Sunday, November 30, 2008

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 34, Bengals 3

The word of the game is... savage. The Ravens were absolutely relentless in dismantling the Bengals, and didn’t take their foot off of the gas pedal until they had obtained a 31 point advantage over their division rival. Up 13-3 at half, the Ravens could have been content to play it close to the vest and let their defense win the game. Instead Cam Cameron decided to go for the jugular, opening up the aerial attack and knocking out the Bengals while they were staggering. On both sides of the ball the Ravens smelled blood and swarmed the wounded Bengals.

This game was one that the Ravens were heavily favored to win, and by extension it was a game that they could not afford to lose. It’s always dangerous in the NFL when you’re facing an opponent with nothing to lose while you have everything to lose. The Ravens needed this game to stay on track for a possible playoff berth. Now they can exhale and start looking to the final quarter of this surprising season, standing at 8-4 and in the driver seat for the last AFC playoff spot.

Offense - Overall Grade: A-
Quarterbacks: A-

Joe Flacco finished this game with tremendous numbers – 19 of 29 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. However, Flacco did start off the game very slowly, seemed to have difficulty moving through his progression, and occasionally got antsy in the pocket. He delivered some excellent deep passes, and hopefully this game represents a breakthrough in his chemistry with Mark Clayton. If Joe Flacco can feel as confident with Clayton as he does Mason, this can become a legitimate passing attack come late December when teams start bearing down on Mason.
Running Backs: C+
Willis McGahee did not play today; one has to assume it was a combination of 1) injury, 2) the success of La’Ron McClain and Ray Rice, and 3) the fact that the Ravens were playing the Bengals. Unfortunately it looked as if the Ravens could have used Willis, as La’Ron McClain and Ray Rice were both ineffective until the game was well out of hand. In the first half this group did just about nothing, and put all of the offensive weight on Joe Flacco. This was certainly by design on the part of the Bengals, but more is expected of these young running backs.
Wide Receivers: A
Who needs a third wide receiver? Clayton and Mason were dominant today, as Mark Clayton exploded for 164 yards and a touchdown receiving, and a 32-yard touchdown pass. Derrick Mason was his usual reliable self, and hauled in Clayton’s 32-yard touchdown pass. These two took full advantage of every opportunity thrown (no pun... okay yes, pun intended) their way.
Tight Ends: B
Todd Heap had a good day, and seems to be slowly returning to form. Make no mistake, until the Ravens have more depth at tight end Todd Heap will not have the opportunity to be the All-Pro he can be. Still, it’s good to see Todd producing again.
Offensive Line: B-
Flacco was given decent time, however the run blocking was insufficient. Against a defense such as that of the Bengals, it’s expected that the offensive line should generate at least some steady running lanes but that was not the case today. That being said, the offensive line is severely hampered by injuries and Jared Gaither was clearly playing in pain.

Defense - Overall Grade: A+
Defensive Line: A+

I can’t think of any way to grade down this group. They dominated the line of scrimmage for all 60 minutes, and there is no other way to put it.
Linebackers: A+
Cedric Benson and Chris Perry were hounded by this group, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was absolutely shell shocked by the end. No group epitomizes the aggressiveness of the Baltimore Ravens than this linebacking corps. Merciless.
Defensive Backs: A+
Yes, Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh got their catches, but let me put it this way: Ravens Secondary 7, Cincinatti Bengals 3. Ravens Secondary wins.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: B+
Kicker: A
Stover did his job, converting on each of his opportunities and both of his extra points.
Punter: A
Sam Koch had an excellent game, averaging 47.3 yards on 7 punts, with four going inside the 20. It’s hard to ask for much more from your punter.
Returners: B
Although he didn’t generate very much in terms of positive field position, Figurs played with intelligence and confidence. This should generate into better returns down the stretch.
Coverage: C-
This is starting to become awfully disconcerting. The coverage unit, particularly on kickoffs, was a sieve. For a team supposedly littered with special teams ‘aces’, the certainly give the opponents great field position. This is going to come back to bite the Ravens if they don’t get things straightened out.

Coaching - Overall Grade: A
Offensive: A

Great job of game planning by Cam Cameron—the offensive coaching staff clearly isolated Leon Hall as the weak link in the Bengals’ secondary and exploited that weakness. Attempts were made to run the ball early, but Cameron made the adjustments to burn the Bengals for jamming the box to stuff the run. Just once, though, I would love to go through a full game without a timeout being called the first time Troy Smith tries to enter the game.
Defensive: A+
Make it a clean sweep of A-plus’s for the defense (I must be losing my edge). But I’ll put it this way; it’s really tough to get a group to focus for all 60 minutes against a team like the Bengals. It would have been really easy for this group to let up for just one drive on this game and let in a touchdown, but they didn’t.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Mark Clayton–
Boy howdy, I’m incredibly happy that Mark Clayton finally had the opportunity to make plays like this. If you take a close look at the plays that Clayton made, it’s in all of the little things he did where he found his success. How Clayton shielded the defender on that fade in the third quarter was a thing of absolute beauty. He can run, he can throw, he can catch; here’s to hoping that this isn’t the last time that the former Sooner finds himself here.

LVP (Least Valuable Player) –La’Ron McClain– Statistically he had a decent game, however the mass majority of that success was found when the game was well out of hand. The Ravens need more production out of their starting running back. McClain was handed the starting job for this game, but with that job comes the responsibility to produce.

(Photo Credit: Brendan Ayanbandejo (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun), Mark Clayton(center) (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun), Mark Clayton(right) (Christopher Assaf/Baltimore Sun), Jim Leonhard (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun))

Maryland-Georgetown: The Forgotten Rivalry

The D.C. area has two programs that are considered top-notch basketball programs. The Maryland Terrapins and the Georgetown Hoyas. Normally, with two teams as good and as close as these two are, it would be a natural fit for a rivalry. But these two have not taken the court against each other in eight years, even worse, they have not scheduled one against one another in 15. So how can this be, that these two natural rivals don't play each other?

Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun provides some good insight into the problem. A lot of this goes back to when Lefty Driesell and John Thompson were the coaches of Maryland and Georgetown respectively, and they had a feud, which would transition to Gary Williams when he took over the Terrapins. And because of the scheduling strategies that go on in the NCAA, both are probably worried about facing one another. It is hard to imagine that location is the issue. Even though they may disagree on either the Verzion Center or the Comcast Center, a neutral setting could be found easily. For now, one has, in Orlando. Seems very odd that Orlando is the reunion place.

Thompson and Driesell seem to not feud anymore, and I hope Maryland and Georgetown can put this problem aside. Maryland seems to be trying to rebuild some of its local ties, including once in a while playing Navy in football. But this would be the most important one, rebuilding a tie and having the two best teams in the D.C. area play each other. Let's hope it is not eight years before Maryland and Georgetown meet again.

(Photo credit: SFGate Sports (Maryland), Georgetown athletics (Georgetown))

Ravens-Bengals Preview: As Playoffs Approach, "Can Win" equals "Must Win"

Thanks to Falco for holding down the fort and doing both the pregame and postgame for the Terps on Saturday! Windsor and I were visiting our families over the break and barely had time for the free kick on Friday. However, we are sure to be home for the Ravens…

Make no mistake, Cincinnati wants this one badly. Baltimore better want it too. With upcoming games against Dallas, Washington, and Pittsburgh, the Ravens will need every win they can get to cling to that #6 spot in the wildcard race or have a whisper of a hope to win the division outright. Putting away the 1-9-1 Bengals won’t make the Ravens climb the power rankings or get them a segment on Sportscenter, but it will be another AFC win that will be essential when the litany of tiebreakers go into effect. The home team, for their part, has been playing its recent opponents tough since taking down Jacksonville and clawing from the ranks of the “beaten.” The mantra of this team has been to beat the teams they should beat (and lose to the others, but I doubt that is part of the plan), and luckily for them, this should be a late-season tune up. But much stranger things have happened, and I still have my questions.

What I’m Wondering:

Will Joe Play it Safe?
This week will be about mistake-free football. The Ravens are the better team, but the Bengals were tenacious against Donovan McNabb and even Ben Roethlisberger, forcing turnovers and staying in the ball game deep into the second half against the Steelers. The problem however, has been that their offense is more inept than a Kyle Boller squad. In fact, their performance in recent weeks has reminded me of the 11-5 Bengals squad of 3 years ago that won on a huge turnover margin but petered out when Carson Palmer was downed in the 1st quarter of the wildcard round against Pittsburgh. Do I think that this team is suddenly that good? Of course not, but the D has not packed it in for the season. Joe Flacco has kept a cool head this season and hasn’t shown the tendency to play down to competition, but this week will be a test in that regard. The Ravens quarterback ought not assume anything against the Bengals secondary or risk giving the Cincy offense easy opportunities to score. Will the Ravens quarterback take the inferior opponent for granted or patiently carve them up underneath?

