Wednesday, September 30, 2009

ATH Debate: Falco & Windsor on Terrapin Football

So we tried something new this week, as I remember how great it was to listen to Falco and Windsor go off on Maryland sports during their run on the Around The Harbor Radio Show on WMUC. I decided to pose my two compatriots a series of questions on Maryland football, to try to get to the root of what’s wrong with Friedgen’s squad as they limp to a 1-3 record going into conference play.

1) How do you explain Chris Turner's performance so far this season?

Falco: "Chris Turner is playing like as expected. He has an ability to play great games and terrible games, and often there is very little inbetween. This is his third year starting most of the games for Maryland (3rd string in 2007, earned the position with Steffy hurt, Portis suspended), and he has not progressed really at all in that time despite no competition this season. In Maryland's four games, he has played two good ones and two bad ones. Not counting Cal (they are ranked), they only game I really criticize him for not stepping up is Rutgers, as JMU and MTSU he played fine."

Windsor: "Chris Turner's struggles boil down to two things: 1) his offensive line is atrocious, and 2) he wasn't all that good to begin with. Chris Turner is not an elite quarterback, he's a decent college starter. But behind this line, the faults he has are magnified ten-fold. Tim Tebow couldn't win with this offensive line."

2) As for the defense, is it the scheme or the players?

Falco: "It some ways it is both. The defense is young all-around now with Nolan Carroll being out with injury for the year (he was a captain). The only guys with real experience are Alex Wujciak, Adrian Moten, and Jamari McCullough. Obviously changing to a new scheme is tough, and really, Brown's new scheme is hard to figure out. Brown is supposedly an attacking d-coordinator, but the blitzes and run defense don't look effective yet. All you need to know: all four teams that have faced us have scored at least 32 points against us."

Windsor: "It's too early in Don Brown's tenure to say it's him based on the MASSIVE loss of defensive talent. For now, I'm saying it's the players."

3) You both thought this team would do better than most people predicted- what has surprised you the most about the Terps so far?

Falco: "Two things surprise me the most. One is the playing of Chris Turner. He has not played badly, but for a senior quarterback with two years experience at the helm, he has not progressed at all. He has good weapons, with Torrey Smith, Adrian Cannon, and Da'Rel Scott, but with bad passing and bad playcalling from the coordinator, he has looked the exact same. Second, I never expected teams like JMU, MTSU, and Rutgers to be able to take primarily one-dimensional offenses and kill us. JMU is a passing team, MTSU relied on its scrambling quarterback, and Rutgers is a running team. In one form of another, a team we knew how they would try and beat us did it."

Windsor: "Just how bad they are on all sides of the ball; really the offensive line is the biggest surprise. I knew that this unit wasn't great, but Friedgen has always maintained a solid offensive front. The skill position talent is there, and that's what drove up expectations. But without a defense and without an offensive line, I'll be interested to see if they'll win more than one or two more games this season (tops)."

4) Is this team's performance indicative of Ralph Friegen's coaching?

Falco: "I don't claim to know how Fridge coaches exactly. This is by far his worst year at Maryland. Normally Maryland is a competitive squad in-conference, going at least 3-1 non-conference then going around .500 in-conference. I believe he does great with the fans and he clearly cares about the fundraising and local area, though this year his team's performance is not good, at all."

Windsor: "Not indicative of his coaching, it's indicative of recruiting. Where's the talent on the front lines? Nowhere. This is what you get for focusing too much on offensive skill players."

5) How many ACC wins do you think the Terrapins can muster this season? Do you see the potential for much improvement as the season goes on?

Falco: "Looking at the schedule, the Terps should be thanking the stars they don't play in the Coastal Division. They don't play Miami, UNC, or Georgia Tech. But they still have Virginia Tech, NC State, and Florida State to deal with. Knowing Maryland they can pull wins out of the fire, but I would be surprised if they do better than 3-5 in-conference. The fact is the ACC is stronger this year, and I don't believe Maryland can contend with enough teams. Possibly wins against Virginia, Duke, Wake, BC, and Clemson. Possibly."

Windsor: "One, and no."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why Ralph Friedgen Should Remain Head Coach Through 2009

Maryland is coming off a terrible loss to Rutgers last Saturday, and things look very down for the Terps. They are 1-3 heading into conference play, and with the way the ACC is looking, getting a .500 overall record in going to be very difficult. Many Maryland fans are calling for Ralph Friedgen's firing immediately due to the terrible start.

Before I make my argument, there is no doubt that this Ralph Friedgen's worst start as head coach at Maryland. 1-3 in non-conference is terrible, and certainly it should be suggested that his tenure end after this year. But through all of the problems, Ralph Friedgen should remain the head coach, at least through the end of the 2009 season.

Reason #1: Nobody behind him is better.
Because of Maryland's coach-in-waiting scenario, it would need to be James Franklin. Based on his play-calling, he is not ready for the job. He is set to takeover in 2012 once Fridge's contract runs out, and he'll need that time to get ready for the job. Franklin has never been a head coach, so you need to go with Friedgen for now.

Reason #2: The money cost is too much.
The solution of firing everyone and starting over would be a perilous one, and not a smart one in this economy. To buyout Friedgen's contract you would need a spend a few million. If the athletic department wanted to go further, firing Franklin would eventually cost another million dollars due to the coach-in-waiting contract. Plus another million of so would be needed to hire a new head coach after the season. That is at least five million dollars gone, which is money Maryland athletics can't afford to spend during this economy.

Reason #3: Hasn't he earned a chance to repair the season?
No one believes Ralph Friedgen is the best coach in the conference, but it can be said that he has done well with Maryland. This university is not one that can compete for a national championship in football, and some fans need to realize that. The last three years have seen three bowl appearances for Maryland, including two bowl wins and a combined 23-16 record before this season. Before that he won an ACC Championship, granted not with his recruits, but he still did. Most teams in the conference cannot say they have three bowl appearances in a row. Even though some of the seasons have seen terrible losses, Maryland has found a way to bounce back. I'm not saying Friedgen is a great coach, or even a good one, but Maryland has seen some decent success under his tenure, and he deserves at least a chance to repair the season.

Reason #4: The team is young.
A lot of us had high expectations for the season, and quickly they have come crashing down to earth. But take a close look at the team. Yes they have a senior quarterback and an All-ACC running back. But a number of new starters, especially on defense, are on the team. And they teams they have played with the exception of Rutgers were well-established with a number of veterans returning. Obvious Maryland needed to play better, but with new players they need to gel together to be effective.

Reason #5: Maryland is not playing the brunt of the conference.
If there is any chance for Maryland to comeback this season, they have a great conference schedule to play. The three teams they will not play in the ACC are very strong; Miami, UNC, and Georgia Tech. They will still need to play Virginia Tech, Florida State and the rest of the conference, but if Maryland has a chance to get a bowl appearance, this is the schedule to do it against. If Maryland fails, then that can be used against Friedgen. Maryland last year despite losing to MTSU shutout Wake, so you never know what can happen against the ACC.

It may be time after the season to get rid of Ralph Friedgen as Maryland head coach. But it is in Maryland's best interests to keep him in command for the rest of the year. He clearly is not happy with what has been happening and nor is his team. Let's see how Maryland bounces back before we start firing coaches.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

College Football Blogpoll Week 5

This is week 5 of our participation in the CBS Sports blogpoll, and this was by far the hardest for us to rank. Feel free to go ahead and critique these selections so we can make any edits before Wednesday’s final submission. It was one hell of a week for college football, and the rankings were all tossed up in the air. Quick question though: Why can’t Penn State beat Iowa?

