Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Farewell to Friedgen, hello to the future

After ten seasons and a 74-50 record as head coach of the football program Ralph Friedgen will be coaching his last game in the Military Bowl against East Carolina. I felt that Friedgen would be back as head coach in 2011 because Maryland lacked the resources and profile to attract a top tier college coach to replace him. The dominoes began to fall when offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting James Franklin was told that he would not be guaranteed the head coaching position in 2012 and as a result Franklin decided to search for other offers. When Vanderbilt gave their head coaching position to Franklin and it became apparent that Franklin would poach from the Maryland staff AD Kevin Anderson felt he had no choice but to accelerate his plans to find a replacement for Friedgen. While it may not have been pleasant I think Anderson made the right move. Who he hires to replace Friedgen will clearly influence how people look at this decision but putting feelings aside it was the correct "strategic business decision" as Anderson put it in his news conference.

Once Franklin departed and took a significant number of the staff with him having Friedgen serve out the last year of his contract became untenable. Friedgen would not have been able to recruit any competitive assistants to replace Franklin and the other staff that would have departed and it would have likely ruined what has the potential to be a successful season in 2011. Extending Friedgen would have only temporarily alleviated the uncertainty around the program. Giving Friedgen more than three years was not an option and a shorter extension would have done little to help recruiting assistants or players. The only misstep that Anderson made was to announce that Friedgen would return in 2011 during the season. It was a mistake because it did not allow for the scenario of Franklin departing and taking staff with him. In college football these days a flimsy resume like Franklin's is no impediment to a head coaching position. Circumstances changed since Anderson made his statement regarding Friedgen's status for 2011 and he was within his rights and in the right to say that he had to go in a different direction a that point.

The economic reality of a football program that is losing money also forced this issue. Maryland fans, fickle though they may be, were voting with their wallets. They gave their thumbs down on the future of Ralph Friedgen by failing to show up for a pivotal game against Florida State with the Atlantic division on the line. Faced with a program that was hemorrhaging a half a million dollars a year the last two seasons and the debt service on Debbie Yow's expansion of suites at Byrd Stadium Anderson would have been irresponsible to continue in the same direction. For all the fans who expressed outrage and disappointed at how Anderson has handled this situation if they did not buy season tickets then they had a hand in this decision. Had fans come out in force for the last two games it may have gone a long way towards helping Friedgen save his job. They didn't. Anderson needs to hire a coach that will be better with boosters and fans while elevating local interest in the football program and creating a level of excitement that hasn't been felt in College Park in seven years. With the expansion of the ACC, the money structure of college football, the deemphasis of basketball in the conference treading water as a program isn't an option. Since the ACC title game was created only N.C. State and Maryland have failed to appear as winners of the Atlantic division. There is no reason why Wake Forest and Boston College should hold that distinction over the Terrapins. The football program needs to be both successful and profitable. Neither was guaranteed under Friedgen's continued leadership.

I guess I should not be surprised that there have been sanctimonious comments in the media regarding this move by Anderson. I didn't notice this outrage when former AD Debbie Yow tried to oust Friedgen last season but failed only due to a lack of money. If Yow had her way she would have gotten rid of both Friedgen and the reigning ACC coach of the year in basketball. Very few in the media, except those with close ties to Gary Williams, expressed much disgust over Yow's maneuvering. At least Anderson, while being blunt, has been honest with his coaches. The candor in his press conference about Fridgen not returning is a breath of fresh air compared to the conniving and back stabbing that went on under the previous AD.

Ralph Friedgen did great things as coach at the University of Maryland. Seven bowl games, three seasons of ten or more wins, an ACC Championship, he graduated a good proportion of his players and he revitalized a downtrodden football program. Unfortunately Friedgen leaves behind a record that has just as much on the negative side. The only 10 loss season in Maryland history, four losing seasons in the last seven years, no appearance in the final polls since 2003, a 3-18 record against teams that finished in the AP top 25 since 2004, a 24-32 record in the ACC the last seven seasons and only two winning conference records since 2003. Once things started going south in 2004 Friedgen developed a habit of throwing his players under the bus (Sam Hollenbach for example) or blaming everything from inexperience, injuries and even the weather to explain the constant losses in pivotal games. It is true that his first three seasons were the best three year stretch in recent memory, perhaps ever, for Maryland football. After his 2001 season he used to specter of the Tampa Bay Buccaners head coaching job to get another raise and then again after 2003 he pushed for an extension that will end with his buyout after the bowl game. Friedgen's constant haggling for raises and extensions won him few supporters at the university and he was paid handsomely for relatively mediocre results the last seven season. His lack of charisma and ability to alienate even his supporters certainly played a factor in eroding support for his position and in the football program as a whole. The last seven years of his contract were more than fair compensation for the first three fantastic seasons. Maryland isn't the kind of athletic department that can spend $2 million a year on a coach while the program is losing a half a million a year. Of the coaches who were Friedgen's peers when he arrived in the conference or coached a significant amount of time during Friedgen's tenure only Wake Forests Jim Grobe is still around. Chuck Amato, Tommy Bowden, Al Groh, Chan Gailey, Bobby Bowden, and John Bunting were all either fired or forced out of their jobs. In many cases they had better records overall or in their final seasons than Friedgen. Tommy Bowden never had a losing season at Clemson and went to 8 bowl games in his 9 full seasons. Chain Gailey had six straight winning seasons at Georgia Tech and played in an ACC title game before he was fired. After the 2003 season you could argue that Friedgen was the best coach in the ACC but who would argue that today? Should Maryland expect less than programs like Virginia and N.C. State? With no real powerhouse programs in the ACC right now why should Kevin Anderson look at the recent mediocrity and declining revenue and preserve the status quo?

If it wasn't for a lack of funds Friedgen would have been fired after last season's 2-10 debacle. The modest talent on that team should have at least a few more games but they were lucky to have avoided going 0-12 after winning in overtime against James Madison and squeaking by Clemson at home. The fact that Friedgen was given coach of the year for a turnaround that looked better than it was because of his terrible job the prior season seems absurd. Three of the five conference wins this season were against Wake Forest, Virginia, and Duke who combined to go 3-21 in conference play. The 8-4 record by Maryland is a bit of a mirage and speaks more to the poor quality of the ACC this season than it does about how good a team Maryland had under Friedgen.

Friedgen should be proud of what he accomplished at Maryland and fans should always be grateful to him for reminding them that Maryland can be a great football program. While there were some dark days due to some horrible hiring decisions by prior athletic directors Anderson should be aware that Maryland has a good football tradition and was very competitive under Jerry Claiborne and Bobby Ross in the past. I commend Anderson for daring to be great. Other administrators might have been timid and afraid to make a change, preferring to keep Friedgen and hope that the issue would take care of itself knowing they would probably not be blamed for the mediocre results. Anderson took a big risk and I hope he makes the right choice to replace Friedgen, for his sake and Maryland's.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fridge out as head coach, Anderson to hire Mike Leach

It has been the wildest weekend in Maryland football since the Terps beat N.C. State to go to the Orange Bowl and win the ACC in 2001. Ralph Friedgen was informed he would not be granted the extension he had hoped for after winning 8 games and being named ACC coach of the year. It now appears that Friedgen will either negotiate a buyout of his contract or be terminated next week. Former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach has become the target of AD Kevin Anderson to replace Friedgen. If Anderson is able to land Leach it would certainly prove that he is willing to take drastic action to elevate Maryland football beyond its current level.

I'll post my thoughts on the subject tomorrow, or as events unfold. In the mean time here is an interesting article by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post on Leach and the controversy surrounding him at Texas Tech.

Friday, December 17, 2010

James Franklin has finally taken the ...

James Franklin has finally taken the head coaching job at Vanderbilt and departs College Park with a mixed record. Many fans have latched on to the last few games and the development of QB Danny O’Brien as evidence that Franklin’s departure will be detrimental for the football program. The game against N.C. State was the best performance the offense had all season against a credible opponent. Against the better defenses on the schedule: West Virginia, Miami, Clemson and FSU the offense did next to nothing. Overall Franklin’s record as an offensive coordinator was mediocre at best. The 2010 offense was probably the best of the bunch but if you judge Franklin on his entire body of work it is obvious why so many folks in College Park, including AD Kevin Anderson were not sold on Franklin.

Franklin’s offenses ranked in the bottom half of the NCAA in virtually every category for all the seasons he was the coordinator. In scoring offense the rankings were 100, 99 and 42. Franklin never seemed to value the running game even though he had decent talent at running back. This past season the yard per carry in ACC games was 11th in the conference, in yards per game was 10th and ranked 94th in the NCAA in rushing yards. Certainly the offensive line injuries were a problem and you have to factor that in evaluating this season but his shaky playcalling against Clemson, Miami and West Virginia doesn’t indicate a coach that is great a preparation.

To be sure Franklin was the kind of package that most schools want: charismatic, young, good with the media and a black coach in a profession where minorities are woefully underrepresented. I always felt that Franklin had the whole package except coaching acumen. As the face of a program he may fit many of the criteria that athletic directors and university presidents are looking for but in the end you have to succeed on the field. Franklin’s resume was a little thin in that regard.

