did in the standings. The Tigers let the Tarheels (two overtime losses) and Blue Devils (ACC Tournament Semifinals) win games that Clemson probably outplayed them in but that inconsistency was shown again in the NCAA Tournament loss to Villanova. None of the upperclassmen for Clemson had played in those kinds of meaningful game before so it is understandable. Coach Oliver Purnell is building a great program at Clemson and he will make things tough for other ACC squads not named Duke or North Carolina until he gets lured away by a basketball school. It is amazing how much better Duke and North Carolina were than the rest of the league. I don't expect that to change this year and the gap may widen further.

Maryland did about what you'd expect them to do given the numbers. The Terps gave a better challenge to UNC, Duke and Clemson in four games than any other team in the league and by a wide margin. Take away the psychological let down in the regular season finale against Virginia after a crushing and bitter loss to Clemson and the expected wins were 8.0 and the efficiency margin was +0.03. Standing at 7-4 in the ACC it is hard to believe Maryland collapsed to an 8-8 record. Going 4-4 at home certainly didn't help and made worse by the fact that two losses were to Boston College and Virginia Tech who had a combined 2-12 road record anywhere else but Comcast Center last season. Perhaps all the minutes the starters were forced to play came back to haunt them at the end of the season but that doesn't really explain losing back to back games against Virginia and Boston College, two dreadful teams, to end the ACC season. At least the 2008 Terps won't have such a steep drop off from starters to bench as they did last year.

Basketball scrimmage a mixed bag

The annual opening scrimmage was a fairly uneven affair. It started with the paltry couple hundred fans who could tear themselves away from tailgating, even more odd given that the weather was so abysmal, to wild lead swings throughout the game. It is clear that this team needs some time to find the right rhythm and personnel combinations because it is a little disjointed at the moment.

The two teams were broken up like so:

Red: Eric Hayes, Sean Mosley, Cliff Tucker, Dino Gregory, Dave Neal, Steve Goins

Black: Greivis Vasquez, Adrian Bowie, Landon Milbourne, Jerome Burney, Braxton Durpee, Dave Pearman

On first blush you would assume that the Black squad are the starting group and I think that is probably mostly true. Bowie and Hayes will probably split more time at point guard regardless of who is the gets the start. Gary Williams didn't switch up the teams like he normally does but it would have been interesting to see Bowie play with Mosley and Tucker.

The Black squad went out to an early lead until Williams had both teams playing zone defense. Eric Hayes got open on some defensive breakdowns and scored the majority of his points on those three point shots. That spurt changed the tenor of the scrimmage and the Red team began taking it to the Black group from then out. The Black team struggled with its defense all game and was mostly ineffective when trapping. Tucker and Mosley were very good at getting out in transition after a missed basket and the Black squad did a terrible job of stopping them. That partially explains Tucker's game high 26 points. I was very disappointed in Adrian Bowie. He lacked the intensity he is going to require this year.  He should have easily shut down Eric Hayes but allowed him to dribble into the lane too often and didn't pressure the ball nearly enough. Milbourne and Vasquez are never going to be excellent defenders but they were not worth singling out. At the back end of the press Maryland is going to miss Bambale Osby tremendously. Osby bailed out his teammates on numerous occasions by blocking a shot or stopping a fast break. Braxton Dupree has little ability to do either and isn't much of a defensive presence at the moment.

Both teams shot the ball well from beyond the arc and that is a very positive sign. Bowie and Tucker were both consistently hitting from outside and Milbourne and Hayes, the best and second best outside shooters from last year, drained their usual amount. Overall the outside shooting should be better than last year, especially if Vasquez doesn't take too many.

Vasquez played off the ball for most of the scrimmage but did run the point a time or two. I felt he was really struggling and was visibly frustrated with himself at times. Adjusting to a different role on this year's squad might be difficult for him early on. I have little doubt he is still the best player on the team and will be an All-ACC fixture again but this team needs him to do more without the ball than he did last year. Some players find that difficult, especially when they may not have total confidence in their teammates. This year his teammates should be able to give him more help in backcourt than he could count on last season.

Braxton Dupree and Jerome Burney have a long way to go. It was disappointing that against Dino Gregory and Dave Neal, two borderline ACC players, that Dupree didn't dominate. He is still way too passive at times on both ends of the floor. Burney will be a significant defensive and rebounding presence but has yet to show signs he'll offer much else. Dupree has slimmed down considerably but he needs to get more productive on the offensive end and finish around the basket. If he develops a mean streak he could be a great player, if not you are looking at Travis Garrison part two. To be fair to both Dupree and Burney the offense was very guard dominated so it isn't as if they had a plethora of opportunities. Milbourne and Vasquez settled for too many jumpers at times. All the young frontcourt players need to do a much better job at setting screens in the flex offense.

