Friday, October 28, 2011

Edsall's rebuilding project: his image

If you are a head coach of a revenue sport at the University of Maryland and the Washington Post's sports page is running opinion pieces about your program you had better duck and cover. Just over half way through his inaugural season in College Park Randy Edsall has learned that this media market isn't like Storrs, Connecticut. The level of scrutiny in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore markets is on a whole other level. A dishonest bully like Jim Calhoun wouldn't be able to kowtow the media here into reporting stories the way he wanted and Edsall's "one voice" policy with the media isn't going to win him any friends or curb negative stories in the local media. Jason Reid's article on Edsall's "rebuilding" effort at Maryland is a pretty good summary of where Edsall and the football program stand at the moment. After the uniform fanfare to start the season it has been a series of public relations blunders for Edsall and as Reid wrote it has seemed at times the Maryland coach has been talking out both sides of his mouth regarding the status of the program. His gaffs regarding the talent level on the squad and the shape of the program he inherited from Ralph Friedgen are more maddening if you consider that Edsall's rarely says anything of value when he is being interviewed about game strategy, injuries or mostly anything else worth knowing from a fan's perspective.

Basketball head coach Mark Turgeon has done better with the learning curve in adjusting to the new level of media scrutiny in this town. He has the advantage of the blessing of the legendary coach he replaced and he has played that well but he also hasn't coached a game yet. Expectations are not high for the basketball team yet it will be worth noting how Turgeon handles embarrassing losses to rivals like Duke and the inevitable emphasis on the struggles of his depleted squad. Turgeon has a history of griping about attendance, especially in his time at Texas A&M, and he may not be thrilled with a half full Comcast Center with his team near the bottom of the ACC standings.

There are many reasons that one can point to when trying to explain the struggles of the football team this season. Injuries, tough opponents, the expected and sometimes painful adjustment to a new coaching staff are all legitimate reasons. Despite this Edsall has done himself no favors in his public statements and to this point he has failed badly in the court of fan opinion. I don't know a single Maryland fan that had Randy Edsall as his first choice to replace Ralph Friedgen yet Edsall doesn't seem to appreciate that he needs to sell himself to Maryland fans as much as he needs to sell the program. Right now few are buying either.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eagle In Atlanta Q&A

Another year another Q&A with longtime guest of Boston College blogger Bill from Eagle In Atlanta. Check out his blog for some interesting tidbits regarding Maryland head coach Randy Edsall and his connections to Boston College.

1. Boston College started off the season with 3 losses but it would be hard for any ACC program to win at Clemson and Virginia Tech which were the last two opponents for the Eagles. Is this BC team has bad as their 1-6 record currently or have you seen some signs of improvement?

I don't think BC is as bad as their record. There has been some bad luck, some injuries and some staff shakeups, but ultimately BC could have and should have beaten Duke and Northwestern. The Wake Forest game was winnable. UCF had a lopsided score but BC was also in that game for much of the action. As for signs of improvement, it is hard to tell. They haven't looked that much better against Clemson or Virginia Tech, but as you mentioned, those are two elite teams.

2. The loss of RB Montel Harris Jr. seems to have sent BC's offense into a death spiral but the starting QB and WRs from last season returned as well. Have the struggles been due to failures at the skill positions or on the offensive line?

I don't blame Montel. His replacements at RB have been some of the highlights of BC's season so far. I think the major issue is offensive line. Too often Chase Rettig is running for his life or throwing passes with someone in his face. He is not getting enough protection. Although we don't have great skill guys, it does explain the lack of scoring. Poor lineplay does.

3. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is doing what he always does, amassing tackles at an impressive rate, but the rest of the defense has struggled. Is the defense getting production from any other players besides the star linebacker?

All the linebackers have been good. So good, that BC has started using more 3-4. The problems have been in upfront and in the secondary. BC is thin and young in both areas. In the past we've gotten by with less talent but with smart, experienced players. Now we are left with guys upfront who cannot get a push and DBs who cannot force turnovers.

4. It appears the honeymoon is over for head coach Frank Spaziani sitting at 1-6 with a slate of tough games remaining on the schedule. Given that Dan Henning only lasted three seasons and BC seems to have a history of pulling the plug on coaches who struggle what do you think are Spaziani's chances of remaining at Boston College past this season assuming the Eagles don't go on a winning streak?

Right now I think Spaz will be back. As crazy as it sounds, I think the politics around the program will keep him safe. Our AD painted himself into a corner when he fired Jags and promoted Spaz. He's got a lot of political and financial capital invested in Spaz. Unless other powers around the school take a stand, I think Spaz comes back...even at 1-11.

Many thanks to Bill in a season where both BC and Maryland are struggling.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Seminoles thrash defenseless Terps, 41-16

Maryland looked helpless last Saturday while getting crushed by Florida State. The defense had as bad a performance as any Maryland team since the getting run off the field by California in the 2009 opener. The game went downhill right from the kickoff as FSU scored two straight touchdowns on drives of 7 and 9 plays to open the game 14-0. This Seminole team is not stacked with NFL athletes like past additions but the talent gap between the two teams was painfully obvious. At linebacker and secondary the Terps just couldn't match up with FSU's speed. While the team was able to apply some pressure on E.J. Manuel it was  too little as FSU amassed over 500 yards of offense and five touchdowns. The Terps were particularly bad on 1st down as FSU totaled 290 yards on first down alone! They ran the ball 21 times for 126 yards, a 6.0 yard per carry average, and completed 8/13 passes for 154 yards, a phenomenal 11.8 yards per attempt. It made the job of stopping a pretty good FSU offense almost impossible.