Maryland gets to keep the $1 million payment, the legacy of former AD Debbie Yow’s ridiculous head-coach-in-waiting contract, and move on with Anderson’s plans for the future of the football program. Clearly those plans did not include Franklin so it is better for all concerned that Franklin moves on now.

A modest extension for Ralph Fridgen is probably in the offing. As long as the contract includes a modest buy out that would allow Anderson the freedom to go in a different direction if the 2011 season is a failure I don’t have much problem with it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

One of my pet peeves in this early se...

One of my pet peeves in this early season is when sports journalists or TV commentators make reference to Maryland’s “inexperience”.  On its face it is somewhat preposterous to call a team that starts, at least for now, three seniors and a junior as inexperienced. When Gary Williams himself trotted out this fatuous bit of nonsense after the loss to Boston College I felt I had to correct the record.

Boston College started three guards against Maryland on Sunday: Reggie Jackson, Biko Paris and Danny Rubin. Between the three of them going into this season they had 49 starts, 20 in ACC games. Sean Mosley himself has 47 starts, of which 25 are ACC regular season games. (Note these do not include ACC Tournament games) That stat alone should explode the myth that this team is inexperienced.

Indeed it is true that Maryland’s bench is young and inexperienced but that is true for virtually every team in the ACC.
MarylandAverage Min last two seasons (ACC Games)Career Starts (ACC games)Boston CollegeAvg Min last two seasons
(ACC Games)
Career Starts (ACC Games)
Adrian Bowie19.8 (19.1)31 (15)Reggie Jackson25.1 (24.6)20 (7)
Cliff Tucker13.5 (13.5)12 (3)Biko Paris18.9 (15.3)29 (13)
Sean Mosley23.7 (24.7)47 (25)Danny Rubin0.0 (0.0)0 (0)


I’m not sure how anyone could look at that table and claim that Boston College had an edge over Maryland in experience. Jackson and Paris may have a slight edge over Tucker and Bowie but seven starts and five minutes a game over two seasons is hardly a clear advantage. When you include Sean Mosley, as you should, it becomes preposterous to argue that Boston College was the more veteran group.

It is obvious that Bowie and Tucker have failed to take advantage of their opportunity to start as seniors and have failed to provide the steady hand that one would expect from seniors with their level of experience. Both have been erratic and are in some form of a crisis of confidence with their games. Stoglin seems to be taking a larger and larger share of Bowie’s playing time even though I think he has less of the blame for some of the recent losses. Tucker’s role is more problematic because the alternatives are not as attractive. Pe’shon Howard has struggled on offense the last few weeks and his shooting from outside and the free throw line has been abysmal. His turnover % is also a concerning 34.3 which limits his effectiveness.

Mosley could give playing time to Hawk Palsson, who is a true small forward, without a huge drop off on offense or rebounding. Tucker seems to offer the possibility of more offense than Mosley but neither are playing an efficient game on offense. Therein lies the dilemma. There are not a plethora of great options to replace the struggling Tucker and Mosley. I’m sure Gary Williams is hoping that if he sticks with those two that they will break out of their funks and become reliable scoring threats. It remains to be seen if that will happen. Mosley and Tucker both have a history of erratic scoring and persistent slumps.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Terps stumble out of gate

Up to yesterday all the basketball team had proven was that they could be competitive against the better opponents they had played this season. There were no impressive or noteworthy wins, only hollow consolation in giving good teams a "scare" before eventually losing. It was open to debate what a series of close losses really meant or how illustrative those losses were about the ability of this group. The picture got a little more clear with a loss to Boston College in the ACC season opener. It is too early in the season to panic because the squad has failed to win a game against a equal or superior opponent to this point but the ugly loss to a mediocre Boston College team should make fans worry a little.

Last season the squad underachieved in th early part of the season and you could argue that the losses last season: Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Villanova and William & Mary were worse than the losses this season. Greivis Vasquez's early season funk had Maryland struggling but I knew at some point Vasquez would snap out of it. As great as Jordan Williams has played a dominant backcourt player like Vasquez will have more effect on his team. With this squad you have to wonder who in the backcourt will be able to run the offense and provide scoring from the wing. The struggles of Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie and Sean Mosley have been a hot topic after the most recent games. Terrell Stoglin has come off the bench to provide scoring along with some wild shot selection. What the upperclassmen guards lack Stoglin has in spades: confidence. At this point you have to hope that Tucker will snap out of his scoring funk, he has always been a streaky and inconsistent player, and that Sean Mosley rebounds from his dreadful play to provide decent scoring and solid defense. He is doing neither at this point. If Tucker, Bowie and Mosley continue their current level of play Maryland will struggle to put together the kind of ACC season that will see them return to the NCAA tournament for the 3rd year in a row.

The collapse of the defense was the most disturbing aspect of the loss to the Eagles. This BC team is essentially the same squad that went 6-10 last season and was terrible in many aspects. Steve Donahue had a good game plan against Maryland: chuck 29 3-point shots and push the ball up the court after made baskets. Maryland's defense was so horrible that this mid-major garbage offense actually worked. There will be many ACC games this season where the shots are not falling and the Eagles will lose. For its part Maryland made journeyman Biko Paris look like J.J. Redick as he drained six 3-point shots on his way to 22 points. In the 2nd half when the defense fell apart BC made 7/12 3-point shots and shot 52% from the floor. The rebounding margin that Maryland should have enjoyed also disappeared in the 2nd half as they grabbed only 13 rebounds to BC's 17. The Terps frontcourt should have dominated the makeshift Eagle frontcourt. With BC playing three guards and two small forwards for stretches that should have been a major vulnerability and it turned out Maryland couldn't exploit it. Instead the Eagles were able to stretch Maryland on defense and have them chase all over the perimeter without paying the price for a smaller lineup.

There were several critical stretches during which Maryland had a lead and could have given a cushion on the lead and probably put away a BC team that only hit 5 field goals inside the arc the whole game. With 6:43 left in the game Maryland had a 67-64 lead and stopped Boston College on three straight possessions but squandered their chances to increase the lead. Jordan Williams dominated BC for the whole game but Maryland took two jump shots by Dino Gregory and a missed 3-pointer by Stoglin before Paris hit a three on the other end to tie the game at 67. With a 2 point lead and less than two minutes left Cliff Tucker bricked two free throws that may have iced the game. Two possessions later Stoglin was fouled on the defensive rebound and missed the front end of the one-and-one, a virtual turnover, setting up Corey Raji to hit the game winning 3-point shot. A brutal stretch of basketball. Tucker then threw the ball away off an inbound and Maryland's fate was sealed.

I'm not sure where you go from here in regards to the rotations. Pe'Shon Howard and Haukur Palsson are the only real alternatives to Tucker and Mosley but don't have much chance of adding scoring over those two. Tucker's defense was abominable in addition and he isn't scoring at least he can play solid defense. The upperclassmen are in a crisis of confidence at the moment and they need to figure out their own game over the next few weeks because trips to Cameron Indoor and at Villanova loom in January.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Starting Five Hold the Line

After Maryland's 99-56 win over hapless UNC Greensboro it appears that the struggling starters, Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, Sean Mosley and Dino Gregory will keep their jobs for now. It may take some losses due to the slow starts that the senior dominated starting lineup before Gary Williams will make a change. To Gary's credit he values loyalty and that is a quality that Maryland fans can take a certain pride in the fact that their coach doesn't throw players under the bus like other ACC coaches have done in past years. It is probably worth noting that the current starters were all on the team when Williams went through one of the more tumultuous season's in his time at Maryland a few years ago when the team struggled to a 7-9 record but was able to get to the NCAA tournament. After that season Williams had made comments that the team "had his back" in the face of the most pointed criticism that Williams had experienced since winning the national title in 2002.

He also mentioned "the internet" in his postgame comments and indicated he was going stick with his starters even though he had considered making a change after the abysmal showing they had against Temple. I respect Williams' reasons for keeping the lineup intact. I still think the current starting five has demonstrated weaknesses that will become more apparent when conference play starts. As with the Temple game if this group plays poorly early in games, especially on the road, it will be very difficult for the team to come back against an ACC opponent. 

UNC Greensboro is such a poor team it is hard to take much from the game. But there were some good things to be taken from the result.

Jordan Williams is putting together a sophomore campaign as a big man that no one has seen in College Park since Joe Smith. He has already recorded 7 double-double games and has been dominating in the early season. The sophomore is getting more help from James Padgett who had six points and 9 rebounds, mostly when the game was out of hand but has been elevating his play the last few weeks. Padgett still needs work on his defense and rebounding but he's getting better and better.

Terrell Stoglin is continuing his trip to stardom. He was unstoppable with 18 points off the bench in only 19 minutes. He can put a tremendous amount of pressure on a defense with his outside shooting and ability to dribble penetrate. He probably dominates the ball a little too much on offense and needs to work on his ability to orchestrate the flex but he can score and you can't really teach that. It looks as if Rob Ehsan and Gary Williams his another homerun with his recruitment.

Haukur Palsson also played well off the bench and Berend Weijs is slowly getting better on the offensive end. Both will be assets as the season progresses.