Sean Mosley played a very efficient game and finished with 12 points on 4/9 shooting. He showcased his strength and versatility with an ability to score from outside the 3-point line to the rim. He was also in very good shape for a high school player and stayed on the floor all 40 minutes of the scrimmage. If there was any fault in his game I think it was that he tried to defer to his teammates maybe a little too much. It was easy to see that Mosley and Gary Williams have an excellent rapport, especially since Mosley is a freshman. Maryland fans will see Mosley in big doses this season.

The other freshman Steve Goins came off the bench for the Red squad and showed some promise. Goins has a lot to learn about playing in the post but he was some good skills and a decent shooting touch. He has a body that is ready for the rough and tumble of the college game but the question is more about his conditioning and intensity. If he was the will to get better and learn from assistants like Keith Booth then Goins can be a contributor this season. It doesn't hurt that he only has players like Neal and Gregory ahead of him. If he gets buried on the bench it probably isn't a good sign for the Terps.

The conditioning of this squad will certainly be better as strength coach Paul Ricci is the real deal and endurance will be a big emphasis this season. Those in attendance got to see Ricci work with the players and I came away very impressed with his intensity and professionalism.

There is a danger to reading too much into this scrimmage. Tucker is better but probably not as much as his 26 points would indicate and by the time the season starts Vasquez will likely be back to his old self. The officiating of the scrimmage was also a little screwy with more than a half dozen illegal screen calls, three against Dino Gregory himself by my count, so it wasn't as realistic a reflection as it could have been. Gary Williams for his part was as relaxed at a scrimmage as I have seen him in years. If the old bulldog is feeling good, playful enough to try to punt a ball into the basket after the scrimmage with a smile on his face, then that is good enough for me.

The ACC media picked this team to finish seventh, which is probably fair, and it is a good thing that the early season schedule is fairly light on opponents and mostly at home. This group is going to require some time to jell together and get an identity but I think some of the younger players are going to show some great improvement. For now I'll say I'm cautiously optimistic.

Terps run between the rain drops

The conditions were probably the worst Maryland will see all year on Saturday but they managed with the help of some key plays and a little luck to overcome the upset bid by N.C. State. I thought a quarterback like Russell Wilson would give the defense all kinds of problems because he has good mobility and can throw the ball with skill. Wilson isn't just a scrambler and if Tom O'Brien can assemble more talent around him Wilson could be an elite ACC quarterback for the next few years. A scary thought for Maryland fans.

The weather probably determined much of the offensive choices for Maryland and why Chris Turner only went 9/20 for 126 yards. Wilson didn't seem too bothered as he went 18/28 for 187 yards but he didn't have Maryland's running game behind him. Da'Rel Scott returned to his early season form and ground out 163 yards on 23 carried before leaving with a shoulder injury. He has been more tentative since injuring his shoulder earlier in the year but he showed more aggressiveness against the Wolfpack. Unfortunately he may have aggravated that earlier shoulder injury towards the end of the game on a vicious hit by two N.C. State defenders.

Lucky for Maryland Davin Meggett came in to shoulder most of the load on the winning drive with under five minutes left in the game. It is an embarrassment of riches for at tailback right now. Meggett has a great feel for using his blockers and has a excellent blend of power and speed. He isn't flashy but is just productive.

I've been critical of the offensive line all season but this game was perhaps one of their best efforts. Besides the holding penalties, which were too many and at the worst times, the line did a great job. I thought center Edwin Williams had his best game as a Terrapin. He was phenomenal in blocking down field for Scott and Meggett. I also thought the two guards, Costa and Thomas had very good days as well. They mostly dominated the Wolfpack line. The pass blocking was decent if unspectacular. 

It wasn't much of a passing day but TE Dan Gronkowski and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey made critical plays when Maryland needed them to come through. Gronkowski had a touchdown and two first downs in his three catches. I thought Heyward-Bey should have been given a touchdown on his catch in the endzone at the end of the game. He was stymied for most of the day but kept his focus better than in some past games.

The defense lost LB Dave Philistin with a shoulder injury early in the game and Chase Bullock replaced him with mixed results. Bullock isn't as fast as Philistin and he struggled in pass coverage and trying to contain Russell Wilson, though he wasn't alone on the last part. Maryland could really use Adrian Moten at this point if Philistin is out for any length of time. Maryland is off this week so if Philistin's injury isn't significant hopefully he can be recovered for the Virginia Tech game. All of Maryland's linebackers struggled with Wilson's mobility and Friedgen said afterwards they were caught trying to play man coverage and risk Wilson's scrambles or play zone which the linebackers struggled to cover. I'm not sure why Maryland didn't designate a spy on Wilson like Antwine Perez.

For the second week in a row the defensive line did as much as you could ask them. Jeremy Navarre may have made a game saving sack on Wilson late in the fourth quarter, knocking the Pack out of field goal range.