1) Florida (2)- Even with the flu, the Gators demolished Kentucky and answered any questions about whether this team has any chinks in the armor. If Tebow’s concussion keeps him out of next week’s game against LSU, Florida could be in real trouble.
2) Alabama (1)- I want this team to be bad, but they keep winning. Trial by fire coming up in the SEC schedule.
3) Texas- The Longhorns get bumped down to #3 after Alabama looked great against Arkansas while Texas buried an outmatched UTEP squad. They will have plenty of chances to take that spot back.
4) Boise State- The lone top 10 mid major team just keeps marching on. That win over Oregon is looking pretty good right now, but the lack of competition on the rest of their schedule is going to come back to haunt the Broncos.
5) Cincinnati- How is a Big East team creeping up this high in the rankings? Because there’s no real reason to keep them out so far. But their games are getting closer, and this ranking just feels too high for them to keep up.
6) USC- Tied with Ohio State in votes but I gave it to USC by virtue of head-to-head win. With Matt Barkley back, the Trojans seem refocused on winning the PAC 10. It will face a big test this week at Cal.
7) Ohio State- Since their loss to USC, this team has thumped their last two opponents by a score of 68-0. I would say they are ready for Big Ten play, and their defense could be one of the best in the country.
8) LSU- Yea it was close against Mississippi State, but an SEC win is an SEC win. Next two games? Georgia and Florida. Call me in two weeks.
9) Virginia Tech- I am still concerned about the offense, but you can’t argue with results. They have taken down two quality teams in as many weeks.
10) Oklahoma- Sam who? The Sooners are coming on strong, and the Big 12 should take notice.
11) Houston- They are starting to validate that high ranking with their win over a quality Texas Tech team. Unfortunately, they don’t play any more contenders to prove they belong in the top 10. Their ranking will depend on how Oklahoma State does the rest of the season.
12) TCU- Still waiting for the Hornfrogs to play someone with a resume; they could prep for a fall when they hit BYU on October 24th.
13) Miami (FL)- This team hit the ground hard, but they are still a quality team. They may not rebound immediately against Oklahoma, but they are still at or near the top of the ACC.
14) Penn State- Another Big Ten offense struggles against a solid defense. The Nittany Lions might have just had their National Championship hopes submarined once again by Iowa.
15) California- Who the hell is Cal? Could they have been looking ahead to USC? We will find out who they really are this weekend against the Trojans.
16) Iowa- They haven’t looked great in their wins, but they are 4-0 and just upset #5 Penn State at their place in front of 105,000 fans.
17) Oklahoma State- This team won’t get tested again until October 17th against Missouri. Maybe they can find a defense before then.
18) BYU- Tied with Mississippi in votes but I gave it to BYU as Ole Miss lost last week.
19) Mississippi- Jevan Snead looked no part of a Heisman candidate against South Carolina. He will have to start looking like it for this team to rebound in the SEC West.
20) Georgia- Tied with Kansas but I gave it to Georgia as they have played a much tougher schedule. That defense is still giving up a lot of yardage.
21) Kansas- Still haven’t played anyone, but they just keep winning. They could be in for a big fall once the Big 12 season starts.
22) South Carolina- This team won’t score many points, but their defense will win them some games in the SEC.
23) Michigan- This team looked ugly in their late-game win over Indiana, showing that this team has a long way to go to return to greatness.
24) Missouri- I am the only one putting the Tigers in my poll, but they get enough votes to make it in.
25) Nebraska- Tied with Oregon but all three of us included the Cornhuskers and only Windsor included Oregon, so I gave the edge to Nebraska.

Others receiving votes: Oregon, Georgia Tech, North Carolina

This week the poll was so tough to put together for all three of our ATH voters, so I had to make some poll observations this week:

Likewise we weren’t sure where to put Iowa, ranging from 13th (Falco) to 22nd (Windsor) which is odd, since Windsor has held Iowa in his rankings even as they were playing poorly, I figured he would jump them up with this win over Penn State. On California we varied as well, from 11th (myself) to 20th (Falco); and on LSU, which was a shocker as Falco put them as high as 4th (and I at 6th) and Windsor kept them low at 14th.

Big differences in ranking Michigan this time around, ranging from 19th (Falco) to 25th (myself) after their less-than-impressive win over Indiana at home.

While Windsor puts South Carolina on his poll at 17th (and I at 22nd), Falco leaves the Gamecocks off entirely. Windsor, for his part, isn’t sold on Kansas (19th in my poll and 18th in Falco’s) and leaves them off his poll.

Georgia Tech might have made the poll if I had put them in, but I am not convinced that they are a top 25 team yet- there were some tough calls this week, and I wish it was a top 27 or 28 to make the list.

After all those differences, we all still ranked Georgia 21st, our only universal agreement in the rankings. Odd, huh?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Postgame Report Card: Rutgers 34, Maryland 13

No one word of the game can describe what happened in this contest. Maryland went up against a team that is about there equal, perhaps a bit better or worse, in a rainstorm in College Park. Instead of having a competitive game, Maryland turned the ball over constantly, could not move the ball, and looked like they completely gave up during the middle of the fourth quarter. Say what you want about Maryland, normally they do not give up in games, most will fight until it is done. But not today. An entire program, from coaches to players to the student section, waved the white flag very early and surrendered to Rutgers, possibly giving up their whole season for it. After all their mistakes, they had a lead at halftime and just a four-point deficit into the fourth quarter, but apparently it didn't matter. By far the 4th quarter was the worst 15 minutes this season. The rain is not an excuse; Rutgers had that problem too, with a backup quarterback.

Now at 1-3, the Terps will have to get a winning record in-conference just to get a bowl appearance. By the look of this team, it is highly unlikely. The ACC is a better conference this season than last year, and although the Terps will not have to go through Miami, Georgia Tech, or UNC, but the rest of the conference it still deadly. But if they don't make a bowl, then all they will have to do is look at their non-conference performances to know why.

Offense - Overall Grade: D-
Quarterbacks: F

Chris Turner had two turnovers that turned into defensive touchdowns, plus two other interceptions, which could have been much more had the ball not been wet and slipped out of cornerbacks' hands. The first defensive touchdown was on the first defensive play. Did all right getting the long pass and had some good throws, but that is all the good Chris Turner did, and the bad far outweighed the good. For someone that claimed this was "his team" coming into this year, he looks the exact same way when he started two years ago, inconsistent and unable to play well when Maryland needs it most.
Running Backs: D
Da'Rel Scott could do nothing today, averaging 2.7 yards a carry, even losing a fumble on one of his better runs. Maryland had all of 29 yards on the ground today. Only reason this is not a worse grade is because the unit only had 14 runs compared to 38 passing plays.
Wide Receivers: B+
Torrey Smith looks like a future star, making great catches during the day even though Rutgers often double teamed him. Adrian Cannon and Ronnie Tyler also played well in the unit. LaQuan Williams made a TD catch, and if he can return to his 2007 form, he could be deadly. A lot of people questioned what Turner could do without Heyward-Bey. The fact is Maryland has a plethora of solid WR targets, and they are a great asset.
Tight Ends: B-
Lansford Watson had three catches, Tommy Galt had two, and the unit helped Turner throw to the middle. Overall not that influential however. Offensive Line: F-
The Rutgers blitz attack completely dominated today. No running game and Turner was hurried all day. Considering Bruce Campbell was back, this unit should have done better. The numbers: Turner sacked three times, 1.2 yards per rush.

Defense - Overall Grade: C+
Note: Before the fourth quarter, the defense had done an excellent job, giving up only three points as unit. But games are 60 minutes long, not 45.
Defensive Line: C
Dominic Natale was not an effective quarterback, getting sacked three times by Maryland, one of them by Travis Ivey, considering the few number of passing plays called. For a good while, the line had the running game contained, but two huge runs in the fourth quarter by Joe Martinek sealed it, both coming on plays where everyone knew a running play was coming.
Linebackers: B
Alex Wujciak had 17 tackles, and was huge tonight. The unit had a lot of tackles, and until the fourth quarter was stellar.
Secondary: C+
The unit often didn't have a chance to have problems, as Rutgers didn't pass often. But a couple of very bad penalties, especially an inexcusable unnecessary roughness on Antwine Perez, kept allowing Rutgers to advance on a drive.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: B
Kicker: A

Nick Ferrera converted two field goals and an extra point. Did his job.
Punter: B
For Maryland's sake, I hope Travis Baltz is all right. He limped off the field after a punt from the goal line. Baltz got a punt off after the ball slipped from his hands despite four people coming after him. But, he did shank a punt for minimal yardage.
Coverage: B-
One good kickoff return for Rutgers, but the other two were not. Overall, Rutgers could not gain anything on special teams, except when a player ran into a returner before catching the ball.
Returners: C+
Torrey Smith was average on kickoff returns, getting about 20 yards per return. Anthony Wiseman got hammered on a punt return, but he held onto the football.