How many turnovers/sacks for the Ravens D?
I cannot feign a serious anxiety about the Bengals’ ability to hold onto the ball or protect backup-turned-starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a consummate backup- not good, not terrible, but not someone you want starting more than a game or two, especially on a team whose offense was struggling even before Palmer went down. This game is not a question of if, but when the Bengals make a horrific mistake. The Ravens defense returned with a vengeance against the Eagles after being gashed by the Giants, will that intensity hold up? Being a divisional game, it might. However, with the upcoming schedule, the defense could be tempted to look ahead as it did against the Browns for the first 3 quarters of their second matchup of the season. To sweep the season series, the Ravens will have to create opportunities for the offense to work with a short field and come away with points early and force the Bengals to attempt to come from behind. Will the Ravens defense make the 3rd year backup attempt to beat them with his arm or come out slow out of the gate and let the Bengals win field position?

Which of the Three Running Backs will succeed against the Bengals?
Willis McGahee has had his big games this season. So has Ray Rice. Last week, LaRon McClain bulldozed the Eagles for 88 yards and 1 score. Which back will perform the best this week? I’m leaning towards a repeat of McClain against one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. The Bengals are like any other team 8 games under .500- they are playing tough but ready to break when they get into a hole. The best way to break a team is by sending a bruiser up the middle and dragging the linebackers for a few yards at a time. However, if the Bengals decide to pin their ears back and attack the line of scrimmage, don’t be surprised to see more screens to get the other backs involved? Who will have the biggest game? It might be a combination, but I wanted to ask anyway.

My Mildly Informed Analysis:

The Bengals cannot score. Were it not for T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Chad Johnson, there would be little reason for them to not punt on 1st down and hope for a defensive touchdown. Perhaps I am exaggerating, let me backtrack here so we can break down what the Ravens will actually be facing. The Bengals running game is 29th in the NFL at a paltry 80.0 yards per game. Even if they exceed that by 50% or more (unlikely against the still stingy Ravens run defense), it wouldn’t be enough to put them in the top 3rd of the league! Why? The departure of reliable back Rudi Johnson is the easy explanation, but this team was still in the bottom half of the league when he was there last year. I would point to the lack of a threat from the quarterback position, allowing opponents to stack 8 or 9 men in the box to stop the run and daring Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them… and he won’t.

But before we go onto the sexy passing game, let’s keep on the ground. The addition of Cedric Benson did provide a brief spark to the Bengals running game, but we would be wise to keep it in perspective. After a 104 yard, 4.3 yard per carry effort against Jacksonville (currently sitting at 4-7, for what it’s worth), the former Chicago 1st round pick and legendary drunken boater has since been given 39 carries for 77 yards, worse than a 2 yard average. Clearly teams caught on rather quickly to the addition of Benson, and I doubt his running style- predictable and not powerful enough to get away with it will be a problem for Haloti Ngata. Now watch him gash the Ravens for 140 yards runaway-beer-truck style…

The Harvard boy quarterbacks the worst offense in the NFL. Yes, dead last. That is, the Lions, Raiders, and Rams can all claim more competent yardage numbers, and it isn’t close. As far as points are concerned, a paltry 13.5 points per game is good for 31st, edging out the Rams. For his part however, Fitzpatrick has not been awful on paper. In fact, his numbers are similar to what Joe Flacco’s were 8 games into the season- completing 61% of his passes for 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions- about what you would expect out of a backup in this league. All of you who think a Pro Bowler should be the team’s backup can shut up and get a clue. Backups are supposed to be mediocre, and Fitzpatrick is run-of-the-mill backup material. What is holding him back is his embarrassing 4.9 yards per attempt, which is shocking given the big-play receivers available to him. Either his nerves are keeping him holding the ball too long or his receivers aren’t getting open or he is getting too much pressure to launch the ball deep. We have a winner! Bengals quarterbacks have been sacked an astonishing 39 times this season; only the Lions and 9ers are worse.

Is there any question what the Ravens defensive strategy will be? In case you just stumbled on this blog for the first time… The Ravens will blitz early, often, and from as many directions as possible to fluster and confuse Fitzpatrick the same way the Steelers did a couple weeks ago. Once the running game is contained, this front 7 will pin its ears back and hit Fitzpatrick until he is nervous to take the snap. The secondary might be left on man against a talented group of receivers, but I doubt Fitzpatrick will have much time to consider the matchups, much less throw the ball accurately.

Wow, I just spent an awful lot of time on the 32nd ranked offense against the #3 ranked defense. I may have just written more about the Bengals offense than anyone has been able to all season… there is a reason for that, read on.

Luckily, there is a much more intriguing matchup on the defensive end. The Bengals have the reputation for hemorrhaging points, and it is still true this season as they are in the bottom half of the league with 25.1 points per game allowed, roughly in line with their status from last season. However, they are doing this despite being given much worse field position and a much more mistake-prone offense than any time in recent history (i.e. since Carson Palmer/Jon Kitna). How? I referenced to turnovers earlier, but that was what gave the Bengals the tie with the Eagles, and what sealed the win against the Jaguars. Honestly, it comes down to a passing defense that, while only tallying 8 interceptions all season, is still in the middle of the league in yardage allowed. This is probably a misleading statistic, however. The Bengals have been behind so often there has been little motivation for teams to pass the football for long gains. Teams much prefer to run on them, as they rank 7th in the league in most rushing attempts against.

Does this playbook sound familiar? This sounds very promising for teams that like to run the ball and try to pass conservatively in safe situations. Like the Ravens? Yea, I thought so. We don’t know a whole lot about the Bengals defense because of the state of their offense and the situations they are placed under. The way the Bengals offense plays will be much more indicative of how many points the Ravens can score than will the Bengals defense.

The Rundown

I don’t see how the Bengals win this one aside from pure unadulterated hate and the unpredictable nature of divisional games. The Ravens’ gameplan plays right into the Bengals weaknesses, and if Baltimore’s defense forces an early turnover or helps the offense jump out to a double-digit lead, this could be over quickly. Don’t look for Coach Harbaugh to get fancy this week; he will get a lead and beat Cincy down for the rest of the afternoon.

The nod goes to the Ravens, 27-6

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Postgame Report Card: #21 Boston College 28, Maryland 21

We almost expected Pam Ward to say "Flutie did it, Flutie did it." The fake field goal turned touchdown plus the dominating BC defense got them the win tonight. For the first time in seven attempts, Maryland failed to take down a ranked opponent. Though it was a hard fought game, many things could have been changed to possibly change Maryland's fortune.

With the victory, Boston College wins the Atlantic Division, earning a place in the ACC Tournament against Coastal Division champion Virginia Tech. Maryland at 7-5 will await the bowl selections next week.

Offense - Overall Grade: C
Quarterbacks: B
This is the first game all season where Chris Turner had a above average day while the Terps lost. But with no help from the running game or the playcalling, Turner kept Maryland in the game. 33/57 for 360 yards, three scores (two pass, one run) and two picks. One interception was returned for a touchdown late in the game. But Turner did what he could, especially without Darrius Heyward-Bey. 20 of the 22 first downs came from the air.
Running Backs: F+
Da'Rel Scott: 13 carries for 20 yards. Davin Meggett: three rushes for four yards. Only reason this is not an F is because Boston College is a great run defense. The only reason.
Wide Receivers: B+
Without Heyward-Bey to lead them, Danny Oquendo, Torrey Smith, and Emani Lee-Odai had solid performances, with the first two getting over 100 yards and a touchdown. This is the first game we have really seen the depth of Maryland's receiving core.
Tight Ends: C
This grade is split: Lansford Watson had a solid game with five catches and good blocking, Dan Gronkowski had no catches and did not help at all.
Offensive Line: F
It does not matter how good the opposing line is. When you net -4 yards on the ground and allow five sacks, you failed today. Plus, the line seemed to have issues at inopportune moments, including Scott Burley receiving two holding penalties.

Defense - Overall Grade: B-
Defensive Line: C-
Decent pressure was put on Dominique Davis, but Montel Harris was a killer runner against the front line. By not stopping Harris, the BC offense was allowed to flow well. Only one sack on an ACC quarterback that had never started a game.
Linebackers: B
The linebacker corps had to make up for a lot of the line's mistakes, with Alex Wujciak and Dave Philistin getting double digit tackles.
Secondary: B-
With the exception of the one play where Jeff Allen missed his coverage completely and allowed a touchdown, the passing game was kept in check by the secondary. Davis only averaged 5.4 yards a pass.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: C+
Kicker: C-
Obi Egekeze missed a short field goal, converted three extra points.
Punter: B-
Even a bad day for Travis Baltz isn't all that bad. Only averaged 33 yards a punt, but pinned two inside the 20.
Returners: B-
Once again, nothing special, nothing bad. Danny Oquendo had a few questionable decisions on returns, but no turnovers or close calls. Torrey Smith had one great return, one bad one, and four mediocre ones.
Coverage: D
Billy Flutie is the holder and the kicker is not reliable. No one expects a trick play, but Maryland looks very unprepared for such a thing. That fake was the play of the game, and the game was won by one touchdown.