The offense didn't perform much better as QB C.J. Brown couldn't get anything going in the first half and Maryland punted on six of the first seven possessions. Florida State looked at the tape from the Clemson game and bottled up Brown's scrambling leaving him with his spotty passing to move the ball. Brown needed to read the pressure from the Seminole defense a little better as Danny O'Brien, who replaced Brown when he got knocked woozy on a scramble, did several times and audibled to a better play. Not that O'Brien really played that much better completing just 50% of his attempts and getting most of his yardage on a 69 yard jump ball to McCree. In his six drives Maryland punted four times and he had two 3 and out possessions late in the game. I don't put much stock in the garbage time touchdown that O'Brien threw to Marcus Leak with 5 seconds left. The defense was probably a bad matchup for Brown but Randy Edsall has a real mess on his hands since there is no clear choice at quarterback and a back and forth system at quarterback is probably not a great idea if you are trying to galvanize the team to save the season. At this point it probably is worth going back to Danny O'Brien as a starter given some of the weaker defenses coming up for the Terps.

The 41-16 defeat to Florida State was the 5th loss in a row to the Seminoles and only the second worst margin during that time, losing 37-3 in 2008.

It does seem obvious that Maryland needs to recruit a better caliber of athlete to match up with FSU and Clemson, who have been killing it on the recruiting trail the last few years. The Seminoles and Tigers have not been able to match that recruiting with on the field domination, with Clemson's current season an exception, but the Terrapins are going to struggle to compete in the Atlantic Division with the kind of recruits that Randy Edsall brought to Connecticut or even the level of players that Ralph Friedgen was recruiting his last few seasons at Maryland. It remains to be seen if Edsall has the kind of staff that can make that happen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Terps in transition

I think most Maryland fans anticipated a level of continuity going into this season even with longtime coach Ralph Friedgen being forced out in the offseason. Truth is very little has carried over since last season's 9-4 record. Everything from the staff, multiple starters and even the uniforms has changed. Many fans viewed QB Danny O'Brien and defensive star Kenny Tate as cornerstones of their respective units but neither will start at Florida State this Saturday. It appears O'Brien has lost his starting job due to poor performance and Tate has some unspecified injury that will keep him out for the third game in a row this week.

The new spread offense is very comparable to James Franklin's from last year even though Franklin probably had better talent at the skill positions, certainly at wide out. The defense has bottomed out falling to 87th in the country in scoring defense from 37th last season allowing over 430 yards per game at this point. To be fair Clemson's offense is one of the most explosive units in the nation scoring 35 points or more in every game this season except at Virginia Tech when they demolished the Hokies 23-3. Even so Todd Bradford's defense survived until halftime with Clemson misfiring with the ball but once the 2nd half started the floodgates opened. Injuries have certainly decimated the defense with a grab bag of freshman linebackers all starting in place of the opening game starters. Out of 22 starters for the oh-so-long-ago opener against Miami 10 have either been lost to injury or demoted due to poor performance going into the Florida State game. It is hard to consider that as anything other than a disaster.

C.J. Brown played well in his first start against a leaky but athletic defense. His running ability adds a dimension to Maryland's offense that is impressive. It is true that the zone read spread offense or whatever you want to call Gary Crowton's scheme better suits the elusive Brown over the static O'Brien. Still, O'Brien didn't play well regardless of the scheme or the limitations it may have imposed on him. Brown improved his passing dramatically from the prior week against Georgia Tech and if he continues to improve then there won't be any need for a discussion of the QB controversy. Once defenses adjust to Brown's running ability his passing will be tested but he doesn't face an exceptional defense the rest of the season after FSU.

Guard Pete White did a decent job replacing the injured Gonnella at left guard but you have to wonder if LT Max Garcia's struggles in that game were due in part to losing his starting guard.

Corner Cam Chism had his 2nd pick for a touchdown of the season against Clemson. Chism is a feast or famine corner and he his pick was the defensive highlight of the night but he also struggled in coverage along with CB Dexter McDougle. It isn't their fault really as the pass rush was non-existent and they are not good enough to cover Clemson's wideouts one on one. Defensive ends David Mackall and Keith Bowers have not notched a sack in the last two games and Bowers hasn't recorded one all season. Maryland had one sack on a botched snap even though Clemson passed the ball 38 times. The staff will have to find a way to put more pressure on opposing QBs in the coming weeks which won't be easy with a bunch of freshman linebackers.

Special teams was awful in this game giving up the decisive kickoff return for a touchdown and has been terrible all season. The lack of depth on this team is most apparent in the coverage units which are dreadful. The return units are not much better as Tony Logan has seen his production drop off dramatically.

The schedule lightens up for Maryland after this week with what amounts to three straight home games, the Notre Dame game is at FedEx Field, and then road dates at Wake Forest and N.C. State. A 6-6 record is still very possible even with a loss to FSU on Saturday.

While head coach Randy Edsall hinted Maryland was rebuilding then quickly retreated from those quotes it is clear that the program is in a state of flux. Edsall's dog house is getting pretty big these days as players like Ronnie Tyler, A.J. Francis, D.J. Adams and dare I suggest Kenny Tate are all apparently either phased out or in that process. If Edsall wants to put his stamp on this program and several of those players are resisting that process then it is his prerogative to allocate playing time how he sees fit. However he should also be accountable for the decision to give time to players who are not ready or not talented enough in their place. His decision to run off veteran linebackers Ben Pooler and Ryan Donohue looks pretty dumb at this point as he is forced to roll out freshmen like Mario Rowson and Alex Twine. Many fans are getting restless since the opening win over Miami and unfortunately the road ahead promises to be rocky with the injuries and more than little internal turmoil on the squad. It could be an ugly offseason around College Park unless this team can go on a winning steak to end the season.