Coaching - Overall Grade: D-
Offensive: F-
James Franklin's gameplan led Maryland to a disaster. In a rainstorm, he is forcing Maryland to pass all day. No running game was established and plays were predictable. On the first offensive play, he comes out five-wide with no backfield. IN A RAINSTORM! No wonder Turner threw a pick six! Plus after the second quarter, the offense had no points. Why he refused to establish a running game in bad weather is inexcusable no matter how much the unit is struggling. Plus, whenever your offensive players give up on a drive, coaching is to blame for part of it.
Defensive: C-
I want to believe Don Brown can be a good defensive coordinator here, but it is not clear yet. His unit had a great first 45 minutes, stopping the Rutgers offense at every turn despite no help from the lackluster offense. Then in the fourth quarter no one can stop the run, even when everyone knows it is coming. The Rutgers offense was one-dimensional, and the defense could not stop them in the fourth quarter. The unit gave up on the final touchdown by Joe Martinek, ending what could have been a great day.
Head Coach: F
I'm not sure to what degree Ralph Friedgen has in blame for the problems with Maryland football, but whenever your team just quits during a game, it shows a lack of discipline and heart.

MVP: Alex Wujciak
The leader of the defense had 17 tackles.
LVP: Chris Turner
Three interceptions, a lost fumble, accounting for two defensive touchdowns, and failed to lead like a captain. I only wish I could pick a coach. Or three.

Today's game is clearly a black mark on the Maryland football program, and I would argue this loss was worse than the Middle Tennessee loss. A team, its coaches, and its fans giving up during the game. Maryland has a very big uphill climb to try to make it to a bowl game, and frankly, the road gets harder from here on in.

(Photo credit: AP, Baltimore Sun)

Pregame: Maryland vs. Rutgers

Maryland had one of their worst losses in history last week, falling to Middle Tennessee State last week 32-31 at home. The Terps season has been incredibly rough to start, losing to MTSU, getting destroyed by Cal, and barely getting past JMU. Now with one final non-conference game left, the Terps look to salvage a win in hopes of a .500 record in conference play for a bowl game.

The Maryland Terrapins (1-2) host another team just off I-95, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-1) in a rematch from 2007. That game was memorable to many Maryland fans, as Rutgers was ranked in the top-10, but fell to Maryland 34-24 in Chris Turner's first game as a Terp in New Jersey. Rutgers has played about how everyone expected, losing to Cincinnati but taking care of business against Howard and FIU. Maryland is 6-3 all-time against Rutgers.

If for no other reason, the Terps need a win to give them a good chance for a bowl game. With the ACC looking stronger than last season, the Terps can't afford to be 1-3 going into conference play.

Scouting the Competition: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rutgers may have problems even before the game starts. Last week against FIU, freshman starting quarterback Tom Savage suffered a head injury, and it is not known if he will start. If he does not play or can't play every down, then redshirt senior Michigan State transfer Domenic Natale will play. Savage has been effective, and will be a big loss for Rutgers if he can't play.

The Scarlet Knight offense is a primarily running attack. Leading the rushing is junior Joe Martinek, who averages about four-and-a-half yards a carry, and backing him up is junior Jourdan Brooks, who grew up in Germantown, Maryland, averaging about 5.7 yards on 25 rushes. Their attack is bolstered by a strong offensive line, led by future NFLer junior Anthony Davis (pictured) at left tackle. The two receiving threats, and so far the only two threats, are senior Tim Brown and freshman Mohamed Sanu, who combined have 29 catches; the team has just 43 in three games.

Defensively Rutgers is efficient, but not a lockdown squad. The team plays a 4-3 squad. Junior Jonathan Freeny has already amassed four sacks from defensive end, and senior linebacker Ryan D'Imperio has 20 tackles. Their weakness is in the air, allowing 32 first downs in passing plays.

One of the intangibles will be head coach Greg Schiano. He had been offered the Michigan job in the past, and just because he has lost talent like Ray Rice and Kenny Britt does not mean he can't replace it. He is a solid coach and certainly remembers what happened two years ago.

Some things to look for in tonight's game:
1. What will Da'Rel Scott's production be?
After Scott lost two fumbles against MTSU, Friedgen pulled Scott despite that he was averaging nearly nine yards a carry. He is Maryland's most reliable runner by far, and the Terps need him to be successful. Friedgen has said that Scott will not be shut down, but if he fumbles again then he could get pulled again for Meggett. One thing that will help is that Bruce Campbell will finally return to the line, giving Maryland more experience at tackle. But Scott's play is key to the Terps winning, and they need him to play well to give Maryland a chance.

2. Will Chris Turner step up as captain?
The last time Turner saw Rutgers he replaced Jordan Steffy and led the Terps to victory. Right now Maryland is in dire straits, possibly looking at 1-3 and a tough conference road ahead. Turner has played fine in his last two games, but Maryland needs a leader to inspire them, and who better than the quarterback. If Maryland offense can set the tone, then the defense can follow.

3. When will we see some defense?
It has been hard watching Don Brown's defense the first three games. At least 32 points were allowed in all three contests plus Nolan Carroll is out for the season. Rutgers is not a predictable offense but the gameplan should be clear; they wil run the football very often, especially if their starting quarterback does not play. Hopefully the gameplan will include a number of run-stopping play and blitzes to pressure the new quarterback. Let's hope the Don can take care of business against the New Jersey foe.

This is tough, because Rutgers has taken care of business and Maryland is struggling mightily. But if Savage is not starting plus the home-field advantage, I will slightly favor the Terps. But this will need to be a well-coached game by Maryland, as they will need to trust Da'Rel Scott to be effective.

Maryland 31, Rutgers 27

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun (Scott), (Davis))

Friday, September 25, 2009

Free Kicks: Maryland Students Throw Sharp Objects at Me (Edition)

I need to brace myself for the backlash that will come from the first item on Free Kicks this week, so go ahead and line up for the kick...

Free Student Tickets Exacerbating UMD Athletic Budget Shortfall
So the University of Maryland is struggling to fill the coffers of the athletic department, and I can see why. Historically the Terps have emphasized the non-revenue generating sports (lacrosse, field hockey, and soccer to name a few) in addition to the revenue generating sports that generally support the remainder of the department. This commitment is built on the principle that all Maryland sports should be great, regardless of TV deals or other income, and I admire that commitment (I wish more universities felt that way). However, with basketball and football underachieving as of late, the athletic department has been forced to cut costs in any way possible, most recently raising the spectre of cutting certain sports altogether. At the risk of being torn apart by my Maryland grad compatriots, I have a simple solution that is either too blasphemous to mention or just hasn’t been thought of.

When I visited Maryland, I was always astonished at how Windsor and Falco would get their student tickets- loyalty points, applying online, and getting their passes. That is, for free. So many sports are free at Maryland to students, and I always thought that was odd. Would MD-Duke not get enough fans if they had to shell out $10 for the ticket? At my alma mater, the University of Michigan (as most of you readers either know or have guessed by now), where football is king and basketball takes a backseat, basketball season ticket packages cost $115 for students. For football you are talking $250 or more, depending on the season. In Maryland’s case you might have to flip which one costs more, as basketball runs the show in College Park. Additionally, in order to keep the stands full these prices might have to be lowered significantly (or even cut in half), but something is better than nothing. Getting even 10,000 students to buy any of these packages would solve many of the department’s budget problems, and might even eliminate the current shortfall.

The fact of the matter is that the free ticket policy has been a privilege Maryland students enjoy that most other major universities do not provide. Additionally, with the paltry funding from the state, the ceiling on tuition increases and catastrophic losses in the endowment, this is not a time for such luxuries. Tough times call for tough decisions. It is time to give this student comfort up before the University gives up any of the sports it has worked so hard to build up.