Coaching - Overall Grade: C
Offense: D+
James Franklin is lucky that Chris Turner played well, because he made life incredibly difficult for his quarterback. Putting in bad running plays, and in turn, giving up on the rushing attack all together. The line couldn't stop the BC front seven, so Turner kept getting pressured. Eventually Turner would make a big mistake, which led to the pick six. Turner has to have more help from the playcalling.
Defense: B-
Chris Cosh didn't do a bad job tonight, BC kept switching up the plays and offense to offense, both teams matched. The blitz packages could have been better, especially against a player with Davis's experience, but the defense was not bad tonight.

MVP: Chris Turner
It has already been mentioned, the leader of the offense was Turner. Single-handedly he kept the Terps in this contest.
LVP: Da'Rel Scott
13 carries for 20 yards. One of those carries was for nine yards, so 12 carries for 11 yards. It doesn't matter how good the defense is. The lack of a running game killed Maryland tonight.

(Photo credits: Baltimore Sun)

Pregame: Maryland at #21 Boston College

On a freezing cold night in College Park last week, Florida State pounded the Terps 37-3, ending Maryland's chances as the ACC Championship. Technically, a win would give them a share of the Atlantic Division title, but Florida State owns the tiebreaker with their win. Now, the Terps have quite the game in front of them. If Maryland wins, the foe that knocked them out last week gets into the championship game. If they lose, then their opponent, Boston College, will get their ticket to Tampa.

The Maryland Terrapins (7-4, 4-3 ACC) take their Thanksgiving leftovers up to Chestnut Hill to battle the Boston College Eagles (8-3, 4-3 ACC) in their last regular season game. The Eagles have won their last three contests, the last two ACC games on the road included. Maryland has lost two of their last three games and has not played a Saturday road game since they were shutout against Virginia October 4th.

Though Maryland does not have a championship to fight for anymore, they may be playing for a bowl spot. Currently eight teams in the conference are bowl-eligible, with the possibility of going up to 10. Earlier this week, Maryland announced that if offered the EagleBank Bowl, against opponent Navy in Washington D.C. on December 20th, the Terps would decline it. The 20th is the last day of final exams, and Maryland does not want to disrupt that. This bowl would be given to one of the lower ACC teams. Though Maryland might still be given a higher-up bowl if they lose, like the Humanitarian Bowl, there is no telling what could happen. To assure a bowl, Maryland needs to win, otherwise they will be chancing it.

Scouting the Competition: Boston College Eagles

Boston College's victory over Wake Forest last week had a high price. Starting quarterback Chris Crane broke his collarbone, and is out for the rest of the year. So in his place, Dominique Davis, a redshirt freshman, will make his first start in his college career. Davis is talented, but replacing Crane, who could throw well and was a threat to run, will be very hard to do, especially with such high stakes on the line. However, Davis led BC on a touchdown drive in the 4th quarter to get the victory last week over Wake.

On the ground, two freshmen runners have been effective. Montel Harris is the primary back, averaging 5.2 yards a carry plus scoring five times. Josh Haden will also see a lot of carries, getting 4.1 yards per rush this season. There are plenty of targets for Davis; five players have at least 19 catches on the season. Rich Gunnell, the recipient of Davis's winning touchdown last week, has 39 catches to lead the unit.

But the key to this team is defense. Senior defensive tackle B.J. Raji (pictured) is one of the most feared d-linemen in the conference. On the year he has six sacks and 30 tackles. Other big time players include junior linebacker Marc Herzlich with 92 tackles and five picks and senior strong safety Paul Anderson, who also has five picks. The defense has 23 interceptions and allows just 95.8 yards on the ground per game. Also, BC has three shutouts this year, taking down Kent State, Rhode Island, and Notre Dame.

Things to look out for:
--Maryland is 6-0 in their last six games against ranked opponents, including four wins this year. They have more wins over top-25 teams this season than anyone else.
--Chris Turner has not had a great game since Maryland's shutout win over Wake Forest. He has had a few decent games since then, but he is due for a huge game, especially for his knack of coming back after big losses.
--Other than his problems with holding on to the ball, Da'Rel Scott has been good the last few games. But BC has a powerful run defense, especially on the line. He will need to be effective on breaking to the outside. Because of this, I'm not sure if Davin Meggett will see much time.
--Because of the injury to Crane, it is essential that Maryland stop the running game. The Terps need to exploit the fact that Davis has not started a game.

Prediction:

When not faced with expectations, Maryland plays a lot better than with them. Now that they do not have a ranking or a chance at the conference title, they will step up against BC's new quarterback. Maryland will make it 7-0 against ranked opponents.

Prediction- Maryland 23, Boston College 20

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun (Terps photos), Grant Halverson, Getty Images (Raji))

Friday, November 28, 2008

Maryland Upsets Michigan State, Now Goes After Gonzaga

Thanks to a 23-5 run and the Spartans foul trouble and bad free throw shooting, the Terps defeated the #6 team in the nation 80-62 in the Old Spice Classic. The Terps next face another top ten team, Gonzaga, at 5:30 on ESPN. Because Maryland won its first game, both their remaining games, against Gonzaga and against either Tennessee or Georgetown, will be on the main two networks of ESPN instead of ESPNU.

Dave Neal, Dave Neal of all people got player of the game, and it was well deserved. A perfect 3-3 from downtown, 17 points and five rebounds from the team's lone senior. Greivis Vasquez also had 17 plus six assists, Eric Hayes had 13 points, six rebounds, and five assists, plus Adrian Bowie landed 13 points.

Even if Michigan State had better free throw shooting (12-27, 44.4%), this game was just going Maryland's way. The team looks a lot more physical trying to grab rebounds, the shooting looked better, and this was a much better showing than in the previous three games. Maryland steps up their play when the opponent is better, and this game gives Maryland fans all sorts of hope. Hope that an undersized team can still shoot well and compete, with a deep backcourt. Maybe this is only one game, but this is a fantastic win for the young Terps.

Gonzaga is up next, the #10 team in the nation. They are led by Kansas transfer Micah Downs, averaging 14.7 points a game. Jeremy Pargo plays the point, getting at least eight assists a game. Sophomore Austin Daye is their main big man, because Josh Heytvelt is not playing to expectations. But this is a different squad than the Spartans. Maryland won't have free reign to grab rebounds against this team with the severe height disadvantage. The Terps will need to shoot well against and be able to spread out Gonzaga's zone. It will not be an easy game, but Maryland has already surprised the basketball world, they can do it again.

(Photo credit: AP)

Free Kicks- Abbreviated Post-Thanksgiving Recovery Edition

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I am currently at a foreign computer in a foreign state, so please excuse the lack of a picture today. Besides, my dream of having a picture of David Beckham free-kicking a turkey would take far too much photoshop for today. It seems as though my compatriots are laid up with some debilitating Thanksgiving meal (or made the poor decision to watch the Lions game) and have been unable to spread the holiday cheer today. Ah well, on a lonely blogging day, I want y'all to get back to your families, so let's line up for the kick...

The Least Satisfying Part of the Meal
Was I the only one who was just bored by every game on Thursday? Sure, Donovan's resurgence was fun to watch (even though I was rooting for the Cardinals), but aside from that it was one of the worst Thanksgiving football days I can remember. Troy Aikman added another candle to the shrine of his old team (he shouldn't be allowed to broadcast those games), Colt McCoy went for style points against A&M, and the Lions didn't even try it seemed yesterday. The Titans were out for blood, but you would think the Lions could at least put up a fight. And let's quash any talk that the return of Matt Hasselbeck could make the Seahawks dangerous down the stretch- he can't run the football for them and he can't play defense. I found myself far more interested in the idle chatter about "what your cousins are up to" than the football, and that's saying something.

The Delicious Pumpkin Pie Dessert
Maryland thumped #6 Michigan State for the entire game, though the score didn't always show it until a few minutes into the second half. They committed countless costly turnovers, revealing their youth and inexperience but always had the talent to make a run when necessary. I will leave the more in-depth analysis to Windsor and Falco, but from where I was sitting I saw a team that simply outplayed the #6 team in the country. Of course, this early in the season it is hard to say whether it was due to the numerous injuries that Sparty incurred going into this game or the fact that maybe they didn't play up to their ability, but a win is a win. I am more intrigued to see how Maryland fares against the Gonzaga team I put down on Tuesday. Back-to-back wins over the #6 and #10 teams in the country? That'll put a bounce in Gary Williams' step...