Mychal Parker also got some decent time and showed that he has some impressive physical skills. Parker needs a fair amount of seasoning but Gary Williams has stated on his radio show several times that fans will be seeing more of Parker as the year goes on.

Boston College is a big test for the Terps as they appear to be a fairly evenly matched squad, at least at the moment. Winning conference homes games will be essential for this group later in the season so it becomes a crucial game.

Monday, December 06, 2010

News and Notes

Apologies to my loyal readers for the lack of posts recently.

Phil Steele came out with his All-ACC picks for football and I think his picks are usually superior to the media selections. Torrey Smith and Kenny Tate, the best players on their side of the ball, were 1st team picks at wide receiver and safety. Tony Logan also was named as 1st team punt returner. Logan had a nice beginning of the year and then tailed off as teams stopped kicking to him.

Linebacker Alex Wujciak got a 2nd team nod which is fitting. Joe Vellano and Antwine Perez both got well deserved 3rd team selections at DT and safety. Adrian Moten was voted 4th team at linebacker.

I think it is pretty clear from that list that the defense carried this team.

Maryland will play in the Military Bowl against ECU later this month. Disappointing for the players and fans but they will still get their bag of swag so at least that is something.

The basketball team had a loss in Verizon Center, which is a house of horrors for Maryland, in the BB&T. The loss may provoke some changes in the starting lineup. Freshman Terrell Stoglin is developing into a potent scoring threat off the bench and may get himself in the starting lineup in place of the struggling Adrian Bowie. It was good to see James Padgett also putting together some nice back to back games against Penn State and Temple.

I'll write more on the basketball team soon but even though they have three losses I'm pretty positive about this team and their potential.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Championship dreams vanish with loss to FSU

Maryland played Florida State to a standstill for most of the game on Saturday. The Terps defense had a valiant performance in keeping FSU mostly in check all evening. The Seminoles explosive offense did get two big plays which turned the tide of the game: Chris Thompson's 70 yard TD run and Bert Reed's 44 yard TD catch. Before both those plays Maryland had a slim lead which was erased afterwards.

The offense moved the ball but as been true against the better opponents this season they struggled to get into the end zone. Injuries have certainly played a part in the offensive struggles and the offensive line was decimated again by injures as G Justin Lewis and C Bennett Fulper forced another reshuffling of the group. Pete White and Max Garcia came in a did a decent job. Danny O'Brien didn't have one of his better games. His numbers were mediocre for the game 25/45 for 269 yards partly because the staff decided to keep the passing game close to the line of scrimmage due to the injuries and FSU's pass rush. O'Brien had two interceptions and a third that was nullified because of an FSU  penalty. He also fumbled the ball. Two of his three turnovers resulted in 10 points for FSU. One of his interceptions probably should have been reversed but even with a replay that showed DB Greg Reid clearly trapped the ball on the turf the officials gave FSU the ball. If that is how officials are using replay I'm not sure what the value is to having it in the first place. O'Brien's last interception was a desperation pass on 4th down but it was still a pass he should have never thrown. One thing O'Brien will need to correct is that he constantly wants to scramble to his right when he feels pressure in the pocket. There were a number of time he needed to step up in the pocket but he moved in the direction of the defensive end.

The running game was decent and Da'Rel Scott had a nice game. He and Meggett were able to gash the FSU defense a number of times. Still the running game floundered at the worst moments. James Franklin resorted to some fruitless bubble screens to wideouts to get a few yards on first down. It was a losing strategy. FSU figured out a way to get the ball into the hands of its playmakers while Maryland had little chance or willingness to take shots down the field to WR Torrey Smith.

It was a game I figured Maryland would lose and I couldn't disagree more with head coach Ralph Friedgen that this squad is better than a possible 7-5 record. If they can't beat NC State they won't have a single win over an ACC team with a winning conference record. The Terps will likely be relegated to a lower tier bowl like the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium. Coming off a 2-10 campaign I guess you can't be too disappointed with this result. It was announced that Friedgen will be coming back for the last year of his current contract next season. A move that makes sense but it doesn't really move the needle on the football program. James Franklin isn't the answer, even at his current position, to Maryland's future. Perhaps if Friedgen is successful next season Maryland will decide to give him a short two or three year extension and pay off James Franklin. The loss to FSU (as well as to Miami and Clemson) is a reminder that Maryland's football program isn't close to a breakthrough season anytime soon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Guest Q&A on Florida State

In anticipation of the showdown between FSU and Maryland on Saturday night we got to exchange some questions with Rich from Chantrant.


1. What is the latest news on QB Christian Ponder's injury status? E.J. Manuel looked decent against Clemson last week but do you see the staff making any changes to the gameplan if Manuel ends up playing against Maryland?
A: Apparently Ponder mended during the week off and will start on Saturday. He may not be 100% but Jimbo Fisher has ultimate faith in him.

If E.J. Manuel plays he'll be used as an occasional counterpoint to Ponder. While it hasn't reached the level of a QB controversy, FSU fans like what they see with Manuel. He threw two perfect bombs against Clemson -- two of the longest pass plays of the season for the Noles. He's also a quick runner and racked up impressive yardage with his feet last week. 

2. The defensive statistics are good for FSU this season but is this more like the vintage Mickey Andrews squads or more ordinary?
A: The defense is still a work in progress. But then the Nole defenders are still learning a new system. Mickey Andrews played mostly a man defense, while Mark Stoops is mixing man and zone. The results were impressive earlier in the season, when -- except for the Oklahoma game -- the secondary played well enough to produce coverage sacks and the D-line did their job, getting good pressure by rushing only four. In recent weeks, the D-line has struggled and opposing QBs have had more time to find receivers.


3. It took a 50+ yard field goal in the closing seconds to avoid a three game losing streak. What did UNC and NC State do to FSU to pull out wins?
A: UNC and N.C. State had creative game plans and executed them well. Specifically the Tar Heels exploited FSU's young secondary, confusing the DBs and producing blown coverages. The result: WRs getting loose far down field and a career day for UNC QB T.J. Yates. As for N.C. State, it was another strong QB performance, with the Wolfpack's Russell Wilson constantly escaping FSU's pass rush and scrambling for major yardage.

But it wasn't just what the two Carolina teams did. FSU could have won both games in the final seconds. Instead, a fumble on the three-yard line and a missed field goal did the Noles in.


4. If FSU does not make it to the ACC Championship game this season what are the feelings about Jimbo Fisher's job performance among the FSU faithful?
A: With all due respect to the conference, winning the ACC is not the primary thing Nole fans will grade Jimbo Fisher on. The ultimate measuring stick is, and always has been, beating the Florida gators (an intended typo as we don't even capitalize their mascot). In case you lost count, FSU hasn't beaten the slimy reptiles in the past six seasons. So if Fisher can pull that off, he'll be hailed as a great hire. Should the Noles fall short against Urban Meyer's team yet win the ACC, it will be the equivalent of winning the Bronze medal at the Olympics instead of the Gold.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Maryland Faces FSU in Atlantic Showdown

Maryland played a nip and tuck game against Virginia on Saturday until they blew things open with 21 points in the 4th quarter. The game was much closer than the final score indicated and the Terps trailed as the final quarter began. The offensive numbers were fairly even between the two teams but Virginia sabotaged themselves with 16 penalties for 145 yards. The late turnovers helped Maryland run away from the Wahoos and finish with 42 points. Maryland's 9/16 on 3rd down also helped the Terps control the ball while Virginia's 4/14 left their defense on the field for too long. I don't think Maryland played a great game but they didn't shoot themselves in the foot and benefited from several lucky plays like the 26 yard LaQuan Williams tipped catch on third down that should have been an interception. Had Maryland turned the ball over, trailing 23-21, who knows how the rest of the game would have turned out.

I want to jump on the bandwagon of this team but I just can't. All four of their ACC wins are against teams with losing records in conference play (6-20 combined). Three of those teams: Wake Forest, Duke and Virginia have just on conference win a piece. That isn't impressive. The two decent ACC teams they have played, Clemson and Miami, beat them 57-27. Sure Maryland could have won the game at Miami but they didn't. The last two games will probably give a fair picture of how good this team actually is and Maryland benefits from having both those games at home. Still Florida State is the same sort of physical and athletic team that gives Maryland trouble (see Clemson, West Virginia and Miami).

Basketball Notes
Maryland had a good day against Maine on Sunday. Jordan Williams had another strong effort with his fifth double-double in a row. Cliff Tucker continues to play like the breakout senior people were hoping he would be and Adrian Bowie steady himself after some rocky play the first two games. Freshmen Pe'Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin continue to be excellent coming off the bench. You never know which of them will score in double digits but they are both making an immediate impact. Haukur Palsson showed a really nice floor game in his limited playing time.

