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.