The Leftovers
There are a lot of incredible college football matchups coming up this weekend. I am sure that all of you will be carefully following Florida State-Florida, Oklahoma State-Oklahoma, Alabama-Auburn, but let's not forget what could be the most entertaining game to watch this weekend. Georgia Tech-Georgia. Paul Johnson's offense against a unit that got gashed by Alabama and Florida, Matthew Stafford against the Georgia Tech pass rush (with arguably the best front 4 in the country), Georgia going for 8 straight wins against their in-state rival... this is going to be a really great game. Personally, I am going out on a limb and picking the 9 point underdogs; I'm going with Tech. Tune into this one, it will be a great matchup between the hedges.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Plenty of Big Games to Feast on This Thanksgiving

ATH may be taking a break on Thanksgiving, but feel free to check in on the blog in between bites of stuffing (or watching the stuffing being beat out of the Lions).

Speaking of which, how odd is it that we manage to get two of the polar opposite teams in the league playing on Thanksgiving every year? The Lions, the most hapless team (historically) in the NFL, having not won an NFL title since before the AFL was even thought of. Think about it, there was not a single active NFL player alive when Detroit won their last NFL championship in 1957. I am actually looking forward to watching the Lions on Thursday. They take double digit 1st half leads and lose by 17+ points on such a consistent basis, that I wish I could watch and see how that is done week in and week out. I couldn’t watch it even if I was in Michigan, as the Lions have been blacked out in their home state due to low attendance for a month, and it will likely get even longer.

If I was the Ford family I would be proud that I lasted this long with a losing product before starting to go under. Then again, it seems like that is a pattern with Ford these days, huh? We Orioles fans talk about our loyalty in filling up Camden Yards consistently up until the last couple of years; what about the Lions? This team is a mess, the ownership is a mess, and they came consistently for decades! Sorry Baltimore, in this we got nothing on Detroit. But when the measure is being a pathetic sports team, I will take that loss.

Meanwhile, we also get the Cowboys, one of the most legendary franchises in the league. 160 consecutive sold-out games. The most valuable franchise in the NFL according to Forbes. 5 Super Bowl wins. All-time record of 422-306-6 (the Lions have 488 wins, but 562 losses to go with them). I know the ‘Boys aren’t playing up to expectations this season, but what a pairing? Could you have a more disparate pair of teams to feature annually like this? I guess the day is designed that way- the Cowboys during the feast, and the Lions to help you fall asleep afterwards.

However, while we are all preoccupied with pro football, there is a lot of other big games going on this Thursday to sneak away from your mother-in-law to see. Texas vs. Texas A&M us always a big one, despite Mike Sherman’s disappointing debut season. I am a fan of Sherman and I am convinced he will turn this football team around in a few years. Being as they are in the Big 12 South that might take longer than a year or two, but it will happen. Texas however would be loathe to overlook the Aggies… nevermind. You get blown out by 20 points to Baylor and it just isn’t your year to upset anyone. It could still be good to see Colt McCoy try to resurrect his Heisman hopes after Graham Harrell took a big step back against Oklahoma last week.

The New Orleans Hornets will face off at 10:30 PM against the Denver Nuggets who are sporting a shiny 5-1 record in their last 6 games, and are *gasp* playing team defense behind point guard and new leader Chauncey Billups. I wrote here a couple weeks ago that the Iverson trade was bad for Detroit. I didn’t say anything about Denver, but I should have- Chauncey is so much more than an aging point guard. He has a mind for the game and knows how to get a team to come together. Don’t believe me? 114.8 points per game allowed last year, 97.2 points per game allowed so far this year. Without him, the Pistons are not the same team anymore, and are left with “Shoot first ask questions later” Allen Iverson. This should be a great matchup between Chris Paul and Billups.

You want more? How could I forget Maryland-Michigan State basketball at 7 PM? If the Terps are anywhere close to contending this season, it will have to come through for this drama-filled club to keep pace with the #5 Spartans in the Old Spice Classic. I’ll still be keeping tabs on Oklahoma State- Gonzaga. I don’t trust the Bulldogs outside the safety of their terrible conference, and the Cowboys are better than a lot of people think. It’s still too early to make any determinations in college basketball, but these are the games that could get a team in (or keep them out) of the Big Dance in March.

Photo Credit: (Kirthmon Dozier: Detroit Free Press)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Eddie Jordan Fired as Wizards Coach

The Washington Post has reported that Eddie Jordan has been fired as Wizards head coach this morning. Jordan is the second head coach already fired this season in the NBA, the first being P.J. Carlesimo from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Wizards without Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood have started the season 1-10. Though Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler have been solid, and Nick Young and JaVale McGee are continuing to grow, no other player has shown effectiveness for Washington.

But this is not the fault of Eddie Jordan. This problem was entirely on management. The front office can't put a decent, healthy team on the court. They spend $111 million over six years to keep Gilbert Arenas, who may be more harm then good with his injuries, the fact his teammates play better without him, and his running mouth. They let Roger Mason go, who is averaging 15 points a game with the Spurs. With the re-signing of Jamison for $50 million over four years (that was fine, he is an All-Star forward), the Wizards basically spent $161 million dollars to stay the same. Yes they got to 43-39 last year plus the playoffs, but it that really worth spending all that money?

There is nothing to suggest that the Wizards have a strong future. Arenas is rarely healthy. Young and McGee look like rising players, but they have a way to go. Worse, Etan Thomas, Brendan Haywood, Antonio Daniels, and Darius Songalia combined this year average 12.3 points per game. This season, those four are making over $17 million combined. So how is this Jordan's fault?

Eddie Jordan was not a great coach. But he was a good one. He got his team in line when the star got hurt, and his teams made the playoffs the last four seasons. You can't blame him because of injuries and terrible team management by the front office. He did not deserve this.

(Photo credit: NBA, all salary statistics provided by HoopsHype.com)

Terps Field Hockey Wins Three Titles in Four Years!

The Maryland field hockey team has won their third title in four years with their 4-2 victory over Wake Forest in the NCAA finals in Louisville.

After the Deacs took an early lead, Maryland scored two goals towards the end of the first half and two goals early in the second half to put the game away. Maryland dominated in every category, including penalty corners nine to two and shots 13 to five.

Katie O'Donnell, a candidate for Player of the Year, continued her success with the game-winning goal plus an assist, finishing with 21 goals and 26 assists. Susie Rowe will graduate having a goal an assist in the title game plus 28 goals and 18 assists on the year. Nicole Muracco had 25 goals on the season. The above three players accounted for 74 of Maryland's 115 goals.

It was quite a year for Maryland. When they had their full squad, they only lost once. Coach Missy Meharg earns her fifth national championship for Maryland. Congrats to her and the whole Maryland field hockey team.

(Photo credits: Maryland athletics)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 36, Eagles 7

The word of the game is... suffocating. Both defenses were, for the most part, brilliant on this afternoon and suffocated the offenses. The Eagles consistently strangled Flacco’s movement in the pocket and choked the running lanes for Willis McGahee and Ray Rice, while the Ravens suffocated every aspect of the Eagle attack for just about the entire game. The difference was that the Ravens, aided by key takeaways, were able to get off the mat and put points on the board which quickly turned the game into a blowout.

But… what really can I say? It was a brilliant showing by the Ravens defense and the Ravens offense did what they had to do; namely, holding onto the football. But the Eagles, the Eagles are the national story. I mean, benching Donovan McNabb, the man who has guided your team for years and been one of the winningest quarterbacks in the NFL for the past several years?

OKAY, this is a Baltimore blog, so let’s talk Baltimore. The Ravens needed this win badly, especially after last week’s debacle in the Meadowlands. Sure, Philadelphia is no pushover but, based on the remaining schedule this really was a must-win for the Ravens. They have a wounded Philadelphia team at home with a loaded schedule against teams such as the Steelers, Redskins, and Dallas down the road. Flacco is happier than anyone to be out of these past two games; he has faced the two best pass rushing teams in the NFL and has kept his composure. Trial by fire, and he’s passed – not brilliantly, but he’s passed.

Offense - Overall Grade: C
Quarterbacks: C+

His numbers were not great, and his first half performance was pretty terrible as he got away with an easy interception which was dropped by a Philadelphia defender. Still, otherwise he made very good decisions with the football and never lost his composure. The touchdown throw to Mark Clayton was something special.
Running Backs: C+
La’Ron McClain was a horse. He was the only running back of the three who was able to get any success whatsoever on the ground and finished with 88 yards and a touchdown on only 18 carries. Rice and McGahee combined for 15 yards on 15 carries. Not all their fault, but they did have some opportunities for success. But, that’s the beauty of the ‘hydra’ running attack – you only need one of the three.
Wide Receivers: B
Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton made some excellent moves after the catch and accounted for 113 of Flacco’s 183 yards passing. It was hard to tell, but it seemed as if this group did not help out Flacco as much as it could when things broke down.
Tight Ends: B
Wilcox’s touchdown catch was one of the prettiest I’ve seen in Baltimore for some time, and I would like to personally say welcome back to Mr. Wilcox. Heap did a decent job in pass blocking and run blocking – there’s a reason he hasn’t caught many balls, and the Philly pass rush was a good reason today. The Ravens needed his blocking on the line – remember, the primary blocking tight end was Quinn Sypniewski. With his loss for the year (back in last spring OTAs), that moved Heap’s responsibility towards blocking as Wilcox is far more a receiver than a blocker.
Offensive Line: C
The blocking up the middle was OK, but the performance of this unit left much to be desired. They had trouble pulling on the outside runs, and the Philly pass rush gave them fits all game. The sack total could have been much worse if not for some nifty plays by Joe Flacco.