The dark clouds are the continued struggles of Sean Mosley and Dino Gregory. They were both awful and fouled out of the game with six points combined on 2/10 shooting and five turnovers. Gregory is merely a bench player who's warts are being exposed by increased playing time but Mosely is a necessary piece of the team this season and if he struggles Maryland will have difficulty with the challenging games of the nonconference schedule. Pittsburgh will be a tough test for Maryland's guards as the Panthers have impressive veteran guards with Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. The supporting cast is decent but a clear third alternative to those two has not emerged yet. Maryland's front court will be challenged by Pitts physical interior game. I think this group isn't quite ready for this challenge so early in the season but Maryland's depth may turn out to be the difference if they can pull off a victory.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Early crucible for Terps

Maryland has made a habit of early season stumbles against lesser competition the last few seasons. Morgan State, American, William & Mary are all teams that have come into College Park and come away with wins. College of Charleston is a step above those programs and with a proven head coach in Bobby Cremins who doesn't need a scouting report to come up with a game plan against Gary Williams it was a recipe for an upset. Playing two games in three days to start the season isn't exactly ideal and CoC came to Maryland rested and ready to notch a huge win to start the season. The Terps looked a little sluggish and that isn't surprising given that had a 96 possession marathon game against Seattle only a 48 hours before. Perhaps that explains the sluggish efforts by Sean Mosley and Dino Gregory or the poor reaction on defense. Maryland's fast break was barely evident but Cremins goal of denying Maryland easy transition baskets may of also been a factor. It was a great experience for this group. They struggled and had to grind out a win against a team with an elite group of mid-major guards. Freshmen like Pe'Shon Howard may have asserted themselves as future stars while role players like Haukur Palsson showed impressive versatility.

College of Charleston will win a bunch of games this year with PG Andrew Goudelock at the helm and is almost certainly a NIT level team. It was a trap game for Maryland so early in the season and it was impressive that the younger players step up in key moments. This is a win Maryland can build on.

It was obvious that Gary Williams wasn't pleased with the quality of the play if you saw his expression after the game. While Howard is the celebrity of the moment and Jordan Williams continues his campaign of domination with 26 points and 15 rebounds there were plenty of things Maryland needs to work on in the coming week and out of conference schedule.

The poor freethrow shooting may have been a partial fluke as I doubt they shoot that poorly the rest of the season but it nearly cost Maryland the game. The main culprits were Williams and Howard, who combined to go 3/13 from the line. Both will need to make dramatic improvements or opponents will hack them as a strategy.

The defense was atrocious for stretches of the game as Sean Mosley was embarrassed by Goudelock during a late run in the 2nd half by College of Chaleston. Cliff Tucker, who had a quiet but impressive game, took over for Mosley and all but shut Goudelock out. Without their leading scorer CoC had little ability to score. Leading by 8 points with about 8 and a half minutes to go CoC didn't make another field goal the rest of the game. College of Charleston had 18 turnovers and Maryland snagged 11 steals (3 by Terrell Stoglin) which certainly helped to shut down their offense.

Rebounding should have been a greater strength against CoC for Maryland but they ended up even at 36 rebounds a piece. Given how Jordan Williams dominated as an individual it was disappointing that the rest of Maryland's frontcourt didn't do their part. Dino Gregory logged 26 minutes but only grabbed 4 rebounds. James Padgett, Berend Weijs and Palsson only played a combined 17 minutes but grabbed three rebounds. The production at the other forward slot must improve. Gregory failed to score a point and Padgett didn't distinguish himself in his limited playing time. As a senior Gregory is what he is: a limited player who won't offer much on offense and doesn't rebound very well. The smart guys at Basketball Prospectus called his offensive game "irrelevant" for good reason. Maryland will be better off if one of the bench players can develop and diminish Gregory's playing time.

Perhaps Mosley just had a bad night but it was one of his worst games since rolling onto campus as a freshman. He did have four assists but Maryland can't afford him to play 29 minutes and score three points. Mosley is transitioning from being a complementary scoring option to one of the pillars of the team. He clearly struggled with that last night. Maryland is lucky to have impressive depth in the backcourt this season but will be tested if Mosley cannot develop more consistency.

Howard may have served notice last night that it is only a matter of time before he asserts control over the point guard position, if he hasn't already. Starter Adrian Bowie didn't look much better than he did in his putrid opening game against Seattle. Bowie's confidence seems shaken and he struggles to get the offense going or make the right passes. If he can't get that back the impressive freshman duo of Howard and Stoglin will see more playing time. He had foul trouble and got poked in the eye which limited his playing time but it will be interesting to track his minutes going forward.

The difference in this team compared to teams of recent vintage is that there is enough depth on the roster so that if someone is not playing well they will get pushed by the players below them. Developing battles at point guard and power forward for playing time will make Maryland better come ACC play.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Strengths and Weaknesses on Display in Opener

In an odd twist the freshmen impressed in the opening game of the season for Gary Williams while some veterans struggled. Overall the results were positive. In a frantic up and down game with Seattle Maryland eventually wore down their opponent and ran away with the game 105-76. The pace resulted in a sloppy affair at times with 50 combined turnovers and 63 free throws. Ball handling was one of my bigger concerns going into the year with Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker replacing Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes.Clearly Bowie and Tucker are a down grade in that category from last season. Their struggles, particularly Bowie's 7 turnovers, will bear close watching. It is easy to read too much into the first game of the year against a team that takes about 10 seconds a possession and plays at the pace of a pick up game. Still, Bowie's performance was disappointing for a senior who has enjoyed as much playing time as he has.

The good news was that Pe'Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin had a dazzling debuts combining for 20 points, 13 assists and 7 turnovers. Maryland will do just fine if they are able to play like that. At times the freshmen were sloppy and had some face palm moments but overall you have to be impressed at their poise and instincts for the position. Other newcomers like Berend Weijs and Haukur Palsson showed some skills as a  shotblocking center and do everything glue guy respectively. Mychal Parker had a thunderous dunk and showed tantalizing athletic ability but is mentally behind most of the other freshmen.

The known quantities performed as you would hope. Sean Mosley stepped right into his scoring guard role with 21 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Mosley seems to be the leader of this group and his hustle on a blocked shot that was sure to be a score was emblematic of his central role on this new look Terrapin team. Mosley never seems to force the issue and just lets things come to him at the pace of the game. There may be points during the season when Maryland will need Mosley to become a little selfish.

The other pillar of this team, center Jordan Williams, was a wrecking crew around the rim with 17 points and 15 rebounds. He sucks up rebounds and seems more relaxed around the rim. Williams still needs to develop on defense but his rebounding and offensive game might be the best combination in the ACC.

Cliff Tucker played an under the radar game to finish with 16 points and 7 rebounds. On offense he looked good running out in transition and off the flex cuts but he still lacks focus at times and did little to help Bowie when he was struggling.

Maryland really won't know where it stands until after their visit to New York in the Coaches versus Cancer games but the early returns are promising. With a favorable ACC schedule this year I think a third straight NCAA bid seems reasonable.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bitter Pill

The game against Miami was a game that a good team should have won. After the loss the lame duck coaching staff talked about how Miami had great athletes and the Terps had done well to stick with them and have a chance to win the game outright. You would have thought this Hurricane squad was a vintage bunch of NFL draft picks instead of the mediocre bunch of underachievers that they are. Missing their starting quarterback and running back Miami was coming off a loss to Virginia and was ripe for the picking by Maryland. The Hurricanes are not devoid of talent, as their demolition of UNC would indicate, but the best you could say about this group is that they are destined for a random bowl game in a less than exotic city.

The offense was pretty dreadful. Miami, like Clemson, has some good athletes on the defensive side of the ball and Maryland struggled all day with their press coverage. Danny O'Brien struggled only completing 9 of 28 passes for 134 yards and a killer interception in the end zone. O'Brien will have his ups and downs but there is a feeling that opponents have enough tape on O'Brien now to figure out his weaknesses. Miami was really sitting on those quick throws that James Franklin has been calling recently and O'Brien struggled, along with his receivers, to complete passes in the 10-20 yard range. Franklin's throwing in first down turned out to be a disaster with Maryland only completing 3/13 passes. That left the Terps in 2nd a long most of the day and helped contribute to a terrible 3rd down conversion rate. Maryland didn't have great success running the ball on Miami, a weakness of the 'Canes defense, but on 1st down they averaged 7.6 yards per run. Seems like the focus on throwing on 1st down was a colossal failure. The offense got a gift on a sack and fumble that was returned for a touchdown late in the game that was nullified due to a facemask penalty that wasn't shown on any replay. O'Brien didn't see a blitzer coming from his blindside on his pre-snap read. Big mistake by the freshman. The three straight run plays by Maryland in the closing minutes of the game was indicative of the timid coaching of Ralph Friedgen the last six years. Poor use of timeouts also hurt Maryland. It was a bad effort by the head coach and offensive coordinator.

The defense wasn't great but played well enough to win. Alex Wujciak had a career day with two picks and a return for a touchdown. On the game winning pass by Morris Maryland had Dexter McDougal and Kenny Tate on the coverage but the pass was in a perfect spot. A dumb roughing the passer penalty by Joe Vellano helped get Miami in position to score the winning touchdown.