Wieters Going Wild
As the Orioles slink towards another sorry finish, throwing out bodies to rack up innings and sending their walking wounded to the showers early for the season, there is a very bright spot heating up at the end of this all-too-long ’09 campaign. After a sluggish start to the season, matt Wieters has raised his average from .265 to .290 over his last 10 games, and on Wednesday launched his 8th home run of the season (the third in his last 10 games). Having played just a little more than half a season, Wieters is coming on strong and turning into the player everyone in Baltimore has been waiting for him to be. Expectations were far too high on this kid, and perhaps as the Orioles have tanked and the Ravens have taken over the media spotlight, it got to the point where he could just be himself and relax at the plate. Orioles fans were awful impatient with Wieters at first, unfairly so, but we can be sure that the hype machine will be back in full swing when the O's catcher reports to training camp in 2010.

So is South Carolina good or Ole Miss bad?
I am not sure that’s a fair question to either team. South Carolina is far too dysfunctional on the offensive side of the ball for me to consider them a truly good team, and Ole Miss had done nothing this season or last season to merit being ranked in the top 5. That said, even I had started to come around on the Rebels, putting as they were averaged out to #5 on this blog and I had seen their beating up on inferior opponents as signs of major improvement. They may yet be a challenger in the SEC West, but I think they are all out of Kool Aid at this point. As for the Gamecocks, they are a talented team defensively, their 41 points given up to Georgia not withstanding- even great defenses get gashed occasionally. I still don’t think Spurrier has a quarterback in Garcia who is capable of carrying this team, and it will hurt him a lot this season- if South Carolina can’t score points, they will be losing a lot of games 13-7 or 14-10. These are probably both back-end top 25 teams or are just outside of the poll when all is said and done.

Prediction for the Weekend:
Okay, so perhaps I whiffed on the prediction last weekend (I am oh so devastated that the Steelers lost and gave the AFC North lead to Baltimore, it really is killing me inside), but I am 1-1 on this segment so far, with this weekend being a toughie. I can’t call a blowout like LSU- Mississippi State looks like, it has to be something that has a good chance of being wrong to really fit the criteria here. How about this: the Arizona Cardinals are going to find their rhythm at home and score with the Indianapolis Colts- they are one of the few teams that can also score in 34 seconds with no time outs. I say the Cards win this one, 35-31.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ravens-Browns Preview: Everything Coming Together for Baltimore

The Ravens escaped with a win over the Chargers, there is no other way to slice it. Yes they stood firm in the Red Zone, but the bolts had the Ravens secondary from the first snap and it was only the incredible play of Joe Flacco & the gang that kept Baltimore ahead. Many pieces have been written on Ray Lewis’ big tackle to seal the game (that will go on his highlight video in Canton), but San Diego carved up the defense for much of the afternoon despite missing their center and future Hall of Fame running back. For the second week in a row, I am wondering about the Ravens defense. If they are exploited on Sunday, it is time to get concerned.

The Browns are returning comfortably to the Browns of old after starting the season 0-2 and mustering a whole of 1 offensive touchdown. Against what was one of the worst defenses in the league last year in Denver, this team garnered only 6 points, 54 yards rushing, 161 yards passing, and had to throw the ball 31 times. What might be even more alarming is the defense, which sacrificed 27 points to a Bronco squad that only barely beat Cincinnati’s defense and was sending out a quarterback who admits that he is having trouble throwing anything beyond a short pass.

What I’m Wondering:

Will the Ravens cornerbacks recover this weekend?
If not, it won’t be because of an explosive quarterback or multiple receiving threats. If the secondary struggles this week then it will be time for Ravens fans to start to panic. I have never been sold on these cornerbacks (an Oakland flameout and a 3rd round pick who was traded for a 6th round pick and then cut), and this will be the week they have to prove themselves. Braylon Edwards, with his size and speed will pose a significant challenge for whichever corner is matched up against him, but after Edwards the talent pool gets much shallower- more on that later. Brady Quinn is only the starter right now because he is the fan favorite, and has done little to prove himself so far. This is the time for the secondary to shine.

Which offense will the Ravens show this weekend?
Both. Against Kansas City this team elected to air it out and make big plays down the field. Against San Diego they took a more deliberate, smashmouth approach. So far neither team has been able to stop either strategy, and with New England coming up in a week, I see no reason to show anything new on Sunday. Then again, that’s what I said against Kansas City and look what happened. Shaun Rogers is a force up the middle… and yea. There we go. Cam will have something up his sleeve as always, but I hope he doesn’t show too many of his cards.

Are the Browns this bad?
It is hard to say actually. They played well in the first half against Minnesota in Week 1, but since then they have been about as awful as everyone expected them to be. I am loathe to question a team too much after just two games, but I haven’t see anything to indicate that there is a hidden wealth of talent on the roster waiting to break out. I mean, when Hank Poteat is on your 2-deep at corner you have problems. However, it think their defense has the potential to be good this season- but the offense seems hopeless with the skill position players they have.

My Mildly Informed Analysis:

However you scheme it, the Browns lack talent on the offensive side of the ball. Apart from Braylon Edwards (who Cleveland hopes has stopped dropping catchable balls), their receiving corps consists of a poor man’s Devin Hester (Joshua Cribbs) being converted to receiver and a serviceable 3rd down possession receiver in Mike Furrey. I like Furrey a lot, but he is not an elite level receiver (there is a reason the Lions let him walk). Their tight end, following the trade of Kellen Winslow to the Buccaneers, is Robert Royal, who isn’t much of a receiving threat but has great blocking ability to lead the way for Jamal Lewis.

And that, my friends, is where we find the heart of the Browns offense. Jamal Lewis makes or breaks this attack, and for Cleveland he has performed admirably over the last few seasons. Behind a Pro Bowl left tackle in Joe Thomas, Lewis has rushed for at least 1000 yards in each of the last two seasons since coming to the Browns. He is as Ravens fans will remember him- runs right into defenders, over them and through them, a throwback running back from the 1970’s and 80’s. He is one of the few backs in this league who welcomes 30 carries a game- no, he expects it, and performs better the more carries you give him. But without a passing game, Lewis has struggled this season, mustering a paltry 95 yards through the first two games of the season. Tossing out the incredibly tough run defense of the Vikings, Lewis had only 14 carries for 38 yards against the Broncos, who had one of the league’s worst run defenses in the league last year.

With an erratic Brady Quinn under center, look for the Browns to give it to Jamal at first and when he is stuffed by Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata (and he will be eventually), they will be forced to put it in the air. This is where the game will be determined. If Edwards manages to out-leap and out-play Washington or Foxworth on a consistent basis, this game will be close. Quinn has an arm and if Braylon can catch a few long passes to keep drives alive, the defense will be gashed eventually up the middle by Jamal. I expect the Ravens to bracket Edwards with Ed Reed if Edwards is foolish enough to line up on his side of the field, and with Landry even closer if he is on the other side. Greg Mattison can’t let the Browns lone big play receiver be free one-on-one unless he is confident that Foxworth or Washington can handle him. As for Cribbs, this is where Washington’s and Foxworth’s speed is so important- Joshua Cribbs is a wonderful return man, but he is an unpolished receiver. As long as the cornerback can keep up with him, Cribbs does not have the technique to make a great play on the ball yet. Stay on his hip pocket and run with him, and he will not burn you.

As for the Ravens, I have no idea what to expect. With the way this team has attacked the defenses they have faced in weeks 1 and 2, there is nothing this team could try on Sunday that would surprise me. However, I will attempt a few guesses at what will be more effective against this Cleveland defense. Aside from Rogers at the nose tackle spot, the Browns boast two talented linebackers in former Terrapin D’Qwell Jackson and Kamerion Wimbley. Both have the ability to rush the passer and will likely be in full attack mode to try to slow down the Ravens passing game. One of the major reasons Joe Flacco has been so successful is the performance of his offensive line, without which he lacks the time to pick apart the defense. The Browns haven’t been known as much of a pass rushing team in the past, but they won’t have a choice but to send the house on the second-year signal caller. Look for Baltimore to isolate Shaun Rogers with multiple blockers and run draw plays with Rice and McGahee- that will keep the pass rush at bay or open up wide lanes for the quick-footed Ravens running backs.