There were some special teams mishaps from Obi Egekeze's horrible miss on a 39 yard field goal that would have given Maryland the lead to the fumble by the normally sure handed Danny Oquendo on a punt return. I have no idea why Maryland did not put on a punt rush with N.C. State backed up on its own 5 yard line but the resulting fumble gave them the ball at the 50 yard line and they turned it into a field goal. Maryland was lucky those miscues didn't cost them the game because everything else was so even from first downs to total yards. The Wolfpack was able to move the ball well against the Maryland defense and did record five drives of 9 plays or more. It allowed them to control the clock and dominate the time of possession 36 minutes to 24 for Maryland.

With Russell Wilson at QB the Pack is probably better than their record and did give Florida State and Boston College trouble but this was a game Maryland had to win. With road dates at Virginia Tech and Boston College bookending two home games against Florida State and North Carolina, all of which have been ranked at times this year, it was imperative for the Terps to get more of a cushion for some of the losses that are likely to come. In Maryland's favor they do get to host FSU, which would have to be the favorite in the Atlantic division right now, but their other games against UNC and VT are probably more challenging than any remaining games for the other contenders. They have a shot at getting to the ACC Championship game but it will be a difficult road.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Guest Blogger: NC State YANCSSB

For a view of where the Wolfpack football team is at the moment I was able to ask a few questions of James at Yet Another N.C. State Sports Blog or YANCSSB for short. He has some great insights on N.C. State which has been an enigma to me even though I've seen them play a few times. Here is a link to my Q&A on his blog. I have heard the Fayette-Nam reference a few times now from a host of different people. Good thing my in-laws don't read this stuff, heyoo!

1. It seems like Russell Wilson is legitimate dual threat QB. Do you
think Tom O'Brien's offense allows him to showcase all his talents?

It's definitely geared to showcase Wilson's skill set. In fact, back in Spring when there was discussion of who would be State's quarterback, behind the scenes O'Brien and Dana Bible were reworking the playbook to install some read-option. Given that our other quarterback options at the time were semi-mobile Daniel Evans, tall-and-lanky dropback-passer Mike Glennon, portly Harrison Beck and the enigmatic-but-now-departed Justin Burke, it was clear that O'Brien and Bible knew that Wilson was going to be their guy. 

The effectiveness of the offense, of course, depends on the blocking skill of the line and the efficacy of the running game. But what makes Wilson so dangerous is his escapability and speed. It's been a while since I've seen a QB as comfortable dodging defenders IN the pocket as Wilson. There's not a lot of wasted movement or flailing about; he moves just enough forward, back or sideways to make the blitzer or lineman miss, and he always does so with his eyes downfield. His ability to lengthen any play forces the defensive secondary to work extra hard to stay with their assignment. What's scary is that, as a redshirt freshman playing in only the first games of his career, he has the potential to get even better. 

2. I've always thought Andre Brown was talented but it seems more like a running back by committee situation with the Wolfpack. If that is correct why do you think that is so?

I think it's a result of last year's injury to Brown, for a couple of reasons. One, he's still trying to regain some of the explosiveness he lost while on the shelf. He hasn't looked as explosive as he did a couple of years ago when he ran for 248 and 179 yards in back to back games. Two, his absence from the lineup last year, along with the injury to Toney Baker, allowed Jamelle Eugene to burst onto the scene and earn a name for himself. So now what do you do? Bench the star from last season (Eugene), or bench the star from two years ago (Brown)? Both are incredibly talented and provide enough of a style change-up from one another (Brown the sizeable powerback, Eugene the speed back with tremendous pass-catching skills) to keep them both in the rotation. The frustrating thing in the Florida State game for a lot of State fans was it seemed Bible went away from Eugene in favor of Brown when Eugene was racking up big chunks of yardage. It's a tough balance to strike, no doubt.

3. On defense it seems that the Pack have all kinds of problems in pass defense but do a decent job of getting interceptions. Who should Chris Turner be wary of in the secondary?

I don't think there's any one individual necessarily to point to. With the addition of defensive coordinator Mike Archer to O'Brien's staff, he's installed a more passive zone defensive scheme that puts a premium on creating turnovers. It's great when it works; it stinks when it doesn't. In the Boston College game, their offensive coordinator Steve Logan did a fantastic job attacking and exploiting the holes in the zone for big yardage. But, State picked up three turnovers as well, giving State the opportunity to tie the game late. So when you get turnovers it can work, but it opens the door for teams that take care of the ball to exploit it. 