Defense - Overall Grade: A
Defensive Line: A

Controlled the line of scrimmage, shut down the run game. A decent push on passing plays, but not great.
Linebackers: A
Jarrett Johnson said hello to the world. Johnson was outstanding, but the rest of the group held up their end as well, getting a good pass rush and making strong tackles in the run game.
Defensive Backs: A+
Clearly you’re doing something right when you chase out one of the best quarterbacks of this century and then embarrass his young replacement. Four picks; one by Fabian Washington, one by Samari Rolle, and two by Ed Reed (who, incidentally, returned the pick 108 yards for a touchdown, a new NFL record). Most impressive about Washington and Rolle’s interceptions was that they were both on deep pass patterns in which the cornerback was on an island. Brilliant.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: D
Kicker: B+
Stover continues to set the NFL consecutive extra point record, clearing the 373 mark. Hauschka barely missed a 53-yard field goal, and Stover converted a 44-yarder.
Punter: A
Sam Koch was the hardest working man in football today. Yeah, he made one very poor punt, but I’m not gonna be the one to mark him down for it.
Returners: B
Figurs was decent, although he got away with one return in which he should have called a fair catch.
Coverage: F
Terrible blocking for Figurs, and they made Quentin Demps look like Devin Hester. On Demps’ return, he didn’t have to make a single move, and that’s troubling from a coverage perspective.

Coaching - Overall Grade: B-
Offensive: C

The Eagles pass rush was able to get to Flacco early, but for some reason they did not compensate by moving to faster developing routes. There was very little use of dump-offs, screens, draws, or quick slants in this game which only emboldened the Eagles to blitz more. The Ravens passed to one slant route all game; it resulted in a 53-yard touchdown because the Eagles were bringing (again) a blitz. Smart move by Cameron going with the hot hand in La’Ron McClain in the second half.
Defensive: A
When you do that to Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and company, you’re doing something right. In fact, you’re doing a good number of things right. I was convinced De’Sean Jackson would burn the Ravens for several big plays, and thanks to Rex Ryan’s defense I was proven very wrong.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Ed Reed–
This is what big-time players do. Two interceptions, one for a 108-yard touchdown. When Philly was driving late the door was opened just a little bit. Ed Reed slammed it shut.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Willis McGahee– This is what big-time players don’t do. 7 rushes for 8 yards won’t cut it for your starting running back.

Bonus grade:
Andy Reid – F

I know, this is a Baltimore blog, but as an NFL fan I cannot believe what he did. This was a huge game for the Eagles, an absolute must-win, and he benches his quarterback who has led the Eagles to four NFC championship games and one Super Bowl. And who does he having coming off that bench? Kevin Kolb. A second year player with next to no NFL experience. You’re asking this kid to come off the bench, on the road, against the Baltimore Ravens, to lead your team from behind? Absolutely unbelievable. If you want to make a change next week, fine, but don’t do it mid-game down by only three.

(Photo Credit: Corey Ivy (George Bridges/McClatchy-Tribune), Daniel Wilcox (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun), Ed Reed (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun))

Ravens-Eagles Preview: Not So Sunny for Philadelphia

Sorry Terps, there’s always next year. Well, if Darius comes back and the team can find a quarterback who doesn't need a sideline therapist to keep composed and a defense that won't get gashed by every counter or cutback on a stretch play, then there is next year. Otherwise, I will defer to Windsor's analysis. My god that was ugly. Uglier than the Raven's loss to the Giants? Yes, much worse.

In the meantime, we can look forward to seeing if the Ravens can rebound from their drubbing last week at the hands of the New York Giants against the underachieving Eagles. Philadelphia was favored by some going into the season to win the NFC East, they are currently waiting for their first win in the division. The Eagles, for their part, are still actually in striking distance of a wild card spot in the NFC while the Ravens cling to that #6 spot in the AFC. This game will be about which team can recover from embarrassment- the Ravens D (particularly in the running game) and Donovan McNabb (for having no idea that a game could end in a tie… or maybe the fact that they tied the Bengals… either one). Let's toss out the Mentor vs. Pupil stuff... if they don't care, I don't either. Everyone knows what each other does anyway, it won't make much of a difference this week.

What I’m Wondering:

Will Joe Flacco bounce back from last week’s performance?
Flacco played very well last week, but there is a chance that his actual numbers got to him. Mason failed to catch that big gainer that turned into an interception and ensuing touchdown that put the game out of reach, and Joe showed surprising elusiveness in limiting the number of sacks by the Giants. His poise was impressive given the lack of the running game, and he was entirely unafraid of the pass rush being sent his way. However, he still threw two interceptions and orchestrated an offense that was six feet under by the 4th quarter. He has the opportunity to reverse those fortunes against a banged up Eagles secondary, but a great deal will depend on the ability of the offensive line to keep the #1 pass rush in the NFL at bay. Last week I saw a turning point in Joe Flacco’s season. He will either break and fall into rookie habits trying to save the offense on his own, or he will play within himself and play mistake-free football. Will Flacco start playing like a rookie or keep a clear head under pressure?

Will the Three-Headed Monster stay under the bed for a second straight week?

Last week I predicted that McClain, McGahee, and Rice would struggle but still turn in a decent performance against one of the top rush defenses in the league. I was wrong. It is difficult to say with certainty how bad the running game really was, as the Ravens fell behind so early so quickly, but I was intrigued by Coach Harbaugh’s insistence in keeping with the run. This was likely to protect Joe Flacco and keep the game from collapsing in front of his rookie QB. The Giants gashed the Eagles for 219 yards rushing two weeks ago, and now it could be the Ravens’ turn. This football team cannot afford to have Joe Flacco be the leading rusher for another game. It is odd that the running game struggled so badly as the offensive line wasn’t abhorrent in pass protection, particularly given the general wisdom that run blocking is easier than pass blocking. Will the Ravens running backs return to form or be swallowed up by the Eagles defensive line?

Has the defense gotten over that black eye yet?
When Ray Lewis comments that the defense was surprised and unprepared for the Giants’ intensity and aggressiveness, you have problems. Luckily for Baltimore, the Eagles are legendary for not having any semblance of a goal-line back; Westbrook is a 5-tool player (to borrow a baseball reference) but cannot get the tough yard inside. There won’t be Brandon Jacobs across the line. However, a game like last week’s can have a lasting effect on a team’s psyche. The Ravens are used to entering every game as the intimidator, for beating up the other team at the line and not backing down. Last week the Giants were the aggressor and took it to them from the opening snap. The Eagles know that in order to stay in the playoff hunt they have to win a game like this. Look for them to throw everything they can at this defense. Will the defense regain their swagger or are they still wounded after the whooping they received last week?

My Mildly Informed Analysis:

The Eagles schizophrenic offense has traditionally been led by running back Brian Westbrook making miraculous plays and quarterback Donovan McNabb making the most out of substandard receivers and rescuing drives with his feet, but this traditional model may be getting an overhaul. Offensively, this is not the Eagles offense of the last few years- and it may not be a good thing. While most prognosticators have hailed the emergence of rookie DeSean Jackson as a go-to wideout with gamebreaking potential, but in many ways the passing offense is as inconsistent as it has ever been. McNabb is en route to his most interceptions in a season since 2000, when he finished with 13. Additionally, his 88 yards rushing puts him on pace for the lowest yardage in his career, sporting a 3.8 yards per rush average. For comparison, Joe Flacco has 35 rushes for 142 yards, a 4.1 yard average. This is not the Donovan of old.

Brian Westbrook, on the other hand, has taken his normal place for the Eagles this season- on the injury report. The dynamic Philadelphia back is listed as questionable and did not practice on Friday; it doesn’t look good for him playing on Sunday. However, even if he does play, he has not been as effective this season as in the past. After averaging almost 1300 yards rushing and 750 yards receiving over the past 2 seasons, Westbrook has been hemmed in by opposing defensive coordinators, dropped for losses by frequent penetration and consistent coverage out of the backfield. He is currently on pace for less than 1000 yards on the ground and 400 yards through the air.