Alternatively, I have no doubt that this team can still pound the ball with the best of them, and can probably simply run over the Browns if they need to. However, I think that with the lack of talent in the Cleveland secondary (Eric Wright is their only threatening corner, and even that is debatable) I think that Flacco will be able to hit receivers wherever he wants them. In sum, while Cleveland will throw everything into alternately stopping one or another part of the offense, they do not have the talent or personnel to shut it all down for the entire game. With the impotence of the Browns offense, the Ravens will have plenty of opportunities.

The Rundown

Why so much attention on Cleveland’s bad offense? That is the only way the Browns win this game- they will have to score more than the one offensive touchdown they have been able to muster so far this season. Brady Quinn will need to channel his Notre Dame days (and the Ravens would have to pretend they are a service academy) for this team to be successful. I don’t see the Ravens scoring as many points as they did in the first two weeks simply because I have trouble believing that this team just flipped a switch and now has an explosive offense- there have to be chinks in the armor somewhere.

The nod goes to the Ravens, 27 – 13.

UPDATE ON GAMEDAY (From Falco): Jamal Lewis has been ruled out for this game. Backup James Davis will be seeing many carries. Kicker Phil Dawson is also out; he will be replaced by Billy Cundiff.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ravens #1 in ESPN, SI Power Rankings

The Baltimore Ravens have been named the #1 team in ESPN's and SI's power rankings after the first two weeks of the season. The Ravens are one of nine teams that are currently 2-0 on the season, and thanks to their surprising offense and dependable defense, they land as the #1 team on the list.

The win over the Chargers in San Diego gave the Ravens a huge lift in respect despite that it was close. The fact is whenever you win on the road on the opposite side of the country against a potential playoff team, it is a huge win. Obviously both of the Ravens wins were closer then they would have liked, but the fact is they are 2-0.

Normally, the Ravens would not do well with expectations, but under John Harbaugh, the team always seems ready for games, no matter what. The Ravens host the Browns at home this weekend, and if the Ravens play their game, then they should be 3-0.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Should Jim Johnson be the Orioles Future Closer?

It certainly has not been easy for the Orioles in September. Although they defeated the Yankees two games out of three in New York, the team has been forced to deplete some of the roster so they don't risk their future. Such players include Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Brian Matusz, and eventually Chris Tillman.

But for the O's, there is still work to be done. One decision that will need to be made is the future of Jim Johnson as Orioles closer.

Tuesday night, the Orioles had an all too familiar fall, leading Toronto 5-2 going into the 8th, allowing two in the 8th, one in the 9th, and one in the 11th to fall 6-5. For Jim Johnson, who blew the one-run lead in the 9th, his status as eventual closer may have to be evaluated. To his credit, in this outing he had the bases loaded and one out, getting out of it with two strikeouts, but he allowed four bases runners in a row, capped off by a hit-by-pitch to bring in the tying run.

Since taking over the closer's role in August after the George Sherrill trade, he has had nine save opportunities, converting only six. His ERA has gone up nearly a full point since taking over the closer role, and his stuff does not look the same since being the setup man, especially his fastball. Johnson had started out well, but recently has struggled at the position.

To his credit, Johnson is still the choice for closer for the remainder of the season. No one else in the bullpen is worth putting there, including Danys Baez and Cla Meredith, both of whom possibly might not be on the team next year. The Orioles will hope Chris Ray can have a good season year from Tommy John surgery, which is the normal recovery period needed for such a surgery, but as of right now he is not effective.

But Kam Mickolio could be another option. Currently he is on the DL and probably is shut down for the rest of the year due to shoulder inflammation, but before his injury he showed some promise. He has shown some closer-like stuff, including a powerful 98 MPH fastball. His walks are a little too high and he struggled in his last few outings, but the Orioles might want to try him out at closer during spring training.

The Orioles will likely not spend millions of dollars trying to buy a closer on the free agent market, so they will need to decide between Johnson, Ray, and Mickolio who will close next year in spring training. Johnson is a great setup man, but the O's have to be careful in using him as the closer.

(Photo credit: AP)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gary Williams Gets Contract Extension, Coach Through 2013

Maryland announced today that Gary Williams has been extended one season through the 2012-2013 season, which could increase if academic and athletic standards are met.

Last season Gary had coached one of his best years, taking a team that was supposed to finish near last in the conference with no frontcourt to an NCAA Tournament berth plus a win over California in the first round. In his 20 years at Maryland he has led the Terps to 13 NCAA Tournaments in the 16 years after the infraction period.

But also, his players recently have been graduating. Last year Dave Neal, the lone senior on the squad got his degree. The previous year saw all three seniors, James Gist, Bambale Osby and Jason McAlpin graduate. Four of the six leaving seniors on the 06-07 squad graduated as well. So with the recent success, Gary receives this extension.

The upcoming year will be an interesting one for Gary Williams. He returns his entire backcourt with Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, Sean Mosley, Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker, and will need to rely on his two freshman big men, James Padgett and Jordan Williams, to be solid down low. The Terps have a lot of expectations this season, especially with Vasquez returning, and this has the potential to be a big year for Maryland. Obviously basketball season is still a good month away, but Terp fans are already thinking about it.

There have been obvious problems between Deborah Yow and Gary Williams, but I'm happy that both realize each other's worth. The fact is without Gary Williams, it is hard to know where this team or this program will or would have been.

(Photo credit: AP)

College Football Blogpoll Week 4

As you know, I am a big proponent of opening up the BCS to Mid-majors in a meaningful way (that is, actually giving a team outside of the big 6 conferences a chance to win the national title), and the only way that is going to happen is if a mid-major makes an argument that cannot be ignored. With BYU and Utah going down this weekend, those dreams took a big hit for this season. Utah hadn't looked all that impressive so far this season, so their loss was much less shocking than BYU being shellacked in Provo by Florida State. Well, we will always have Boise.

Speaking of which, when was the last time Boise State had more than one regular season loss? It has happened once since 2000, in 2004 when they went 9-4. Unfortunately they don't play anyone this season, so odds are the voters will have no problem coming up with another excuse to exclude them. At this point it is more acceptable to keep Boise State out, since they have been shut out enough times in the past that their arguments are stale, though still valid.

Some interesting developments in the poll; I think Windsor was the outlier this time, knocking Va Tech and leaving Houston and Georgia Tech off his poll and giving a lot of credit to Florida State. He could be right on all counts, the ACC schedule will answer a lot of those questions.

1) Florida (2)- Disappointed in not trouncing Tennessee, but no reason not to keep the champs at #1.
2) Alabama (1)- Tied in points with Texas, but took 2nd by virtue of Windsor’s 1st place vote.
3) Texas- Didn’t look overly impressive, but took out a quality Texas Tech team.
4) Penn State- Not sure how they got this high, but they keep winning by large margins, if against terrible competition.
5) Mississippi- Ditto for this team that just keeps winning, though they definitely are looking better each week.
6) California- Struggled against Minnesota on the road, but Jahvid Best makes this team go.
7) Boise State- With the other Mid-Majors going down, I have to tie my cart to the Broncos.
8) Miami (FL)- Their resume so far speaks for itself. This could be a top-5 team when all is said and done.
9) LSU- Washington’s win over USC makes LSU’s win over the Huskies look that much better.
10) USC- Tied with LSU in points, but I gave the Tigers the edge by virtue of them having beaten Washington. I might be concerned about that Trojans offense.
11) Ohio State- Trounced Toledo. Congratulations.
12) Oklahoma- Sam who? Landry Jones is growing up before our eyes.
13) TCU- Believe it or not I ranked them lower than Falco or Windsor; they need to beat someone before I am sold- they don’t have the recent history Boise does.
14) Virginia Tech- That last minute win over the Cornhuskers was nice, but getting consistency out of the offense will haunt this team all season.
15) Cincinnati- Hard to say they aren’t legit, as much as I want to knock the Big East.
16) Oklahoma State- Still trying to figure out who they are, and where they put their defense.
17) BYU- They could have made waves this season; instead they just made Miami’s win over Florida State look a lot better.
18) Georgia- I am not sold; I have to wait to see how South Carolina, Oklahoma State, and Arkansas finish out the season. They are all enigmas to me at this point.
19) Florida State- Tied with North Carolina, but North Carolina has looked lackluster in its wins this season.
20) North Carolina- Florida State is clearly the better team right now; I need to see this team beat someone (and Connecticut doesn’t count).
21) Kansas- They keep downing the cupcakes, and climbing up the rankings. We will see if they will take a tumble like 2 years ago once they face decent competition.
22) Houston- Would have been much higher if Windsor hadn’t left them off his poll. Maybe hosting Texas Tech next weekend will show us where this team belongs.
23) Michigan- Racking up 380 yards on the ground brought back memories of Rich Rod at West Virginia. The defense will have to play better for this to stay a top 25 team.
24) Georgia Tech- Again left off of Windsor’s poll, maybe the whooping they were handed by Miami showed some major flaws. Has the triple option been exposed? Will it be?
25) Nebraska- This team hasn’t beaten a Top 20 opponent since 2001. I can’t put them on my poll until they win a big game.