4. N.C. State has looked competitive in the last two games only to fade in the second half. What is your explanation?

Well I think the biggest factors are our incredibly thin ranks on the two-deep due to injuries and attrition, and to our inability to get off the field on third down. The Florida State game, in particular, was especially tough. They converted three third downs of yardages of 14 yards or more, and converted a total of 10 third downs in 17 chances. That's way too high a conversion percentage to allow, especially when in the same game you only convert 1 of 9 on third down. Ouch. It's no wonder that the Noles had the ball for nearly 17 more minutes than State, and when your defense--that's already spread thin to begin with--is asked to be on the field that long, it's a recipe for disaster.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Barnes out

Corner Kevin Barnes will likely miss the rest of the season after injuring his shoulder against Wake Forest on Saturday. It is certainly a blow to the defense as Barnes was the defensive MVP this year in my mind. Nolan Carroll and perhaps Jamari McCoullough will fill in for Barnes and both are capable cover corners but are not the dominating player the Barnes was becoming. In the early part of the season teams began to avoid Barnes in coverage and the rest of the secondary was tested, including Carroll. I think Carroll and McCoullough can fill in well for Barnes and none of Maryland's remaining opponents have a formidable passing game. It is a shame that Barnes will end his college career on the sidelines.

Some thoughts about the Wake Forest win.
  • Chris Turner had his finest game of the season and had nearly 200 yards passing by halftime. He hung in the pocket to deliver several throws and got levelled as a result. He did throw up the ball for Heyward-Bey a few times and the junior receiver displayed some great aggressiveness in going for the ball.
  • The maligned offensive line did well. Bruce Campbell is clearly an upgrade at tackle and I thought guard Jamie Thomas and center Edwin Williams played as well as they have all season. The pass blocking was helped by Turner and the run blocking was much better, though not as good as at the beginning of the year, than it had been recently.
  • Dion Armstrong and Travis Ivey provided some nice depth on the defensive line. Jeremy Navarre is playing much better in the last two games and made several nice plays at the line.
  • LB Moise Fokou has a knack for making big plays. His sack of Riley Skinner all but sealed the game for the Terps.
  • WR Danny Oquendo continued to show why he is so valuable to this team with a couple of great catches. Heyward-Bey may be more flashy but Oquendo is a valuable safety valve for Turner.
  • Da'Rel Scott clearly had some problems holding onto the football. It will bear watching in the next few games to see if that becomes an ongoing problem. Davin Meggett did a nice job coming off the bench and seems to be healthy again.
  • You wouldn't know it from the box score but I thought Wake Forest moved the ball fairly well in the first half but had too many critical breakdowns. Penalties, dropped passes (Skinner probably had at least a half dozen passes bounce off receiver's hands), and receivers failing to get their feet in bounds. Once the score got out of hand the Maryland defense was able to shut down the Deacons when they had to pass from behind but I think the defense didn't look as great as the numbers would indicate. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Williams picks Terps

After some nervous days it appears Gary Williams got the news he was hoping for from another Williams, 2009 recruit Jordan Williams gave a verbal commitment to Maryland the other day. Williams is a 6-9 and 245 pound bulldozer in the paint with good rebounding skills. He can certainly score, as evidenced by his 28 points per game to go along with 15 rebounds at Torrington High School in Connecticut.

Williams isn't a "project" but does need to improve in various areas. He dominated a weak high school league much like Mike Jones or Eric Hayes and won't be able to rely on overwhelming his opponents physically in the ACC. He won't be able to camp out in the lane either, as he does in high school, and will have to develop some face up moves. His defensive footwork needs improvement and he could run the floor a little better but he reportedly improved dramatically after adjusting to AAU level basketball this summer. That is reflected in the fact that he is now a 4-star top 100 player according to after the summer circuit. The fact that he improved when faced with better competition is a very good sign.

You can see some videos of Williams below but keep in mind this was prior to his summer bump in the rankings. I wouldn't worry that Williams will be another Will Bowers or Hassan Fofona, he is much better than either of those players. He and James Padgett have the potential to provide a very solid interior duo for Maryland well into the next decade. Both are physical and tough post players which Maryland hasn't had since 2002. He also seems to be a good student and the quality of Maryland's criminal justice program helped sway Williams. There was some negative recruiting going on as other programs were trying to get Jordan Williams to delay his commitment to either Maryland or St. John's but it is a good sign that the staff was able to still land Williams. Jordan Williams is number 20 in the videos.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Maryland blanks Deacons

Maryland was more Jekyll than Hyde yesterday and that helped them record an emphatic 26-0 win over Wake Forest in College Park. Ralph Friedgen had not defeated Jim Grobe since 2005 but this Wake Forest team isn't up to the same level of the last two seasons. Before you get too excited it is worth noting that the Deacons lost to Navy a couple of weeks ago and beat a sinking Clemson team despite only scoring 12 points. They are 103rd in scoring offense and 99th in total offense out 0f 119 team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Kicker Sam Swank, perhaps their best offensive weapon at times this season, missed the game with an injury. The Deacons are a scrappy team this year but don't have the weapons to be truly dangerous. As great a coach as Jim Grobe is, and he is likely the best in the ACC, it is difficult to win without good skill players.