I am excited about the Ravens prospects against this offense. The Ravens rank 2nd in the NFL with 15 interceptions despite losing their entire starting secondary for stretches of the season. When the running game fails Donovan and his legs aren’t quite quick enough to make up positive yards on his own, he will force the ball into coverage and the Ravens will make him pay. Unlike the Giants, the Eagles are a finesse running team. This team has never been one to pound the ball through defenders. The Ravens defense is too good to be tricked by the moves of Buckhalter if Westbrook is out tomorrow. The Eagles are 26th in the NFL in rushing. The Ravens are still 3rd in rushing defense. It will come down to Donovan, and when a team is one dimensional this defense will feast.

The Ravens offense has problems of its own, however. I won’t dwell too much on Joe Flacco this time around. We are starting to understand what we have in Flacco- he will force some balls now and then, but by and large he has not taken huge risks. This is due in no small part to the coaching staff giving him a very conservative play calling to work with. One issue not getting enough attention for the Ravens is the inability for any receiver not named “Mason” to make plays downfield. Mark Clayton was brought on board to turn small catches into big gainers, to catch the short slants or screens and make a man miss. Unfortunately, he is averaging only 2.2 yards after catch, the lowest YAC of any player on the team with more than 4 receptions- lower than any of the running backs, Todd Heap or any other receiver. Moreover, the so-called #2 receiver has only 21 catches this season, paltry in comparison to the 53 from Derrick Mason. Last week was a perfect example. 9 catches by the running backs, 7 receptions by Mason, and only 1 by Clayton. With Lito Sheppard and Asante Samuel in the secondary that sports the #11 pass defense, more than one receiver will have to step up and make multiple plays to take the pressure off of Flacco and the running game.

Speaking of which, the Eagles pass rush might be the most underrated in the country with 36 sacks on the season, the most in the NFL through 10 games (the Steelers have 37 after Thursday night’s win). The running game will be crucial in keeping the mad blitzer at bay- defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has a penchant for blitzing up to 45% of the time and has been known to send the house on any 3rd down situation. The Ravens will have to replicate at least some of the Giants’ success on the ground to keep the Philadelphia defensive line at home. As far as keeping Joe Flacco upright, I am starting to believe in this offensive line. They limited the Giants to only 1 sack, and Flacco did an excellent job of stepping up to avoid the pressure as the defensive ends flew up the field. If Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain can pound the ball between the tackles, the Ravens signal caller might not have to dance quite so much in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield.

The Rundown

Last week I fought to be enthusiastic about the Ravens and give them a shot against the Giants. This week I feel very good about their chances. The Ravens offensive line has proven that it can protect the quarterback (how they are doing it I have no idea), the defense will not stay down two weeks in a row, and the Eagles lack the very elements that allowed the Giants to dominate the football game. Namely, a bruising running game and the killer instinct to punish opposing teams into submission. The Eagles are much better than 5-4-1, but they have not shown it this season. They have played down to the level of their competition and their superstars have been anything but. The Ravens are a surprise team this year, and they will surprise the Eagles.

The nod goes to the Ravens, 28-21

Photo Credit: (Sports Illustrated: Al Tieleman)

Maryland Field Hockey Goes for National Championship!

One more game. That is all the Terps need to get their third national championship in four years. The Maryland field hockey team will take on Wake Forest today at 1:00 PM in Louisville for the title.

The ACC Champions have been solid through the NCAAs. They rolled over Albany and Duke in the first two rounds. They needed an overtime goal to defeat Iowa in the semifinals, but the Terps have proven themselves in close
games before.

Maryland has defeated the Deacs twice already this season, once in the regular season and then to win the ACC Tournament Finals. It is always hard to defeat a team three times, but Maryland must do that to win the national championship. Katie O'Donnell, Susie Rowe, Nicole Muracco, and Coach Meharg take the field at 1:00 PM. Listen live to WMUC Sports for all the action.

(Photo credits: Maryland athletics)

Postgame Report Card: Maryland 3, Florida State 37

The word of the game is... cold. Not only was the weather frigid, but the Terrapins’ offense and defense was stone-dead cold in this game. Every stereotype about Maryland football – about laying an egg against non-ranked teams, failing at night, failing on the national stage, failing when it counts the absolute most – came true tonight. Credit the Seminoles; they played inspired football on both offense and defense, and took command quickly after giving the Terrapins a couple of early chances. The Terps then blew those chances, and the ‘Noles never looked back. As I froze in the stands watching this game, I couldn’t help but wonder if this Maryland program can ever reach its potential. There’s nothing that kills a sports fan more than wasted talent.

Offense - Overall Grade: F
Quarterbacks: F

Chris Turner was awful, there’s no two ways around it. The fact that he wasn’t replaced in the fourth quarter was honestly very surprising. He lost confidence early and, in typical fashion, did not have the composure to bring him back together. The offensive line gave him no help, but those interceptions and several errant throws had nothing to do with pressure. I have said it many times before and I’ll say it again: Maryland fans vastly overrate Chris Turner as a passer and as a leader.
Running Backs: C
The yardage was very good for both Da’Rel Scott and Davin Meggett, and certainly they did everything they could with the blocking they received in the run game. However, Da’Rel Scott’s fumble problems again reared their head and bit the Terps badly. Some help in pass protection wouldn’t have hurt either
Wide Receivers: C
They did… okay? Honestly, how can you tell with how this game went? There were a couple of big missed catches by Heyward-Bey and Oquendo, and they didn’t do a particularly good job of getting open and coming back to the quarterback when he was in trouble
Tight Ends: B+
Gronkowski was excellent today in both a run blocking and pass-receiving threat. Langsford Watson had a big reception early in the game.
Offensive Line: D-
Yes, they did a decent job in the running game. But the positives end there. They turned Chris Turner into a tackling dummy and played a large role in Turner’s continued downward spiral in the game. It was painful to watch.

Defense - Overall Grade: F
Defensive Line: F

Beaten off the ball and embarrassed by the FSU offensive line. The Seminoles could run at will, and that all starts with the defensive line.
Linebackers: D-
Please someone get these boys in position to contain the option. I repeatedly saw FSU run the option and have only one linebacker trying to contain it. The tackling was very poor across the board, and again, the Seminoles ran at will on this defense. Very disappointing for this senior-laden group.
Defensive Backs: C-
Ummmm… not bad? There were very few passes down the field, and of those there were a couple big completions and a few good defensive plays. So this is a wash really.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: B-
Kicker: C

Barely missed a long field goal, and converted a short opportunity for Maryland’s only points. A poor job on kickoffs overall, giving line drives to approx the ten each time; that spells trouble for the coverage unit.
Punter: A-
Baltz did what he could, per usual. Nothing flashy but he did his job (many, many, many times more than he should have to).
Returners: A-
Torrey Smith looked great on kick returns, using his blockers well and running decisively. He might not be a guy who’s going to take it to the house, but he’ll give you good 25-30 yard returns regularly. Florida State even started squibbing the kicks to keep it away from him -- you have to like what you see from this fast-rising freshman. Oquendo was solid on punt returns, making smart decisions overall.
Coverage: D
The blocking for Torrey Smith was good on kick returns, but the positives end there. Poor tackling and discipline destroyed this group when trying to contain FSU’s return game.

Coaching - Overall Grade: D-
Offensive: F

There were a lot of bad bounces that forced Franklin out of his game plan, but that doesn’t excuse a good number of the poor calls and poor schemes that Franklin used. Bring in two tight ends and a fullback with one wide receiver and run a draw?? Do you really think that’s going to work? How about running the ball when that’s the only thing going for your team? How about keeping back extra blockers to at least chip at the beast that’s knocking your quarterback into next week? And one more note: if you don’t have confidence in your quarterback, and don’t want him to throw when you’re down 21, just take him out. It was clear early in the fourth quarter that you would rather wave the white flag than take a chance.
Defensive: D-
Florida State ran the same plays all game, and Maryland just couldn’t stop them. It wasn’t until late that Maryland woke up to the fact that no, the option play wasn’t going to go away and they had better as heck get in position to defend it. Then again, it’s hard to play defense in the second half when your offense is entirely inept.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Torrey Smith–
The only true weapon on Maryland’s team. You know why he’s the MVP? He was clearly the one Maryland player who Florida State became legitimately scared of. With a halfway decent offense, Smith’s returns could have translated to needed points.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Chris Turner– I can’t wait to hear the Chris Turner apologists after this one. I’ll give an assist to the sieve, also known as his offensive line.

(Photo Credit: Doug Kapustin/Baltimore Sun)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pregame: Florida State vs. #25 Maryland

This could be the game. Maryland, now back on top of the Atlantic Division with their win over North Carolina last week. This game, it is very simple. If Maryland wins, they will either have the Atlantic Division title or a chance to win it next week against Boston College. If the Terps lose, no chance. Their opponent, a team that has not enjoyed their recent away games in College Park, Florida State.