Unlike the Clemson or West Virginia game the Terps had a legitimate shot to win this game and should have been able to hold a slim lead in the closing minutes. Some costly errors by individual players and a bungled last possession by the coaching staff cost Maryland the game. Now the Terps go to UVA in something close to a must win situation if they still hope to win the Atlantic division. To me all the reasons why Friedgen should not be given a contract extension and James Franklin has no business being the head coach were on display during this loss.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Big pickup for basketball

Maryland landed a whopper yesterday as 2011 SG Nick Faust from Baltimore picked the Terps over FSU, Marquette, Oregon State and Villanova. The 6'6" 175lbs Baltimore junior is a do-it-all wing player. He can score in bunches by driving to the basket, from beyond the arc, in transition and mid-range pull up jumpers. He is a little on the thin side and will have to add strength and weight but he is a special player who is probably even better than his current rating among the best 40 players in the country. It is a big recruiting coup for Maryland to get such an elite player from Baltimore and assistant Bino Ranson has already upgraded Maryland's recruiting in Charm City. The last recruit that was this highly rated for the Terps was SG Mike Jones but Faust is already a more skilled player, if not the shooter, that Jones was coming to College Park. Faust, who put up almost 20 points and over 5 rebounds a game last season will play for Baltimore City College High School this season after an excellent AAU summer season.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Boston College game may decide season

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. Work has been hectic, blah, blah, blah. I know you probably are not interested in all the excuses. With a toddler and 3 month old I have less time than in the past. I still watch all the games but the time to research and write blog posts isn't as easy to come by these days. I'll try to post more regularly, even if it is not my normal level of analysis.

I have not commented on the Duke or Clemson games. Duke wasn't that big of a test for Maryland, even though the team tried to make it competitive. Danny O'Brien is playing well even if some of the hype has gotten ahead of where he really is at this point in his career. I think it is true that he has the chance to be the best QB of the Friedgen era, assuming that lasts beyond this year, but he has a long way to go. Leaving the friendly confines of Byrd Stadium exposed some of his flaws. Against a defense that really made him work for his completions and took away the big play he struggled and ended up throwing three interceptions. Clemson has impressive athletes in the secondary but with Florida State and Miami remaining on the schedule this wasn't the last aggressive and fast secondary he'll face. He isn't getting much help from the running game and with the offensive line struggles it appears this will be a lost year for RB Da'Rel Scott. That is a shame because he has far more talent than he's been able to show with a weak offensive line and incompetent coordinator.

With the terrible news that RT Pete DeSouza broke both his legs in a scooter meets car accident and is done for the year that makes the offensive line even more threadbare. Freshman Max Garcia might move into a starting spot if  he beats out LT Nick Klemm.

This Boston College game might become the turning point of the season. Another road loss and we might be seeing the sun set on the Fridge regime. With woeful Wake Forest and Virginia on the schedule six wins is still possible but a loss to BC (0-3 in the ACC) might signal another late season slide by this team.

Right now this team isn't very good. The record looks respectable at 4-2 but those four wins are rather flimsy. Two of them could have gone the other way and Maryland's two losses have been blowouts. I know people will say that the games were close fairly late but both West Virginia and Clemson thoroughly outplayed Maryland in those games. Maryland is 9th in the ACC in scoring offense, 11th in total offense, 8th in Red Zone efficiency on offense. That is where the real problems lie. The defense is mediocre: 5th in scoring defense and 7th in overall defence but has done enough to hold up its end. Without the big plays this offense struggles to move the ball and cannot sustain drives. The struggling running game is a large part of that but receivers are dropping too many passes. It was encouraging that O'Brien found his tight ends against Clemson. Maryland needs more of that to move the chains. O'Brien has been very good at not turning the ball over but these defense isn't good enough to bail out a poor offense.

Torrey Smith is still hobbled with a ankle sprain. If he is limited or cannot play against BC Maryland will have to get creative to move the ball. It is another opportunity for James Franklin to show that he has any skills to be an offensive coordinator at this level.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Swofford hopes Maryland doesn’t leave

In this interview with ACC Sports Journal the used car salesman commissioner of the ACC John Swofford talks about conference realignment and the ACC. He implied that the ACC is set with 12 members and doesn’t seem very interested in expanding beyond that number. He isn’t enthralled with 14 or 16 member mega-conferences either. In the last part of the interview he was asked about member discontent or the possibility of the ACC having defections. It seems obvious those questions were about the rumors swirling that Maryland might leave for the Big Ten even though Maryland was never named. With Debbie Yow gone I think the ACC is more than a little worried that Maryland could bolt for the Big Ten. The loss of the Baltimore/DC TV market would be a huge blow to the ACC. Despite the assertion that the league believes all its member institutions are “very committed” to the league Swofford also sounded hopeful, but not sure, that there wasn’t discontent among the members of the league. Maryland is the only realistic target for another major conference so it is safe to say that all eyes in Greensboro are on Kevin Anderson and College Park.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Terps use big gains to bury FIU

Maryland probably hasn’t had four touchdowns on plays of over 50 yards in a single game in a long time. Da’Rel Scott and Davin Meggett each had long touchdown runs, with Meggett’s 76 yard romp late in the 4th quarter sealing the game for Maryland. Torrey Smith caught a 68 yard touchdown pass on a bum ankle and Tony Logan continued his impressive season with a 85 yard punt return for a touchdown. While the big plays were nice Maryland didn’t control the ball much as they failed to post a single drive of more than five plays the entire 2nd half. Going 2/12 on 3rd down, losing the time of possession by almost 10 minutes and having only two possessions lasting more than 3 minutes isn’t great though. Many of these big plays are likely to dry up once Maryland starts facing ACC defenses. Duke isn’t one of those defenses but I think the Danny O’Brien hype may be getting a little out of hand. O’Brien had a great game for a redshirt freshman and probably had the best game against FIU of any opposing QB they have faced to date but I’m not sure based on games against Morgan State and FIU that O’Brien is on his way to stardom just yet. Even though the Washington Post was writing ominous articles about the FIU defense it is a unit that now sits at 90th in the nation in scoring defense. The yardage rankings look respectable until you notice that Rutgers isn’t an offensive masterpiece (112th in the nation) and Texas A&M has padded its offensive numbers with two cupcakes to start the season. In the last two games the Panthers surrendered 375 rushing yards in games that were close until the last few minutes. FIU can get to the QB and has forced some mediocre QB’s into mistakes so credit O’Brien with making good decisions but this wasn’t a Miami or FSU level defense. O’Brien struggled in the 1st and 4th quarters going 4/9 for 39 yards and appeared erratic. The offensive line did a fantastic job all game for O’Brien and he normally had plenty of time to throw. The real test will come starting with the Clemson game. If O’Brien can keep his cool and find open receivers against really good secondary players then maybe Ralph Friedgen finally recruited a reliable quarterback. It isn’t fair to compare Jordan Steffy being thrown to the wolves at Blacksburg as a true freshmen with O’Brien getting to test the waters with a cupcake like Morgan State.

 

The defense still has some concerning holes. A spread offense causes real problems for the personnel on this team. The linebackers don’t cover well in space and that was highlighted again by FIU as West Virginia did the week before. Look for ACC foes to try to spread Maryland out and make the linebackers and secondary pursue in the open field. When FIU got the ball in the compressed space of the red zone the defense looked much better. Corners Cameron Chism and Dexter McDougle really struggled in this game. I thought Chism would have a breakout year this season but he is struggling in both zone and press coverage. If Antwine Perez continues to show lapses in coverage look for freshman Matt Robinson, who can lay some lumber and has been improving game to game, to get more playing time.

Defensive tackle A.J. Francis had a good game but overall the defensive front needs to improve. They still can’t muster much of a pass rush and if Don Brown is forced to blitz more this defense will give up a slew of big plays.

Kudos to RT Pete DeSouza and new LT R.J. Dill for doing a pretty good job in pass protection. DeSouza was much improved over last week.

There have been two mixups with O’Brien and Meggett so far this year. The fumble against Navy and a miscommunication against FIU that resulted in O’Brien going the wrong way and taking a loss deep in Maryland territory. That needs to get sorted out.

Duke should not provide too much trouble for Maryland this week as they got beat by Army and look like the Duke teams of old. Assuming Maryland can win, and they certainly should, then this team will be 4-1 going into the bye week. The schedule has few sure wins after that so my guess is Maryland will need all of those wins to get to a bowl game.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

West Virginia blows by Terps

The coaches have been talking up the improvement to team speed in the offseason but based on the game against West Virginia this team is far more turtle than hare. There were some impressive speedsters on West Virginia and a few that would be able to match up with some of the quickest players in college football but as with the California blowout last season this game highlighted that Maryland, especially on defense, needs a significant upgrade. It isn’t as if Maryland has no team speed. There are a few positions like wide out, corner and running back where the speed is fairly good. The two most positions where this team lacks quick and explosive players is linebacker and defensive end. The linebackers were supposed to be a position of strength this season but have been a disappointment to this point. Both Navy and West Virginia exploited the inability of the defensive line or linebackers to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Alex Wujciak has great instincts and can cover from tackle to tackle as well as anyone. When he has to play in coverage or pursue from sideline to sideline his lack of speed is exposed and he was asked to cover some players against the Mountaineers that he had no chance to contain. Perhaps the younger reserves are not proficient enough with the defensive calls but Wujciak is a liability on passing downs because he isn’t a good blitzer and struggles in space. Seven of Wujciak’s 16 tackles were more than 5 yards down field and six of those were on gains of 8 yards or more. Adrian Moten and Demetrius Hartsfield are better athletes but don’t make the number of plays you expect them to, note Moten’s dropped interception. Tackling was also abysmal as several times players were in the right position but whiffed on the ball carrier. Darin Drakeford had the best game of his career and should see more playing time.