Others receiving votes (in order of total # of votes): South Carolina, Oregon State, Missouri

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 31, Chargers 26

The word of the game is... sweltering. The players on the field in Qualcomm were dealing with 100+ degree temperatures, and the game matched that in its intensity. The Ravens and Chargers played to a thrilling shootout; certainly all of Baltimore was sweating as the Chargers continued to slice the Ravens’ secondary through the second half. The Chargers had the Ravens on the ropes defensively; however the Ravens offense took the game over for the second week in a row. Joe Flacco threw for two more touchdowns and Willis McGahee added two more to match San Diego’s scoring.

But for as unorthodox as this game was for the Ravens, it did find a way to end in a classic fashion. With the Chargers going for it on fourth and two Ray Lewis shot through the line and crushed Darren Sproles along with the hearts of all Chargers fans in attendance. The secondary might’ve stunk up the joint this afternoon, but the Ravens’ linebackers are still alive and well.

Offense - Overall Grade: A
Quarterbacks: A-

Without Joe Flacco the Ravens would be winless at this point in the season. He has been able to not only manage the offense but bring it to an all new level for this franchise. No, he wasn’t perfect, but he did everything he needed to for the team to win. Flacco couldn’t find the deep ball today, but executed well on short ot intermediate throws. The one interception was more a result of a freakish jump off the line by Shawne Merriman than anything else.
Running Backs: A
Willis McGahee was absolutely brilliant, and was the stabilizing force for the Ravens in this game. Ray Rice continues to show vastly improved patience from last year which is allowing him to finally find some open running lanes. All three backs are starting material.
Wide Receivers: B-
This unit was unable to get any deep separation, which in turn took a key part of Joe Flacco’s game away. Still, Derrick Mason was his usual reliable self and Kelly Washington stepped up big-time for the Ravens and looks to be a huge contributor throughout the season. Clayton’s drop late in the fourth quarter was inexcusable and nearly cost the Ravens the game.
Tight Ends: A
Todd Heap continues his comeback tour, hauling in another touchdown and showing some of that athletic ability which made him a top-tier tight end before he encountered his rash of injuries. His leaping ability led to a huge pass interference call which set the Ravens up for a big score with what would otherwise be an incompletion (or worse). Still, the Ravens are looking for LJ Smith to come back from injury soon to free up Heap to get still more involved in the open field.
Offensive Line: B+
For a stretch, this group was absolutely dominant, taking advantage of a battered San Diego defensive line. Still, late in the game they weren’t able to assert their will when they needed it; if this group could just make that one more step up, this team can be something special. Oher already looks like an NFL veteran – and a good one at that.

Defense - Overall Grade: C+
Defensive Line: B+
This group was excellent against the run and got some good penetration, however they need to start finishing on some of those quarterback pressures. If Rivers was able to sidestep as many of the tackles as he did today, this unit will have its head spinning against Roethlisberger. The biggest key is for Suggs to show up, because he was nearly absent today when he should have thrived against the depleted offensive line of the Chargers.
Linebackers: A
From Ray Lewis to Tavares Gooden to Jarrett Johnson to Antwan Barnes (et al), the Ravens franchise just continues to find and develop the finest linebackers in the league. The entire linebacking corps had an excellent game, although it would have been good to see more pressure on Rivers (though the secondary made that more difficult). And speaking of which…
Defensive Backs: F
An abysmal performance. This unit was humiliated by a veteran quarterback and a corps of physically dominant receivers. Surely it was not for lack of effort; this group was just overmatched and embarrassed. The Chargers were able to throw away from Ed Reed all game, rendering him ineffective.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: A
Kicker: A

Steve Hauschka only had one field goal to make, but without that score the Ravens are most likely on the losing end of this game. His kickoffs were great, with the exception of the fluky out-of-bounds kick due to the returner catching it with a foot out of bounds.
Punter: A+
Sam Koch is an artist. Three of his punts were within the 10 yard line, and two were within the 5. Very very impressive.
Returners: B+
Chris Carr rebounded with a much better week on punt and kickoff returns. Still looking for him to break one, but this was a good start.
Coverage: B+
For the most part, Darren Sproles was contained on kickoffs. Prescott Burgess was a monster on special teams, and Lardarius Webb made a great save on a Koch punt to plant it at the one.

Coaching - Overall Grade: A-
Offensive: A

Cam Cameron had an excellent feel for the game this week. He had the run and pass balanced very well throughout the afternoon, and finally seemed to get a good rhythm going with how and when to use his three backs. It’ll be exciting to see this offense develop as the season progresses, because it’s clear that they’ve only touched the surface of their potential.
Defensive: B
The jury is still out on how this defense will fare down the line wit Greg Mattison at the helm rather than Rex Ryan. For this game it’s awful hard to blame the coaching staff for the horrendous secondary play; most of the time the players were in position to make plays, however they were just flat-out beaten. Still, they were gashed for the second week in a row…

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Willis McGahee–
Like Todd Heap, he seems to be enjoying a bit of a comeback tour this year. He, more than any other player, seemed to recenter the Ravens’ offense when they needed it the most. He’s showing the vision, power, and speed which made him such a sought-after commodity by the front office when he was acquired. Two touchdowns to back him up don’t hurt either.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Fabian Washington– Quite frankly, he was the worst player on the worst unit in this game, so that’s why he has this dubious honor. He certainly was not alone in his struggles, but Foxworth had at least a few impressive pass defenses.

(Photo Credit:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Postgame Report Card: MTSU 32, Maryland 31

Another loss to the Blue Raiders and the second time Ralph Friedgen says this is the worst loss of his career. Maryland once again proved that they underachieve and do not take some opponents seriously, and paid the price.

Costly turnovers and a solid MTSU quarterback gave the Blue Raiders the win. Three times a Maryland turnover put MTSU inside the Maryland 40, which resulted in 17 points, then Maryland played poor defense to allow the Blue Raiders to drive down the field and get two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. Even with all the turnover issues in the game, the Terps had a chance to stop the Blue Raiders from driving down the field on the MTSU 25 with 1:30 left, and they could not do it.

Chances are Maryland will never play Middle Tennessee State again, so the series will sit at 2-2 forever. The Terps fall to 1-2 with zero wins against FBS opponents.

Offense - Overall Grade: B-
Quarterbacks: B
This game was not Chris Turner's fault; he played very well today. He had two great passes that resulted in long touchdowns for Torrey Smith and had 288 yards in the air today. His lone interception was not his fault, a ball kicked off Davin Meggett's legs. Jamarr Robinson was in for all of one play and fumbled the ball to MTSU, lowering the overall grade of the QBs.
Running Backs: D+
On the one hand, Da'Rel Scott was money when holding onto the ball, getting through small holes and bursting for big yardage. He ended with 141 yards and a score. The problem was his two very costly fumbles that put MTSU in Maryland territory twice. Plus, Davin Meggett was all right catching the ball, but his lack of production running the ball forced the Terps offense to be one-dimensional.
Wide Receivers: B-
Torrey Smith was excellent yet again, catching five passes for 165 yards and two scores, with both touchdowns being over 35 yards and beating one-on-one coverage. Other than him, the corps did not get open enough against the secondary.
Tight Ends: B-
Tommy Galt had two catches, nothing special from the unit.
Offensive Line: B-
Even though the unit is inexperienced, a lot of pressure was placed on them, and they did not hold up too badly. Enough holes were given to allow Scott to run well plus Turner had ample time in the pocket. Not a great day, but probably the best game from them thus far this season. Most of what happened was more to blame on coaching than the players.

