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.