The defensive struggles are not only the linebackers as the defensive line, with the exception of DT Joe Vellano, has been largely irrelevant so far this season. DE Drew Gloster, DT A.J. Francis  and DT Zach Kerr have only one tackle for a loss and no sacks between the three of them. Unless this group improves the linebackers will continue to find offensive linemen getting to the second level. Players like Desmond Kearse possess the athleticism to help but right now all he can do is rush the passer. The real solution to this problem is improved recruiting but that won’t change anything this season. Maryland didn’t have a single drive of more than 4 plays until the 3rd quarter and had 5 three-and-out possessions in the game. Throw out the bombs to Torrey Smith and the offense couldn’t muster anything. Franklin doesn’t seem to show any feel for playcalling, struggles to put his best players in positions to score, and doesn’t have any apparent philosophy. Jamarr Robinson didn’t play well but showed more passing ability than his detractors give him credit for and was running for his life all day. He missed some reads and got impatient in the pocket but was running for his life during most of the 2nd half. The injury to LT Justin Gilbert could be a killer for this offense. For now it looks like RT R.J. Dill will shift over and backup RT Pete DeSouza will take over the right tackle spot. DeSouza struggled badly when he came in after the Gilbert injury. He probably isn’t ready to play at this point in his development, he was a “project” to begin with, but the staff doesn’t have other options right now. The protection scheme will have to be adjusted to compensate.

 

Florida International is no Morgan State and the Terps will have to figure things out quickly if they hope to avoid the embarrassment of losing to a non-BCS league squad for the third year in a row.

 

The offense was comical in the 1st half. At one point QB Jamarr Robinson couldn’t even get the snap off. Clearly the team was not prepared well by the staff as in the first possession Maryland had to burn a timeout and still had three delay of game penalties. If you don’t know by now this game was another example of why James Franklin’s tenure as offensive coordinator/head-coach-in-waiting is going to come to an end sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mountaineer Metric

Maryland ran poor Morgan State off the field last week and there isn’t much worth taking from the game. The offense was rampant with 7 touchdowns and 24 first downs with the team cruising from the 2nd quarter on. Danny O’Brien threw three touchdowns in relief of Jamarr Robinson and even third string QB C.J. Brown got in the game. Brown broke his collarbone and is out for a few months and O’Brien sprained his ankle. The quarterback controversy heated up a little with O’Brien’s performance but it is dangerous to take too much from his performance against Morgan State. The defense for Morgan State wasn’t able to challenge Maryland in any aspect of the game. O’Brien was under little pressure and his receivers were running free in the secondary. West Virginia has another level of athlete and will be the real test for a passing game that has not shown much under Robinson or O’Brien.

It was announced that Maryland and West Virginia have extended their plans to play in football till the 2017 season. It is certainly the highest profile out of conference rival of Maryland over the last 20 years and so there is some value in extending the series. I am generally supportive of this move but at the same time I’d prefer Maryland to have a permanent series with Navy, which will likely result in more television coverage, or a rotating series with another similarly situated BCS program. The California series was very good for the Terps even with the embarrassing loss last season. While West Virginia should be a normal opponent for Maryland I think taking a break from time to time is a good thing. It is possible Maryland will play Texas in the coming years and there is already a date with Notre Dame next season at FedEx field. Then again Maryland could be in the Big Ten by the time this current agreement runs out.

West Virginia will also be a good test for the defense. I think there is visible improvement from last season and the group is starting to get comfortable with the aggressive blitzing style of Don Brown. They have forced 5 turnovers and given up two touchdowns on seven opponent’s possession in the red zone. That is decent progress. The WVU running game will test this group like Navy’s triple option. We’ll see if the big play bugaboo this defense had last season will return on Saturday.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tate scuttles Navy comeback

For many programs the opening week of the college football season is more pomp and circumstance than substance. For Maryland this may have been most significant opening the program has had in years. Not because the team looked great, it didn’t, but because a win against a quality team like Navy puts bowl qualification in the reach of this squad. It may have been one game but with Morgan State (which counts towards bowl eligibility), Florida International and Duke on the home schedule that could put Maryland within two wins of the necessary six for a bowl bid. In addition Maryland announced that Army’s AD Kevin Anderson was selected as the replacement for the departed Debbie Yow. Anderson’s selection was seen as a surprise in many circles as Connecticut AD and Maryland alum Jeff Hathaway was seen as the odds on favorite to be given the job. I’m not sure the basketball scandals at UConn helped Hathaway’s candidacy. After the announcement Gary Williams, who was on the selection committee, was out in the media giving an explanation for why Anderson was hired. Based on those comments by Williams I would not be surprised if Gary was one of the driving forces behind the hiring of Anderson. I’m not sure if the fact that Hathaway dealt with Jim Calhoun at UConn factor into but I think it is fair to say that Gary despises Calhoun more than any other coach in college basketball.

I have no strong reaction to Anderson. I think an AD should be a grey man. If they do their job well no one notices them. They are not spouting off to the press like Debbie Yow regularly did and Anderson seems content to not be the center of attention. What Maryland needs after the divisiveness of the end of the Yow era is an AD that will bring the Maryland community back together and repair the administration’s relationship with the revenue sports. Based on the comments from Gary Williams I think Anderson is on his way to being a success in that regard. The coaches at Maryland will be able to focus more on competing than on looking over their shoulders.

 

As for the game it was interesting that two units that were widely seen as question marks, the offensive line and defensive secondary, performed very well. The line plowed over Navy for most of the game and gave QB Jamarr Robinson protection the few times he threw the ball. The OL looked more cohesive and poised than at many times last season. Surely there are more talented and difficult tests coming but the unit’s play was very encouraging. Safety Kenny Tate is a star in the making. Maryland has not had a player of his range, size and instincts since Madieu Williams. He stopped two Navy touchdowns, forcing a fumble in the 3rd quarter and stopping Navy QB Ricky Dobbs on the 4th down at the 1 yard line to end the game. Strong safety Antwine Perez struggled with his reads at times but the triple options is a very challenging defense, particularly for a strong safety. Cameron Chism almost picked off a pass and looked in good form after missing some camp with injuries. There were some blown coverages and Navy didn’t test the pass coverage much but the play of the secondary was a good sign.

 

Conversely the two touted units on this team, linebacker and wide receiver, either played poorly or had no effect on the game. With the exception of Adrian Moten, who had a spectacular goal line forced fumble, none of the linebackers looked all that great. Alex Wujciak and Demetrius Hartsfield finished with a boatload of tackles but most were down the field. Wujciak struggled to cover sideline to sideline and the middle of the defense was gashed by the fullback dive on a number of occasions. The ‘backers also struggled to contain on the edges against the option. The wide receivers were not to blame that coaching staff got more conservative than the Tea Party when they went up in the game and Robinson threw an ill advised interception. Beyond a few bubble screens Maryland didn’t even try to throw down field. The running game was working but when you have great athletes like Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon outside not even bothering to throw them the ball seems foolish and a recipe for not scoring more than 20 points. Maryland won’t win many games going forward with that gameplan.

The coaching staff had a rough day. Offensive coordinator James Franklin continues to show that he has no business being a head coach. He has little feel for calling a game and often hamstrings his talent with poor decisions. Putting freshman QB Danny O’Brien in the game after a spectacular Tony Logan punt return was as dumb a move as I’ve seen in a while. O’Brien promptly fumbled the ball in the red zone on the first play and there went a scoring chance. Getting O’Brien playing time isn’t the worst idea but the game and time situation were all wrong. The clock management at the end of the game was also pretty poor as the staff dithered about calling timeout and wasted about 30 seconds before making up their mind. In the end some big plays by the defense and big mistakes by Navy bailed the coaching staff out.

I’m not sure where Jamarr Robinson goes from here. His looked uncomfortable in the pocket and seemed to put his head down to run too early. On the other hand with Da’Rel Scott and Davin Meggett he forms a formidable rushing attack. I hope Ralph Friedgen’s turnover phobia doesn’t handcuff Robinson like it did Sam Hollenbach. Robinson will make some mistakes but he has a knack for big plays as well. Take that away from him and he becomes very mediocre.