I don't mean to be a rain cloud but with this group I'm not sure this win is a spring board to anything because they have been unable to capitalize on their momentum all season. The three "ranked" teams Maryland has defeated this year: Clemson, California and Wake Forest will probably all be unranked after the new polls are released. This team will face a much more difficult road coming up with games against Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State and Boston College. I could see Maryland going winless against that group but truly can't see them going undefeated. There are still too many holes on defense and the running game, while better at least for one game, is not able to carry the load. It will have to get much better because four of the remaining five opponents are in the top half of the ACC against the run and all are among the top 50 in the nation.

I'll have more on the game later...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dupree less bulk, more production

Some good articles in the papers today about sophomore Braxton Dupree and his off season workouts designed to help him shed about 20 pounds from last season. New strength and conditioning coach Paul Ricci may have played a great role in making sure that Dupree's conditioning doesn't detract from his performance. It was clear that after the Christmas break that Dupree had ballooned to over 280 pounds and had all the stamina of Dom DeLuise at the top of K2. The statistics are clear that something happened around the beginning of January and it wasn't good.

2007-8 SeasonAvg. MinutesPoints/gameRebounds/gameFG%
In 200712.
In 20087.71.11.422.2

Dupree did not play in seven of the team's seventeen ACC games including the last four regular season games and ACC Tournament loss to Boston College so the numbers may be slightly skewed but overall I think they are a fair reflection of how he played. To give you an idea of how bad he was in 2008 in a span of eleven games from January 5th to March 18th Dupree didn't sink a single field goal. Excluding his end of the season run in the NIT he scored a grand total of 5 points after the first of the year, which is even more amazing when you consider he played 84 total minutes during that stretch. It took him just 14 minutes of play against Minnesota to beat that mark when he scored 6 points in the first NIT game.

As bad as Dupree was at times there are some positive signs going into this year. He showed some ability against Illinois when he scored 10 points and grabbed 5 rebounds. At the end of the year he had a small resurgence in the NIT with 10 points and six rebounds in two games coming off the bench. He has a nice touch around the basket and was one of the better offensive rebounders on the team. It seems obvious to me from the photos alone that Dupree has slimmed down considerably from last season and his conditioning should be much better this season. He played well in some of the summer leagues according to reports which should have given him some confidence. That is good because he will be asked to provide starter level minutes in the low post and dramatically increase his rebounds and scoring. I think Dupree will surprise some fans this season with his play. He certainly struggled his freshman year but he was a top 100 player from 2007 and I expect his to make sizable strides this season.

BB&T is on MASN
MASN will broadcast the games of the BB&T this season and you'll get to see the Terps play George Washington on December 7th at 7:30pm. John Feinstein will be doing the color commentary. The Colonials always seem to play one of their best games of the season when they get to face Maryland but some of the luster of Karl Hobbs' program was lost with the 9-17 disaster they had last season.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Basketball Media Day

The media day for Maryland basketball was this afternoon at Comcast Center. Gary Williams is entering his 20th season as the head basketball coach for the Terrapins and he seems as enthusiastic as ever. Some of the highlights:

  • There will be a reality show, a la Terrapins Rising, for the basketball team this season. Viewers will get an inside look at practices and what goes into making a successful basketball squad. I hope fans will be able to see the excellent teaching ability of Gary Williams.
  • The team may open some practices to the media this year.
  • There is a new strength and conditioning coach
  • Team captains were elected and the trio is Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne and Dave Neal
  • The team is switching to uniforms by Under Armor
I think Gary Williams is very excited about some of the schemes he can use with the personnel he has this season. Sean Mosley should get extensive playing time and may even emerge as a starter. My gut feeling is that this team will be better than media "experts" expect.

Football News
Bruce Campbell will take over left tackle duties from Scott Burley who will slide to right tackle and move Dane Randolph to the bench. It may not make a huge difference but I think Campbell is a more athletic player than either Burley or Randolph.