Defense - Overall Grade: C-
Defensive Line: C
Some of the play was not bad, including getting solid pressure on Dwight Dasher and causing him problems, sacking him four times. But when it mattered the unit folded, including an offsides call on a 4th and inches on D.J. Francis and in the fourth quarter the unit was easily beaten. Dasher had their number when it counted. Travis Ivey did have a fumble recovery.
Linebackers: C+
It is hard to put a grade on this unit. The rushers of MTSU did not do much at all, and often Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten were making big tackles, including playing well on the blitz. But they could not catch up to Dasher when he ran plus the final fourth quarter drive was not played well. Then again, it is hard to defend when turnovers force them to play from Maryland territory immediately.
Secondary: D
I understand Carroll and McCollough are out, but Maryland's secondary looked non-existent for most of the game. Cameron Chism, the replacement at corner, seemed like the only solid player of the unit, intercepting two passes, but his missed coverage in the fourth caused MTSU is get in field goal range. But the middle of the field looked open most of the time and Dasher could easily find targets. Kenny Tate falling down near the end zone also allowed a pass close to the goal line.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: B
Kicker: C
Not a good day for Nick Ferrera, missing two of three field goals; one by block, one by missing. Even though the snaps were bad, Baltz got them down correctly so Ferrera should have had them. He did convert all four extra point attempts.
Punter: A
Very solid punting by Travis Baltz, averaging over 40 yards per attempt. He also did a good job at setting the ball on kicking attempt despite some high snaps.
Returners: B-
Average day, Torrey Smith averaged about 18 yards a return on kickoffs, Kenny Tate had a few yards. Nothing special, nothing tragic. Tate needs to be careful, he caught a ball with three around him and did not call fair catch, but it did not result in anything terrible.
Coverage: B+
Again, nothing special, nothing tragic. Desmond Gee, known as a skillful returner, was just average today. Blocked an extra point at least.

Coaching - Overall Grade: D-
Note: This is where I put most of the blame for today's loss. The players messed up some, but the coaches once again did poorly on their gameplan.
Offensive: D-
I do not blame James Franklin for the turnovers, but I do blame him for being obvious and not smart on playcalling, again. He must have believed Scott lost his confidence, because using Meggett as your every down back in the fourth quarter was a terrible decision. Scott may have had two turnovers, but after that happened, you think he'll do it again? If anything he'll hold on tighter! He was ripping up the defense, put in your best back of the game in the 4th quarter. The old routine continues, constantly putting in Jamarr Robinson to run, calling a play action on first down on the final drive in MTSU territory, and running the same routine plays. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I hope he gets a lot better before he is the head coach.
Defensive: D-
Before the fourth quarter, it is hard to put a lot of blame on Don Brown, because MTSU's scoring drives often came off of turnovers that put them in Maryland territory. But in the fourth quarter Maryland stopped blitzing, especially on the final drive, and got away from what was working. Blitzing was clearly throwing Dasher off, or at least forcing him to make a decision. But giving him time with a banged up secondary caused him to have easy access to his receivers. And on the final drive, playing everyone but the D-Line back was a terrible call, and Maryland paid the price for it.

MVP: Torrey Smith
Tough call between him and Turner, but I go with Smith. He was by far the biggest playmaker with five catches for 165 yards and two scores. He was the only threatening wide receiver Maryland had all game.
LVP: A.J. Francis
I can't choose a coach, so I go with Francis. He was not effective on the line plus committed a false start penalty that gave MTSU a first down on a 4th and inches. Scott is close, but he had a lot of rushing yards despite his two fumbles.

If Maryland wants to be a great program, then they need to take care of business in games like these. Middle Tennessee State is a good team, but Maryland should have had the win today. The Terps will have their final non-conference game against Rutgers next week.

(Photo credit: AP)

Pregame: Maryland vs. Middle Tennessee State

Although it took a fourth quarter comeback plus an overtime period to do it, Maryland defeated James Madison last week 38-35 (OT) to get their first win of the season. The Terps now will have their third non-conference game against an opponent that they will remember all too well.

With Ralph Friedgen saying that Middle Tennessee State's match against Maryland was "their Rose Bowl" last year, he gave the Blue Raiders great bulletin board material. MTSU pulled off a big upset over Maryland in Murfreesboro 24-14, one of the worst losses in Friedgen's career. Now, the Blue Raiders return to College Park for the next game in the series.

The Maryland Terrapins (1-1) take on the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (1-1) in their third of four non-conference games. MTSU fell to ACC-opponent Clemson in their first game, but the team is considered a solid one in the Sun Belt. Their win came last week against Memphis. This is the fourth meeting of the team, and third in College Park: Maryland is 2-1 in the series, with the home team taking every contest.

Scouting the Competition: Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

Middle Tennessee's offense is centered around junior quarterback Dwight Dasher (pictured). He lives up to his name, a solid scrambler who can pass and run well. Of the 151 offensive plays MTSU has run this season, he has thrown or run in 104 of them, combining for over 285 yards a game. He was the only starter on offense not to return from last year. The team likes to run a lot of no-huddle plays with many receivers.

Dasher's compatriots include the senior tailback Philip Tanner, who gets the ball near 10 times a contest. His WR corps include redshirt senior Patrick Honeycutt and redshirt sophomore Shane Blissard. But look for Dasher to be the playmaker all game.

On defense, the Blue Raiders have had to rely on some new players, but overall have proven effective thus far to their competition. Senior linebacker Cam Robinson has proven to be a strong player, getting four tackles for loss plus a sack. On the line, redshirt senior Chris McCoy had a big highlight against Clemson, returning a fumble 68 yards for a touchdown, also having a sack and three tackles for loss.

The possible X-factor could be kick returner, senior Desmond Gee, who is known as being dangerous.

Things to Look For:
1. How will the secondary do with their injuries?
The start of the season has not been good for the secondary which has seen its two most senior players go down with injury. Nolan Carroll is out for the season and Jamari McCollough is at least out one more game. The secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense, however with both them out, this will cause major problems for the Terps today, especially with a quarterback that likes to run. This will put a lot of pressure on Kenny Tate and Cameron Crism, the two non-seniors in the unit, to perform well.

2. How will Chris Turner perform?
This sounds like a question we could ask every week, but the fact is it matters. Last time Turner faced the Blue Raiders he had a terrible night. Turner had a good rebound game against the Dukes last week, and the fact is his success determines the success of the offense.

3. Will the Terps remember last year? Last week?
Maryland has a problem of playing to their competition's level. This is fine against great teams, but when they face team they should defeat, often the game is much closer than it should be. MTSU is a solid squad, but Maryland is favored to win at home. Can Maryland remember what happens if they underestimate opponents? It happened last year, it nearly happened last week.

MTSU will be able to run the ball with Dasher, and they are a very capable team. I believe Maryland will at least do enough to win and take advantage of the inexperienced Blue Raider defense. It will be close, but I give the edge to the Terps due to home field and a reliable kicker.

Maryland 23, MTSU 21

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun (Moten), (Dasher))

Friday, September 18, 2009

Free Kicks: Return to Glory, to Complaining, and to the Orioles Edition

Thanks to Falco for covering last week. No intro to think of, so let’s line up for the kick…

Miami is Back
I am going to go out and say it and take whatever flack comes my way if they drop their next two games (both against ranked opponents). Last season they allowed over 400 yards rushing to Georgia Tech, and yesterday they held them to under 100. Without the running game, Tech simply doesn’t have an offense. Randy Shannon had his team prepared, and put up 33 points on a stout Yellow Jackets defense. Granted, they had an extra week to prepare for this game, but this team just took down two ranked teams to start the season- no warm-ups against the College of Charleston or Towson U (sorry, I had to), they dove right into this year with something to prove and the toughest schedule in the nation. This is the first team I have watched in some time in the ACC that played like a great team. I have seen a lot of good and very good teams in this league, but what has held this conference down in the eyes of many is the lack of a marquee upper-echelon team. Well, years after being added to the ACC to bring that cache to the conference, Miami may finally be turning into just that. Forget the hot seat; if Shannon keeps this up he is looking at Coach of the Year.