Kudos to DT Joe Vellano who had 10 tackles and 3 TFL. He looked like a stud on the inside, while senior A.J. Francis had two offsides penalties. Travis Baltz looked like he rebounded from a poor season last year and booted a FG and a couple of 50+ yard punts. Davin Meggett also looks better than he did last season when he appeared to lose his acceleration.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Future of Football

Now that the University of Maryland has appointed a new president to take over from Dan Mote the search for a new athletic director can begin in earnest. Wallace Loh, provost at the University of Iowa was hired as the president earlier this week. Clearly Loh comes from a school where football is king and Kirk Ferentz gets paid more than any other state employee in Iowa at over $3 million per year. That doesn’t mean that Loh has that kind of commitment to the football program at Maryland and the money isn’t present to reach that level regardless. It is an open question just what level of interest Loh has in promoting the sports programs at Maryland. Either way at 65 years old it is unlikely that Loh will have a long tenure as president. My feeling is that Loh was hired for his skills in overseeing a budget at the University of Iowa that is over 40% larger than the one at Maryland (embarrassing). Iowa’s endowment is also larger than Maryland’s sad amount. From an academic perspective Iowa is a solid school but I doubt Loh was chosen to help improve the academics given that Maryland is ranked ahead of Iowa in most categories. The improvement of Maryland’s academic rankings has gone very well and continues to build momentum. The budget issues that Maryland is facing are more pressing. Until those are solved and a proper endowment is created it will be tough for the university to jump into the sphere of elite public colleges.

Even though Debbie Yow is now just an unpleasant memory in College Park the ultimatum that she gave football coach Ralph Friedgen at the end of last season probably still stands. If Friedgen goes 3-9, as projected by SI.com then I think he is almost certainly going to retire with a buyout or be fired. I think it would take a miracle for head-coach-in-waiting James Franklin to prove that he actually deserves to be a head coach given that he hasn’t formed a credible case to be offensive coordinator in the last two seasons. If the program suffers another pitiful season there could be drastic changes to the coaching staff regardless of who sits in the AD’s chair by the end of the season. I would assume a nationwide search for a replacement coach would be a near certainty. What is less clear is what resources the new AD would be armed with to lure a high caliber coach head coach.

 

If the team has a decent to good season then that muddies the water considerably. That makes the likelihood of Friedgen serving out his contract much higher. Franklin’s status as a replacement depends heavily on the success of his offense this season. His recruiting prowess is much more myth than reality so it isn’t as if he has a top recruiting class as a Paul Hewitt like ace in the hole. The future of Maryland football may be decided on the field this year.

 

Tough break that linebacker Ben Pooler tore a knee ligament and is done for the season. This is the second knee injury for Pooler and makes a strong position much weaker. Pooler was a valuable reserve last year when Demetrius Hartsfield broke his hand. Now the backups are largely untested.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dirty Pool

It has been a while since my last blog entry. Life, as always, doesn’t leave as much time as I’d like to write about Maryland sports. Starting with the departures of Dan Mote and AD Debbie Yow this next year will be one of the most interesting in recent memory for Maryland sports. By this time in 2011 Maryland will have a new president, athletic director and possibly a new head football coach.

The big change for me is that my son was born at the end of June. I look forward to sharing my love of Maryland sports with him as he grows up. I have not had as much free time to write about all the significant changes at Maryland and the upcoming football season as I would like but when the family life settles into a routine hopefully that will change.

 

In the mean time here is a very interesting article by Dana O’Neil based on interviews with current basketball head coaches and the challenges of recruiting in the current environment. It isn’t a pretty picture. I also love the shot that one coach took at North Carolina. Roy Williams is a whiner, that is for sure.

 

Hopefully I can give some thoughts about the upcoming pivotal season for the football program in the coming weeks.

Let’s get the summer over and start football season.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Big night for Maryland

Greivis Vasquez has all but fulfilled his dream of playing in the NBA getting selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the 28th pick in the first round last night. It was a great scene with Vasquez and his parents in the crowd at the draft and their exuberant celebration, no surprise there, when his name was called. Vasquez suggested that he was confident about getting selected in the first round, with its guaranteed contracts, and that confidence now seems appropriate. Memphis is a decent spot for Vasquez where he could come off the bench and allow O.J. Mayo to play the off guard. Gary Williams also has to be thrilled that Vasquez was rewarded for coming back his senior year and leading Maryland to its best ACC record since the national title season and a regular season championship. Vasquez deserved this moment.

I suspect Gary Williams also was raising a few libations last night when it became known that athletic director Debbie Yow is leaving her position at Maryland to take the AD job at N.C. State. Yow’s press conference with its thinly veiled shots at Maryland and its fans is a prime example of why it is a good thing that she has moved on. Anyone who has read my blog for any time knows that I am thrilled that Yow is leaving Maryland. This could turn out to be a situation that benefits both parties.

Regardless of your opinion about Yow it was probably time for her to move on for about the last two years. If Yow had left earlier she probably would have avoided some of the recent PR disasters that came from the AD’s office and tarnished her reputation among many Maryland fans. Now Maryland can start fresh with a new AD and new president to replace Dan Mote who is leaving his post. I have a feeling that the failures of the recent power plays by Yow against Gary Williams and Ralph Friedgen were a factor in her leaving. Her relationships with the two head coaches of the revenue sports was poisoned and wasn’t going to repaired any time soon. Gary Williams resurgence has made it unlikely that Yow would get to name his successor even if she had stayed. With the way she handled her relationships with Friedgen and Williams made it impossible to effectively manage the two most important athletic programs at the University. It was an untenable situation.

Yow’s record at Maryland is a mixed one. It is true that when she arrived at Maryland back in 1994 things were a mess. The basketball team was only recently off sanctions and the football program was hapless under Mark Duffner. Saddled with a large debt Yow went about trying to find ways to pay off those liabilities and grown the athletic department. It was no easy task. The AD is in much better shape today but it is debatable how much credit Yow should get for that. She certainly deserves some, even an ardent critic like me can acknowledge that, but there were many factors that had little to do with her decisions that got Maryland back into the black. The success of Gary Williams in reviving the basketball program went a long way to balancing the budget and his team is the only real money maker among the athletic programs. Treating student athletes as in-state students for the purposes of the athletic department budget regardless of their home state was clever but little more than an accounting trick. Years after Maryland’s budget footing has improved the basketball team is still the only program that produces any significant profit while millions of dollars are spent on the women’s team that has no hope of ever breaking even. There have been improvements to facilities, most notably the Comcast Center, but many of those were only made possible by the success of Williams and Ralph Friedgen.

Much has been made of the 20 national titles that Maryland has won during the 16 years that Yow was the AD but that number is very misleading. Fourteen of those titles were won by coaches that Yow had no role in hiring. Gary Williams (2002), men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski (2005, 2008), women’s lacrosse coach Cindy Timchal (1995-2001), and field hockey coach Missy Meharg (1999, 2005-6, 2008) were all at Maryland when Yow arrived. The only titles that Yow’s hand picked coaches have won are Brenda Frese’s 2006 women’s basketball title, the women’s lacrosse title this season and the four “national titles” won by the competitive cheer squad. So in the last 16 years the men’s programs at Maryland have not won a single national title in any sport with a coach that Debbie Yow hired. If you take our the ridiculous competitive cheer titles (sorry to anyone who supports that team but an AD shouldn’t be using them to bolster this kind of claim) Yow has only hired two national title winning coaches in women’s sports. That isn’t something to be ashamed of but hardly is much to boast about either.

The larger issues were Yow’s divisive management style and her public relations disasters that marked the end of her time at Maryland. Her increasingly ugly clashes with Gary Williams in the press only made the situation worse and opened Maryland to ridicule and unflattering media coverage. In this climate it became an opportunity for local reporters to engage in a muckraking campaign against the basketball program that did legitimate harm and the national media to write articles about the disarray going on in College Park. This was all part of Yow’s attempt to undermine Williams and precipitate his departure from Maryland. In the end this clumsy attempt to settle personal scores only resulted in harm to the University, which should be the last thing an AD should do, and may have unwittingly resulted in the beginning of the end for Yow herself. Another AD with a better sense of their own role as a Sheppard, and not queen, of Maryland athletics (and the larger University) would have never let things escalate to the point that they did under Yow.

Maryland may have needed someone to clean house after Andy Geiger but those kinds of chainsaw managers rarely do well over the long term after their initial reshuffling. A good athletic director is almost invisible if they are doing their job the right way and too often Yow was a 600 pound gorilla. There are stories of Yow firing employees with a Post It note left on their desk and has a history of being hypersensitive to criticism. She often attempted to attack critics both in the media, fan message boards and even blogs like mine. I often received emails with laughable threats of litigation for offering my opinions on Yow from anonymous supporters of her. Yow’s attempts to censor various message boards like Inside Maryland Sports was shameful. That alone was enough to justify her being removed. As you can tell from this article by John Feinstein, who is certainly a Friend of Gary, her behavior won’t be missed and her undermining of people who she needs to work with will be something College Park can do without.

Even though I am delighted that Yow is leaving I have to point out that Yow denied that she was talking to N.C. State about their AD opening. Clearly that was not the case. Yow was always an outsider. People from North Carolina often have a hard time realizing most of the rest of the country gets along every day without thinking about North Carolina. Yow’s constant attempts to insist that she was a “Terp” through and through seem like the disingenuous and transparent attempt to curry favor with Maryland fans and her power base. Yow’s departure probably had as much to do with her realizing her status at Maryland wasn’t as secure as it may have seemed. Now Maryland can move on and hopefully find a replacement who will captain the ship to smoother seas. I for one and glad the sometimes tumultuous tenure of Debbie Yow at Maryland has come to a close.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The earth moves beneath our feet

It has been a busy week for Maryland sports. Let’s start with some very good news. Maryland hired Xavier assistant Orlando “Bino” Ranson as an assistant coach to replace the departed Chuck Driesell who took over the head coaching job at The Citadel.

