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.