Monday, October 13, 2008

2009 Terps Calendar

Our friends at Asgard Press have done it again. They have released a 2009 calendar using all new authentic program covers from Maryland football's past games. You can see a number of examples below. I have one of these myself and from the soy based inks to the 100% recycled paper these are the highest quality printed products you'll find anywhere. They have a collection of calendars from other ACC teams like Virginia, North Carolina, N.C. State and Clemson along with local favorite Navy. Readers of Turtle Waxing also get a discount if you follow this link. With the holidays approaching it is a great gift for the other sports fans you know or even as a treat for yourself. They also sell vintage notecard sets for all your snail mail correspondence with the same great vintage covers. Wouldn't it be fun to send a note to your friend who is a North Carolina fan to remind him that Maryland has won the last two games against his favorite basketball team?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Maryland in final two for 2009 bigman

According to Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog 2009 recruit Jordan Williams is down to Maryland or St. John's. The 6-10 high school senior is a 4-star center and is rated as the 16th best at the position in the nation. Williams would be a great complement to James Padgett in the low post and there should be plenty of playing time available for the two next season with Jerome Burney, Braxton Dupree, Steve Goins, and Dino Gregory as returning post players. Williams will likely make a selection soon and I expect him to pick the Terps. The staff deserve some credit for salvaging the 2009 recruiting class when things looked terrible in the early summer. The Terps are also in good position with some elite 2010 recruits.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Who is manning the trenches?

After losses like this there are always questions regarding the effectiveness of the coaching staff and various failures on the field or in recruiting battles. It is too early to make a determination regarding offensive coordinator James Franklin, though I think he is already doing a better job than Friedgen did the last two years, but I think the jury has been in regarding defensive coordinator Chris Cosh since last year. I won't belabor that point today.

Some have decided to focus on the failure to land players like Derrick Williams, Arrelious Benn, Steve Slaton and so on. The idea being that getting those offensive threats would translate into more wins. Williams has been largely a flop at Penn State and while Benn is doing well at Illinois he is hardly better than Darrius Heyward-Bey. The larger problem with Maryland's recruiting has been in the less glamorous areas of the offensive and defensive lines. I think evaluating what high school player will be able to develop into a great lineman in college is probably one of the more difficult recruiting evaluations. They probably require the most development of any position in college football because so much depends on acquired technique and a serious weight lifting program but any great program needs a stable of young linemen, especially on offense. Some will develop, some will not, and there are always injuries to account for but getting extra linemen in recruiting is like insurance for when things don't go as you planned.

In the early years of the Ralph Friedgen era there was no shortage of quality offensive line players coming out of Maryland. From 2001-2003 Maryland had seven All-ACC selections on the offensive line with players like Todd Wike, Melvin Fowler, Matt Crawford and Lamar Bryant leading the way. The Terps also had two honorable mention offensive line players during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, C.J. Brooks and Kyle Schmitt. In 2002 Maryland had four of its five offensive line players get either 1st, 2nd or honorable mention All-ACC. The last four seasons combined have produced less selections for Maryland.

From 2004-2007 Maryland has had three All-ACC selections on the offensive line by Andrew Crummey (2006 & 2007; both 2nd team selections) and C.J. Brooks (2004). Crummey's 2007 selection was probably undeserved as Crummey missed five out of Maryland's eight ACC games due to injury. Crummey was a fine player but he wasn't good enough to make the more mediocre players around him better. Crummey and Brooks both were pre-season All-ACC selections and those players usually get the benefit of the doubt from the media voters even if they have unspectacular seasons.

You can recruit all the dazzling skill position players you like, and the staff has certainly done that, but without a solid group in the trenches it will likely go for naught. There is little mystery why teams like USC, Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma have been so successful in college football. Since 2000 those teams have the most offensive linemen selected in the first five rounds of the NFL draft. 

It seems after getting blown out by Florida and Florida State regularly Ralph Friedgen decided to focus on getting great skill position players at wide receiver and running back with decent results. Maryland has a greatly talented receiver corps, one James Franklin said had NFL caliber speed, but the foundation on which Fridge built his early success has crumbled. The program has failed to recruit or develop top level college linemen since the glory days of Friedgen's tenure. 

Since 2005 Maryland has landed only two offensive linemen who were ranked in the top 25 at their position according to, Jared Gaither and Bruce Campbell. Campbell may turn out to be a decent tackle and he held his own last season as a true freshman when injuries forced him into the lineup. Gaither flunked out of Maryland after having to go to prep school to qualify in the first place. The only linemen from the 2005 recruiting class still on the roster is guard Phil Costa, who is also the only starter recruited since 2005. In 2006 there were only two offensive linemen recruited, Bruce Campbell and Evan Eastburn. Campbell had to attend prep school so he didn't arrive until 2007 and Eastburn is no longer on the team. The net result is that two back to back recruiting classes ended up being a dry hole for the offensive line. During those same two classes the staff recruited 13 running backs or wide receivers, though some have been converted to other positions. In 2007 the staff tried to rectify that error with seven offensive linemen in addition to Campbell but none of those players besides Campbell has been ready to contribute and most of them are two or three year projects at best. The 2005 and 2006 classes should be providing experienced depth on the offensive line but instead have only accounted for one player in the two deep at any position along the line. Next year when the 5th year seniors are gone from their starting spots there will be some vacancies for the young crop of linemen but the early returns are not promising outside of Campbell. 