Ranson is a young up and coming coach who is familiar with the area, particularly Baltimore, and had a very good reputation as a recruiter. He had stints with James Madison and Loyola, where he was under former Maryland assistant Jimmy Patsos, before going to Xavier. Ranson helped Xavier put together a very nice 2010 recruiting class that included 4-star Baltimore player Jordan Latham. In Ranson the Terps will get a coach who wants to be at Maryland and has proven to be a good talent evaluator and tireless recruiter. Certainly those traits are needed to replace Driesell. As I wrote earlier I think this is a very promising hire and better than some of the options that had been floated early in the process.

 

The bigger news is coming from the potentially apocalyptic shift in college conferences that is happening as I type. Colorado has already left for the Pac-10, almost sure to be followed by other Big 12 members. Nebraska seems to be poised to announce a move to the Big Ten as soon as tomorrow. There are many rumors floating around regarding Maryland’s status and potential invites to the Big Ten.

My position is that if Maryland is invited to the Big Ten they have little choice but to accept membership in what will be the most powerful and lucrative conference in college sports. I am as much a traditionalist as the next blogger, I was against expansion the first time around, but this decision cannot be made based on sentimentality. It would be best to evaluate the future of Maryland as an institution and athletic power without regard to what existed prior to the expansion of the ACC. The old ACC was relegated to history years ago. This new ACC is not configured in a way to make it competitive with a new Big Ten, SEC or an expanded Pac-10 that include most of the current Big 12. Swofford missed the boat back in 2005. He didn’t realize that getting a TV network like the Big Ten has was far more important than adding a few schools that nobody wanted. It seems that the moment for the ACC to form their own network has likely passed the league by and that may just be a fatal error. The SEC is likely moving towards their own network soon and the Pac-10 is certainly going to go that route once they add the likes of Texas and Oklahoma. The ACC will be left with a collection of teams that outside of Maryland and Boston College don’t add much to a network for cable and satellite operators. I can watch the Big Ten network in Virginia as part of my basic cable package but who in the midwest will want to pay extra to watch the ACC network when the Pac-10 and SEC have better content.

The only hope for the health of the ACC is to hope that the Big Ten stops at Nebraska and gives the ACC a chance to raid the poor Big East again. If they could grab schools like Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt then they may have a fighting chance to create their own network or negotiate a better deal on par with the SEC or Big Ten. Otherwise the ACC will be relegated to being the poor man’s big conference for the next few decades. With significant revenue advantages the other mega conferences will be able to outspend every ACC school in regards to coaches and facilities. Forget ACC football becoming a factor for decades.

Problem is I don’t think the Big Ten is as dumb as the ACC has been. They will go for the kill. That means some combination of Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse or perhaps Maryland. Even if the ACC raided the remnants of the Big East football schools such as Pitt, West Virginia and Connecticut would add little cache to any TV deals that may come in the future and further dilute the share of each member.

As a fan I would certainly miss the rivalries with Virginia, Duke and North Carolina but as expansion should have taught everyone things change. I’d rather be with the have’s instead of the have less schools. Standing pat will only cement Maryland’s position in a conference that will be second tier in terms of power and influence. The ACC is a weakened white wale that is in danger of getting harpooned and cut up for blubber. Even if it lives on it will only be a shadow of its former glory. That is not a place I want to be.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Women Lax wins title; Early All-ACC

The women’s lacrosse team defeated Northwestern on Sunday to win the 10th National Championship in the program’s history. It was the first championship for the Terps since 2001 which ended seven straight years of Maryland dominance. Northwestern had won five titles in a row before falling to the lady Terps in a seesaw affair that ended 13-11. It was the first title for head coach Cathy Reese in her fourth season at Maryland. Reese is no stranger to championships having played at Maryland during the 7 straight titles under Cindy Timchal.

Lead by senior Caitlyn McFadden, who was awarded Tournament MVP, the Terps stormed back after going down 6-0 to start the match. Sarah Mollison, Karri Johnson and Katie Schwarzmann all scored three goals each and will return next season. It looks like coach Reese has the Terps poised for another run of sustained greatness.

 

Phill Steele is out with his preseason All-ACC picks. No real surprises for Maryland with the exception of Antwine Perez getting the nod as 2nd team SS. On offense WR Torrey Smith and RB Da’Rel Scott were both given 2nd team honors. Smith was also tagged as 1st team kick returner. It illustrates the question marks on offense for Maryland this coming season that no other players were picked on the four teams.

Defense is another story. In addition to Perez Maryland has three linebackers Alex Wujciak (1st team), Demetrius Hartsfield (3rd) and Adrian Moten (3rd). The linebacking corps is certainly the best position group on the team with quality backups like Ben Pooler and Darin Drakeford in addition to the impressive starters. Safety Kenny Tate also made Steele’s 3rd team All-ACC. The defensive unit certainly has talent and it will be up to second year defensive coordinator Don Brown to get this group playing up to their talent. I expect the defense to be greatly improved this season.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

ACC News & Notes

Things are not so rosy for the Tarheels and Roy Williams. As Barry Jacobs points out it has been a rocky road since winning that national title last season. The frontcourt took a major hit with Ed Davis and the Wear twins departing. The Wear twins decision to transfer took Roy Williams by surprise, or at least that is the story in public, but I think the nasty twitter posts by UNC players about the Wear twins after the decision was public exposed the toxic atmosphere that permeated Chapel Hill last year. Not a single player on that team looked like they enjoyed playing basketball nor did they seem to like their teammates. Perhaps Larry Drew and the overrated John Henson formed a corrosive core on a team of individuals that never bonded. It didn’t help that Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson didn’t provide much leadership but then again Roy Williams is famous for making all kinds of promises to recruits so how could four year role players like those two lead of a bunch of freshman who clearly thought they were better than they were? Roy Williams has a talented group of players coming in to North Carolina but I’m not so sure that the fortunes of that team will improve as rapidly as some expect. The team next year will still be immature and selfish. As talented as the 2009 UNC squad was they also played well together, a essential ingredient to any basketball team if it is going to reach its potential.

Now that most of the ACC departures are done for the season it is easier to get a sense the landscape for next season.

Maryland is losing the best player of the post national title era in Greivis Vasquez. It isn’t possible to replace a player of his caliber. Also departing are the solid, if unspectacular, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne. Both Hayes and Milbourne were solid players who knew their role and didn’t usually try to do things they could not. The team next season will miss their experience far more than their talents. Veterans Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker will step into the vacated guard spots and along with Sean Mosley will provide a backcourt that is fairly mature give that Hayes and Vasquez started so many games the last four seasons. Milbourne will get replaced by either Dino Gregory or James Padgett. Neither can provide the level of offense that Milbourne did but both are probably better defenders and rebounders. The five incoming freshmen will provide depth and guards like Pe’Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin may see significant time right away. The team won’t be as talented on offense but will be significantly more athletic and defensive oriented which may mark a return to a more successful pressing full court style.

Jordan Williams is primed to take a leap into All-ACC play as a sophomore. You could argue he is the best low post player in the ACC with all the departures. If he can match some very high expectations then Maryland will be a in great shape.

 

Georgia Tech took a major blow when Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors departed for the NBA. The Yellow Jackets should have a pretty good backcourt, maybe the best in the ACC, but the low post will be smoke and mirrors.

Florida State lost Solomon Alabi and Ryan Reid on the interior. That may require Chris Singleton to move to the inside. Michael Snaer was impressive and the Seminoles have some highly rated recruits coming in so they figure to tread water.

Wake Forest, Virginia and Boston College have all been decimated through coaching changes or departures. The Deacons lost the most with Al-Farouq Aminu, Ish Smith, L.D. Williams and Chas McFarland all leaving. There is some talent on the roster with C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart but this could be a rough season with a new coach and a host of young players. Virginia lost Sylven Landesberg Tristan Spurlock and Jeff Jones. The Cavaliers have some solid role players like Mustapha Farrakhan and Sammy Zeglinski but lack experience and offensive firepower. I’d be surprised if they can match their 5-11 record from last season. BC was terrible last year but lost their best player and now has a new coach. With the departure of Al Skinner and Rakim Sanders it isn’t obvious how the Eagles will be competitive next year though they do have some experienced players.

Even with Malcolm Delaney returning Virginia Tech is not that much better than the mediocre bunch they were last year. Their record may improve as teams like Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Maryland fall back but fundamentally they won’t be a much better team. With players like Delaney and Jeff Allen there is a serious deficiency in leadership in Seth Greenberg’s squad. With high expectations going into the season it will be worth watching to see what happens if things go south early on.

Clemson must adjust to life without Trevor Booker who did a little of everything for them and Oliver Purnell who lifted them out of the ACC basement. Clemson has the raw talent to get back to being a player in the ACC but I don’t see them getting to the post season this year.

Overall the ACC figures to be weak again next season. Outside of Duke there isn’t a single team that has much of a chance to contend for a Final Four birth. In Gary Williams Maryland has a leader that can out coach almost every opponent in the league save the guy in Durham. That gives them a significant advantage going into an uncertain season.