The Maryland Terrapins (7-3, 4-2 ACC) take on Bobby Bowden's Florida State Seminoles (7-3, 4-3 ACC) in Byrd Stadium tonight. As said earlier, if the Terps want a shot at the championship, they must win tonight. Same goes for Florida State, but they do not control their own destiny. The Terps won their last game against UNC and are undefeated at home this season. The 'Noles have lost two of their last three games and are 2-1 on the road.

Scouting the Competition: Florida State Seminoles

Bobby Bowden and company have won two national titles with the ACC in the 1990s, but recently they have not been up to standard. This season they look much better with a 7-3 record after finally getting a dependable offense. There is no telling how long the 79-year-old Bobby Bowden has, but for now, he is still the main man from Tallahassee.

The key to the Florida State offense is Antone Smith (pictured), the senior running back Smith gets the bulk of the carries, 136 this season, averaging 4.8 yards a carry and has found the end zone 13 times. FSU's success rides on him. Last week in their loss to Boston College, he averaged only 1.9 yards a carry. If he does well, the Seminoles do well.

Their field general is Christian Ponder, giving FSU some success they could not find from Drew Weatherford (still on FSU roster) and Xavier Lee. The redshirt sophomore has completed 54.2% of his passes and has 11 scores plus 11 picks. Another quarterback like Maryland saw with Cameron Sexton last week, he won't win the game, but he won't lose one either.

The defense is nothing special, but watch out for Everette Brown, a bulldozing defensive end. The redshirt junior has nine sacks plus seven more tackles for loss on the season.

Things to look out for:
--Myron Rolle, FSU safety, will miss the first half at least for an interview for the Rhodes scholar award. The plan is to fly him from Alabama to Maryland via private jet for the second half. He is second on the team in tackles, and it is unknown how he'll be even when he plays, much less how Florida State will play without him.
--FSU averages 193 yards on the ground a game. Maryland's rushing defense has not been stellar lately, though they did do well against UNC. With the balanced offense of Florida State, they will need to focus on stopping the ground attack.
--Maryland has won the last two games in College Park against Florida State, including Joel Statham leading Maryland to a 20-17 upset of #5 Florida State in 2004.
--The weather is very cold in College Park, but in was cold in Florida too, so the Seminoles had time to get used to the possible conditions.

Prediction:
Two years ago, Maryland spoiled their chance to get to the ACC Championship at home against Wake Forest. It is possible that this game will determine who goes to represent the Atlantic Division. The numbers edge slightly towards the Terps, but make no mistake, this game will be a close one.

Prediction- Maryland 24, Florida State 20

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun (Tyler), Athlon Football (Smith), Washington Post (Statham))

Friday, November 21, 2008

Free Kicks- Rivalry Week Edition

Okay, this is Rivalry Week in college football and it is time to gear up for who will play in the conference championships, decide who will win the Big Ten and Big East. In that spirit we have a college football themed free kicks this week to discuss football other than Maryland-FSU (I will save that for Falco this week). Personally I just hope Chris Turner doesn’t wait until 6:30 left in the 4th to start leading this team down the field. Let’s line up for the kick…

Invented Rivalries
Isn’t it funny how when teams are both successful and play each other on a generally regular basis, it all of a sudden constitutes a rivalry? Texas Tech-Oklahoma is now a rivalry. Why? Because they both play in the Big 12 South and are both still in contention for the BCS title game. To go to the NFL, Indy-New England has been considered a rivalry because they both happen to be good and have been put together on the schedule in recent years. True rivalries are bitter regardless of the circumstances. If one team is 11-0 and the other is 2-8 they still come with their highest intensity level. I don’t see Texas Tech and Oklahoma hating each other quite so much if Texas Tech was under .500. Every year we hear about a new rivalry forming, but more often than not these are just temporary shifts in the college football world when two teams are doing well and see each other regularly and will not stand the test of time. Rivalries are based on unabashed disgust with your opponent, not winning any title. The game IS the title. Oh… and Go Blue.

An Inconvenient Truth
How ugly will it be when Ball State goes undefeated and doesn’t make a BCS bowl game. Sure, their opponents are generally awful, and yes they are from the MAC, and no they do not have a history for success. I am all for blaming their AD for not scheduling tougher non-conference opponents or screaming at the university President for not “willing” the team into a major conference 75 years ago or yelling at the coach for not blowing more teams out by even more incredible margins. However, what no one seems to consider are the players. They could not do any more than they have. They were given a situation and have won every game they were give. Look, I don’t think that Ball State is anywhere near the best team in the country and they just might be whooped by a mid-level SEC team. But how do we know? Do they have an “L” anywhere in their record we can point to and be sure they would lose to anyone?

There is no reason why a team should start a season and know it has no chance whatsoever to win it all. Would anyone not give the Arizona Cardinals a shot at the playoffs because they are from the NFC West (or because they are the traditionally hapless Cardinals)? We wouldn’t even consider not letting the Celtics into the NBA playoffs because they are from the East. Likewise, while people ripped the NL West all year, all the Dodgers did was beat the heavily favored Cubs. I don’t know what playoff should be used, or how the system should be changed, but for the sake of the student-athletes they should never go undefeated and still end the season in 2nd place.

Now let’s watch Western Michigan upset Ball State and render all this moot. *Sigh*

The Best Teams No One is Talking About
This is more of a special feature than anything else. It seems like with all the focus on the big rivalry games and national title picture, I wanted to give a rundown of some teams creeping up the rankings that might-just might- be a huge threat in Bowl Season.

Michigan State (9-2): as much as it pains me to say it, this team is really good. Were it not for a beat down at the hands of Ohio State earlier this season, they would be leading the Big Ten and eyeing a Rose Bowl bid with a win over Penn State. As it is, they would need a win and a Michigan upset of the Buckeyes. Like I said, they won’t be going to Pasadena.
Oregon (8-3): the team that limped to the finish line after losing Dennis Dixon last season has found new life with 4 different quarterbacks. The team that relied on only one player last year now has had success while shuffling in players under center. Despite losing Dixon and running back Johnathan Stewart to the draft last season, this offense is still piling on the points this season.
Nebraska (7-4): great start for the Bo Pelini Era in Lincoln. Losses to Va. Tech, Missouri, Texas Tech and Oklahoma show that this team is not ready to take on the upper echelon of college football, but they haven’t lost a game they should have won, and have not been plagued with inconsistency. That is the sign of a well-coached team on the rise.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo: Al Goldis)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

ACC Doesn't Deserve a BCS bid? Why?

After this past weekend, when the last two-loss team, North Carolina, lost to Maryland, more and more college football analysts have been arguing that the ACC and the Big East are so poor, that they don't deserve a BCS bid this year.

Some of these people include Mark May of ESPN College Gamenight, Tom Deinhart of Rivals.com, and Jason King of Yahoo Sports. The reasons given include that their possible representative wouldn't be as good as some Big 12 and SEC teams that will be left out of the BCS due to records and their competition. Also mentioned were non-BCS teams that are better than many ACC or Big East teams.

But, all these analysts are completely wrong. The ACC and Big East deserve their place, and history proves that. I focus mainly on the ACC because they are mainly the punching bag of college football analysts. The Big East could get in a team with two losses, and they are targeted too, but not nearly as much as the ACC. But I will mention the Big East.

First off, the argument that the ACC is mediocre may be right, but it is much more competitive than the big ones. For all of the attacks, the ACC currently only has two teams with losing records, Duke and NC State, both at 4-6. The Big Ten has four despite one less team than the ACC, the Pac-10 has five including 0-10 Washington and 1-10 Washington State despite having one less team than the ACC, the SEC has four including normal powerhouses Auburn and Tennessee, and the Big-12 has five. So yes, the ACC may not have that elite team, but the fact that they are arguably the most competitive conference all-around, instead of just three or four teams.

I grant that the ACC has not won a BCS bowl since 1999, but they have been competitive. Most of us remember the 2006 Orange Bowl, where a Penn State team that was 10 seconds away from being undefeated barely got by four-loss Florida State. And if we are keeping out teams that are not being competitive, I would argue Oklahoma and Notre Dame should never be allowed in a big bowl again. After all, Oklahoma has lost four of their last five bowls, three of which they did not show up, and Notre Dame still has not won a bowl game since 1993. The team that beat Oklahoma last year? West Virginia, a team from the Big East, after losing their head coach, a year after they upset Georgia. Maybe they have not been as good as other conferences, but they have proven they can play with the best.

Just to argue, what if Oregon State wins the Pac-10? Yes they have beaten USC, but they are 7-3, don't have great wins other than USC, and if they win their next two games against Arizona and Oregon, they will go to the BCS. Plus if Missouri wins the Big-12, then that throws off everything too. The ACC and Big East will send their one team, but the BCS has worse problems.