It isn't a much different story on the defensive line either. From 2001-2003 Maryland had players like Charles Hill, Durrand Roundtree, Randy Starks, Kevin Eli and C.J. Feldheim. Since that time the only defensive lineman who could match that level of talent was perhaps Dre Moore. Shawne Merriman played the hybrid LEO position and it is worth noting that the players who have inherited that position haven't exactly been a help to the defensive line. The staff has tried to recruit some defensive linemen but has had a series of recruiting SNAFU's from the X-Box scandal with Victor Abiamiri to the prison sentence for Melvin Aleaze. Throw in the recruiting losses (Derrick Harvey, Marvin Austin) and the flops or flunkouts (Brian Whitmore, Barrod Heggs) and it is clear that the staff hasn't done the best job in assembling or grooming the players needed to dominate the line of scrimmage on either side.

Let me be clear: I don't advocate Freidgen be replaced but I think he has done a poor job of assembling or developing a quality offensive line or defensive line. To me that is the main reason this program has struggled with consistency. It is strange that a former offensive lineman would continue to have this problem year after year after the group he inherited from Ron Vanderlinden matriculated.

Virginia, really?

Just when you thought it was safe to start believing in this enigmatic group they come up with a debacle of historic proportions. It is true that Maryland has been shut out by Virginia recently (16-0 in 2004) and has lost by 30+ points in the not to distant past (48-13 in 2003) but those losses don't measure up to this catastrophe in sheer magnitude of embarrassment. The 2004 Virginia team was vastly superior and to keep the score that close was a testament to the valiant efforts the defense put forth week after week as the Joel Statham lead offense floundered. In 2003 wide receiver Scooter Monroe dropped a sure touchdown pass that turned the game from a probable Maryland victory into a Virginia rout. 

Don't be fooled into thinking this Virginia team is good. They are not. Every team, not matter how bad, usually has one heroic effort in it for a season (witness Maryland's win over UNC in basketball last year) and Saturday was Virginia's night. This is the same team that got embarrassed by Duke and Connecticut. The team that scored a season high 16 points against Richmond prior to the 31 point explosion against Chris Cosh and his defense. Virginia's offense was setting season high marks in almost every offensive category by halftime. It helped Virginia that Cedric Peerman and Kevin Ogletree both looked about as healthy as ever, as I suspected Groh was pulling some vintage Parcellsian deception with their health status before the game, but Virginia probably won't come close to matching the 26 first downs or 427 total yards they posted against the Terps for the rest of the year.

Maryland offense wasn't much better against the same defense that got lambasted by Connecticut and Duke. Chris Turner didn't look all that sharp and I have a suspicion that Darrius Heyward-Bey was benched in the 2nd half because his effort on a couple of plays was shockingly bad. The real concern though is the running game which has all but evaporated. Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett are not healthy right now but this offensive line hasn't been able to open any holes the last two weeks. As I have mentioned before I think this group, along with the linebackers, is as overrated as any Maryland has had in the Ralph Friedgen era. Scott Burley had a village idiot moment when he got a late hit personal foul call but that wasn't his only penalty of the night. The entire team let Virginia's players get under their skin as you could tell the taunting and trash talking between the teams was at a fever pitch. Unfortunately for Maryland they, and not the young Virginia squad, were the group that lost their poise.

The running game is the engine for this offense. It allows Chris Turner to go deep to Maryland's receivers and keeps the shaky defense on the sideline. Without it Maryland is a profoundly mediocre bunch. Fridgen has tried to shuffle in Bruce Campbell but the dynamic is fairly set for this offensive line group and they seem unable to pass and run block effectively in the same game. Getting Scott and Meggett healthy would be a help but I don't see this group improving much as the opponents can put out legitimate Division I-A players from here on out.

The linebackers don't get much help from the defensive line. There isn't much point in criticizing the linemen as this group is providing all you could expect from two walk-on players and a overachieving but physically limited veteran. The linebackers biting on almost every play action fake has become almost comical. The lack of recognition is one reason Clemson had success running cut back plays and Virginia's Mark Verica looked like Joe Freaking Montana in picking apart Maryland's pass defense. It doesn't help that Cosh wouldn't or couldn't pressure an inexperienced QB with blitzes or confuse him with some unusual coverages. You could see Verica gaining confidence on each completion till it got to the point that Cosh missed his chance to rattle the young QB and force some mistakes. Cosh's defenses are reactive and it will always be that way until someone wakes up and realizes he is a recruiter and position coach and nothing more.

I for one am getting tired of hearing about injuries from Ralph Friedgen. Every year when Maryland struggles Friedgen will lament that his team is banged up or hobbled by assorted injuries. Every team in the ACC has injuries. North Carolina lost their starting quarterback and likely All-ACC candidate T.J. Yates and still beat Miami and Rutgers on the road. All the excuses are getting a little worn out. If you don't have depth it is because you didn't develop or recruit for it. It isn't the work of lady fortune or a cruel twists of fate that you can't recruit or develop offensive or defensive linemen so that when your starters go down or are ineffective you have a legitimate alternative.

At least now this group can realize the Clemson win was a fluke and they are not bound for the ACC title game. I still think a decent season is possible, they only need two wins to be bowl eligible, but this team is not a championship level squad. From players to coaching staff something is missing in both effort and ability. A solid well coached team like Wake Forest or Virginia Tech would have gone into Charlottesville and dominated Virginia as you would expect them to do. Going into this game it seems clear that Maryland felt it was a much better team than is really was and whether that is complacency or inconsistency probably makes little difference. Sometimes a fear of losing is a more powerful motivator but I don't get the sense that the group really cares as much about proving anything to anyone. If they did they would have prepared and been ready for Middle Tennessee State and Virginia. Maryland may have been ranked had they won against UVA but now the rest of the country can forget about Maryland for the rest of the season. This loss made the Terps irrelevant again.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Porzel Shines

Maryland commit Caleb Porzel, running back for Good Counsel, had quite a night for the Falcons against Dematha on national television. With ESPN2 showing the game live Porzel demonstrated his dazzling speed with 124 yards rushing on 16 carries and three first half touchdowns to deliver the knockout punch to the Stags. You can see the highlights of the game at the bottom of ESPN's high school page here. He'll be another big play specialist for Maryland's offense next season.

POV: Hooville

It isn't as bad as Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year but the mood in Charlottesville is pretty grim these days. I had a chance to exchange questions with The Good Ol'Blog at the Sabre and it seems the mood on the Virginia sidelines is about as low as in the stands.

1. With Cedric Peerman injured is Mikell Simpson now the primary running back? Do you think Peerman will give it a go this weekend?

The Good Ol'Blog: If Ced is unable to go, Simpson will likely be the primary guy again, though Groh also employed FB Rashawn Jackson last week a good bit against Duke with some success. Right now, Groh is playing Simpson's availability close to the vest (as usual), so it's a tough call on whether he'll go.  If I were to guess, I think Peerman is in worse shape then Groh is letting on, and he won't see the field for several more weeks.  But that's just a guess.

2. Who is Marc Verica and what kind of quarterback is he?

TGOB:Verica is a great person, piano enthusiast, and average quarterback.  He has accuracy issues (especially on the deep ball), but can connect in the short to midrange game when he's on.  But when he's off: watch out.  He was an interception machine against Duke.   He does bring some mobility to the table, an Al Groh has used some designed rushing plays for Verica to get the ball moving.

3. If Chris Turner is going to have a bad day who is going to be causing it in Virginia's secondary?

TGOB:Nobody.  Virginia's pass defense is not-so-good.  If I had to pick someone, and I guess that's what you asked me to do, then I'd say true sophomore Ras-I Dowling would be the guy.  He's shown great promise and snared a pair of interceptions last week against Duke.  I know, I know, it's just Duke.  But, at this point, us Hoos are looking for positives anywhere.

4. With all the speculation about Al Groh's job security do you think this team might rally to save his skin?

TGOB:You know, you'd think they would've rallied to save his skin last week?  I hope they do, but as own of our gurus noted in his Duke wrap-up, there is a serious morale problem on the team right now.  Maybe their attitude will change by coming back to Scott Stadium, but it's looking rough right now.

Incidentally, I don't think Groh is going to get canned this year.  The UVa administration is far too gun shy about firing coaches -- especially those with draconian buyout clauses.  Given that he was named the ACC Coach of the Year last year, the administration will look for any excuse (hello attrition!) to avoid having to trigger that "pay me the whole contract, bitches!" buy out.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Moten out

Linebacker Adrian Moten will miss a month after electing to have surgery on his wrist. Moten played in the Clemson game with the injury but with two upcoming bye weeks the Maryland staff thought it was best for him to get the surgery and hopefully be back for the stretch run in the ACC schedule. Safety Antwine Perez could see time at linebacker if depth is needed.

Da'Rel Scott is only at 80% according to the staff. With a bye week coming up I still think he'll get significant work at running back against Virginia.

Tight end Dan Gronkowski is a little nicked up with an twisted ankle.

On ESPN2 tonight you can watch Our Lady of Good Counsel high school and Dematha play each other in football. Maryland has a few commits in this game: RB Caleb Porzel for GC and OT Pete DeSouza for Dematha but is also recruiting the 5-star LB Jelani Jenkins from GC.

I reviewed the game film and I think the defense didn't make significant adjustments against Clemson in the 2nd half. They dropped the 3-3-5 defense for the most part, which is good since it is a gimmick, and usually rushed four with a stand up linebacker or end. It helped that Clemson shot themselves in the foot with penalties and a few injuries.