I'm not arguing that the ACC or Big East is better than the other conferences, because they are not. They do not have an elite team and the Orange Bowl looks to be a potential ratings disaster. But the fact is you can not just dismiss a conference because they do not have an elite team. The ACC has no pushover team and has played well in certain contests, and that accounts for something. Just let these two play in the Orange Bowl and everything will be fine.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Terps Basketball: 1st Two Games

Maryland is off to a 2-0 start in the season, with victories over Bucknell and Youngstown State. They were not pretty wins, but the Terps got the job done. We all knew that with the departure of James Gist and Bambale Osby that would leave a very young and inexperienced frontcourt, and that Maryland would have to adjust to that.

When asked about whether or not he was worried about his backcourt doing all the scoring with a problematic frontcourt, Gary Williams responded by saying "There's a team in Durham that gets away with that." Gary is right in that this type of team can work, but with the 3-point line moving back a foot this season, it only makes things more difficult.

Some thoughts on the first two games:
--It is possible that Maryland will be going with four-guard sets. Normally Gary likes going with either a 2-3 or a 3-2, but with the problems in the frontcourt, a four-guard set seems to be the best way for Maryland to play. I can not imagine a starting lineup with four guards, but do not be surprised if four-guard sets are used in the middle of halves.

--It is not clear who will be the Terps main player down low. Braxton Dupree is in the current starting lineup. Though he looks improved from last year, he still is having major issues against people he should be dominating, like players his size. Youngstown State was all over him in the first half, and it wasn't until the second half he started getting some big blocks. Dino Gregory and Jerome Burney have seen a little time, but none of the three look very impressive. They are all sophomores, and the competition seems wide open.

--Only two players seem to be up or above expectations right now. Greivis Vasquez had a fantastic game against Youngstown St, having the game highs for points with 28 and rebounds with eight. He is playing his normal aggressive style plus shooting a lot, and with the current play of the team, expect more of the same. The other is Cliff Tucker. Tucker, a starter but still competing for time, is also playing heads up on the court and showing great speed. This all is not to say only two players are playing well. Eric Hayes, Jin-Soo Kim, and Landon Milbourne are playing fine. But this is against teams Maryland should dominate; what will happen against the ACC?

--You know things are problematic when Dave Neal is seeing nearly 20 minutes a game. Enough said.

Maryland's next game is against Vermont, then the Old Spice Classic awaits. Let's hope the Terps are ready for the tournament.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Who are the Terrapins?

I haven’t noticed the enthusiasm among Maryland fans after their upset win over #16 UNC that I did after wins against California, Clemson, or Wake Forest. Perhaps it’s that Maryland fans don’t want to get too excited before an even bigger game this week against Florida State. Or maybe it’s that we Terps fans know what happens after a big win. Virginia happens. A scare against NC State happens. Virginia Tech happens. Granted Va Tech is a much better team than NC State or UVa, but it is another sign of the inconsistency that plagues this team. Terps fans, as a result, understand that every big win comes with its own letdown the week after. However, this team is undefeated at home and will look to make it 7-0 at Chevy Chase Bank Field (I just like saying that because it pisses me off the way the University sold out). Unfortunately that is the only thing consistent about this team this season.

After the UNC game, Chris Turner was hailed as the savior of the team, the dynamic quarterback who rescued the Terps’ season though a combination of laser-shot throws, quick decisions, and the will to take the team on his back and win. They didn’t see the game I saw. Chris Turner is, and has always been, a microcosm of this entire football team. He will throw the ball in the dirt at the feet of a wide open receiver, he will go almost an entire quarter without a completion, he will look like a complete mess… and then suddenly turn everything on for a stretch and tally up a couple scores. People cheer his fourth quarter heroics, and while I admire his ability to pick himself off the mat and rise to an occasion, there is an expression I think of when I hear about “4th Quarter Quarterbacks” (it usually is in reference to John Elway). “If you play well for 3 quarters, you don’t need a 4th quarter comeback.” I am not saying Chris Turner isn’t the best the Terrapins have at quarterback (though I still am intrigued by Josh Portis), but he is no savior. The only thing his 4th quarter drives saves the team from is his substandard and erratic play the rest of the game.

Why did Davin Meggett disappear after the first quarter? When he was running the football, the Terps were moving it. He finished the game with 12 carries for 86 yards, while his partner in crime DaRel Scott finished with 29 carries and 129 yards. Not poor by any stretch of the imagination, but the coaching staff has to play the guy with the hot hand- or legs, in this case. I understand that the ratio has usually been this way this season, but when the offense had stalled after the 1st half of the second quarter, that was the time to give Meggett another chance. In fact, after the second touchdown drive early in the 2nd quarter, Davin Meggett was only given 3 carries the rest of the game. Really? The guy puts up a TD and drives through the UNC defensive line and you give him 3 carries after the first 20 minutes of the ballgame? Look, Maryland was effective on the ground, but perhaps its time to give Meggett a few more carries if the offense stymies in the second half.

That defense… the defense that was manhandled on the ground by Va Tech was able to punish Shaun Draughn, holding him to a full yard under his usual per carry average. I will leave the preview to Falco and Windsor, but we have no idea which defense will show up against Florida State. Was it that UNC ran a rather vanilla look against Maryland? Was it that the home crowd spurred the Terps to the win? I honestly have no idea, but this defense, which has been the most inconsistent part of this team, will have to come through in a big way to compensate for the first 3 quarters of Chris Turner. I don’t know what to think about this football team. Are they incredible? No. Are they awful? No. Are they headed to Jacksonville? Let me get back to you on that…

Monday, November 17, 2008

Soccer Outlook: Maryland Wins ACC, Loyola Loses First Game, NCAA Selection Tomorrow

Quite the weekend for soccer teams in the Old Line State.

#5 Maryland won their third ACC Championship with a 1-nil victory over Virginia on Sunday. The Terps played as the 2-seed and expected to take on 1-seed Wake Forest, but the Deacs lost their first every games to the Cavaliers in the semifinals. The lone goal was scored by Jeremy Hall in the first two minutes, and goalie Zac MacMath did not allow a goal in all three games. With their three wins this week, Maryland may break the top-3 in the rankings.


Meanwhile, #6 Loyola lost their first game of the season, losing 1-nil to Fairfield in the MAAC Championship. The Stags scored in the 26th minute, and despite the Greyhounds pressuring in the second half, they were unable to get the equalizer.

So with the selection show today, how do the state's teams fare? 48 teams make the NCAA Tournament, including 22 automatic qualifiers from conference champions and 26 at-large bids. The top-16 teams are seeded and receive a first-round bye, while the bottom 32 must play.

I will be mentioning some possible teams in the DC/Northern Virginia area as well. In this tournament and in the current economy, many of the early matchups are localized. Last season, Maryland and Loyola met up in the Round of 32. So, chances are teams close by will play each other in the first couple rounds. Until the Final Four, games are played at campus sites hosted by the higher seed in each contest.

Maryland Terrapins (#5, 18-3-0, 6-2-0 ACC, ACC Champion AQ)
--Key wins: UCLA, North Carolina (twice), Virginia (twice), Boston College (twice)
The ACC has won two of the last three national championships, Maryland winning in 2005. Because of automatic qualifier rules, the Terps are already in the tournament, though that was not an issue anyway. With the conference victory, a top-4 seed will almost certainly be given to Maryland. This will mean the Terps can play at home until the Final Four, a huge advantage.

Loyola Greyhounds (#6, 18-1-1, 9-0 MAAC, MAAC runner-up)
--Key win: Campbell
Loyola is going to be hard to predict. On the one hand, they had an undefeated regular season record. On the other, they had a very easy strength of schedule and did not win the conference championship. They played nobody currently ranked; Campbell had 2 votes in the last poll (#25 Butler had 52, to compare). Based on last season, I believe they will get one of the 16 seeds, but not a top-8 seed. Coach Mettrick has Milos Kocic one more year if he decides to stay; he needs to get harder teams on the schedule next season.

Georgetown Hoyas (11-5-3, 5-3-3 Big East)
The Hoyas have had a good season, led by the senior forward Peter Grasso with seven goals. They don't have a win against a ranked team and were ranked themselves earlier in the season, but they have played close against other ranked teams including Connecticut, Notre Dame, and South Florida. The problem is, normally wins are all that matters to the committee. If the Hoyas make it, they will likely play a first round game on the road, but their record should be enough to get them in.

George Mason Patriots (13-6-2, 6-4-1 CAA, CAA Champion AQ)
--Key win: Tulsa
The Patriots will head to the NCAA after winning the crazy CAA championship, the last of seven straight victories. Led by senior forward Kwame Adjeman-Pamboe, who has nine goals and six assists, GM had very few big name teams on the schedule, but they had a big upset win of Tulsa, currently #7 in the country. With that win and their current winning streak, they could get a first round game at home, but they will play in the first round.

After Maryland, Loyola, and George Mason, only Georgetown has the opportunity to make the tournament in the local area. The selection comes out tonight from the NCAA.

(Photo credit: Maryland athletics (ACC trophy), Loyola athletics (Kocic))