…and so is the Grumbling in Columbus
Yes, Ohio State lost to USC on a last-second drive. And it may be true that Jim Tressel’s offense hasn’t perfectly suited his mobile quarterback. However, I have been amazed at the amount of criticism being heaped on the coaching staff from Buckeye fans who expect to beat Top 5 teams all the time. Ohio State may be 0-6 in their last 6 games against Top 5 ranked opponents, but that is why they are ranked in the Top 5- they are hard to beat! Please show me the team that has a winning record against top 5 ranked opponents (that has played more than a couple games against them). Look, Terrelle Pryor went to OSU because he wanted to be a pocket passer. Only he isn’t a pocket passer. Tressel is just trying to fulfill his end of the bargain he made to this kid, who for whatever reason isn’t realizing that he is part of the problem here. The coaching staff will have to go back to the drawing board and find better ways to utilize Pryor’s athleticism, but let’s not kid ourselves- USC was higher ranked and a better team, and they won by a small margin. Isn’t that the way it was supposed to go? Going after Tressel for being conservative is a bit premature, especially given the incredible success he has had at that institution.

Jim Johnson Needs to Prove He Can Close
I looked at the recent blog posts, and it has been weeks since we talked about the state of the Orioles, the team that dominates coverage from April-August before the football season sets in. Remember them? As management starts to shut down their young players as they count down the days to the end of the season (Matusz being shut down, Reimold resting for increasing stretches, etc.) and piecing together starts from their various long relievers, there are still interesting things to watch- most notably Jim Johnson’s performance as a closer. He has struggled, needing Matt Wieters to rescue him the other day from being the goat after giving up the game-tying home run in the top of the ninth. The team is insisting that it is mechanical issues that are keeping Johnson from remaining as dominant a closer as he was as a set-up man, but we have heard this tune too many times before this season. Rich Hill, Chris Ray, Matt Albers all just needed to “tweak” something here or there, and then continued to watch their ERA launch into orbit. Johnson, if you recall, struggled in his few appearances last season in closer situations as well. Every player will tell the press that it is just like any other inning and that they can handle the pressure- who wouldn’t say that? But it seems to me that Johnson is just hanging on, not taking over when he gets the ball in the ninth. He has the rest of the season to prove me wrong.

Prediction for the weekend:
A lot of people have called the reverse lock on the Bears-Steelers game, thinking that the Bears will suddenly come alive and shock the defending champs. Look, even without last week’s performance I would have picked the Steelers. Pittsburgh doesn’t win flashy, so analysts are perpetually picking against them- and paying for it. Pittsburgh takes this one easy, 24-10.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ravens-Chargers Preview: Time to Make a Statement

The Ravens offense looked incredible in putting away the Chiefs on Sunday, racking up a franchise record 501 yards of offense en route to a 38-24 win that was in question up until the final minutes of the game. It was disappointing to me to see a backup quarterback (and the third-best quarterback in Kansas City in my opinion) on a bad team put up those kinds of numbers against a Baltimore defense. I realize that much of this was turnover induced, and… exactly. Turnovers will kill an offense, but I will try not to take away from what was all-in-all a stellar performance from this team. They did what they were supposed to do- win, and do it impressively. The Chargers had a similar task in front of them- beat the hapless Oakland Raiders, who will either finish 3rd or 4th in the division depending only on the hope of supreme ineptitude on the part of the Broncos and Chiefs. Instead the Bolts struggled, relying on a late touchdown to seal a less-than-convincing 4 point victory. This is still a great San Diego team and a very trendy Super Bowl pick to finally live up to the talent of their roster.

What I’m Wondering:

Was that the Ravens offense?

It certainly seems like it. Joe Flacco racked up yardage but continued to overthrow his receivers on intermediate and short routes; and I will harp on it for as long as it continues- you can’t afford to lose the easy completions. However, if this is Cam Cameron’s vision, I like it. As long as this team continues to feature the run as their primary attack (which Harbaugh seems to favor), this team could be dangerous. It isn’t that Baltimore will become a passing team, but when this team is behind or against a stellar defensive front, they will need to be able to have more than one passing option. I still need to see whether Derrick Mason is still the only receiver Joe Flacco is looking for/getting open, and that is a major concern of mine.

Was that the Ravens defense?

No- well, not exactly. The 24 points put up by the Chiefs was a mirage caused by blocked punts and interceptions- not things the Ravens should be doing anyway, but nothing to be overly concerned about. It looks to me like Greg Mattison isn’t changing all that much from last season, and while I’d like to see more pressure on the quarterback, Baltimore hasn’t ranked in the top echelon of the league in sacks in several years for whatever reason. I am still worried about the cornerback situation, more on that later.

Was that the Chargers?

No. Not by a long shot. Even if LaDainian Tomlinson is unable to go this weekend, this team has plenty of options on the ground in speedy Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett, who are consistent home run threats on any play. Moreover, Philip Rivers was worth every penny of his $40.5 million contract and has large targets to go to in Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson. They won’t look offensively befuddled on Sunday, at least not by their own doing. Oakland was giving them vanilla looks on defense and San Diego shot themselves in the foot over and over. It won’t happen two weeks in a row.

My Mildly Informed Analysis:

San Diego had the 31st ranked pass defense in the league last year, despite not having a single major injury in the secondary. Antonio Cromartie took a step backwards last season, making way more tackles and forcing way fewer interceptions than a season ago. With Quentin Jammer only an adequate #2 corner in the league, this could be another ripe opportunity for Baltimore to attack the corners in single coverage with comebacks and out patterns that are tougher for the safeties to get over and help. Eric Weddle is a very Jim Leonhard type of player, and won’t back down from the big hit- he came into his own last season with 103 solo tackles; Joe Flacco would be wise not to test him too much. Keep attacking the corners and there will be first-downs to be had. The front seven of the Chargers kept them in games last year, and they should be even better with the return of Shawne Merriman (especially with Merriman in a contract year). Baltimore will need to run the ball, but this game might very well be won in the air.

Baltimore’s defense will have its hands full with Philip Rivers, without whom this would not have been a playoff team last year. His 241 passing yards per game was good enough for 7th in the NFL last season, helping the Chargers become the second highest scoring team in the league last year at 27.4 points per game. Chris Chambers is an extremely physical receiver and should give problems to whichever corner is assigned to him. Vincent Jackson came into his own last season with 1,098 yards receiving and with his 6’ 5” height he will have a 6 inch advantage over either of the Ravens cornerbacks. The Baltimore front 7 will have to penetrate the Chargers veteran line, largely unchanged over the last several seasons and who gave up just 25 sacks last season. The Ravens will be able to stop the run, regardless of how fast the running back is. Sproles may be able to break one here or there, but I have to believe that this team will be ready for it. Baltimore can force Rivers to be the one to make plays, and Norv Turner will be more than willing to oblige by having his quarterback air it out.

The Rundown

For the Ravens, the disadvantage caused by traveling cross-country will probably be cancelled out by the extra day of rest the Chargers missed out on by playing on Monday Night. The Baltimore secondary will be tested by a quarterback and receivers who are much more talented than the ones they struggled against last weekend. However, the Chargers have consistently underperformed to their talent level and looked dazed and confused against one of the worst teams in the NFL. The pundits are all over the place on the Ravens, some ranking them as high as 4th in the NFL and others as low as 12th. This game should go a long way in showing where they belong.

The nod goes to the Ravens, 31-27.
UPDATE (9/19/09, from Falco): The Associated Press is reporting LaDainian Tomlinson is out against the Ravens due to his sprained ankle.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

College Football Blogpoll: Week 3

Okay, so this week we have a bit of an anomaly. Windsor, Falco and I all ranked Michigan following their (incredible) win over Notre Dame. However, we had them ranked 25th, 25th, and 24th. As a result, when all the points were added up, Windsor’s #20 ranking of Iowa pushed them into the top 25 and bumped the Wolverines. Kansas was in all of our ballots as well, though ranked slightly higher. All in all it was a less wild and varied poll this weekend, though I am eating some crow after proclaiming the glory of Oklahoma State and ranking them 3rd in my poll last week. Yea, I know.

1. Florida
2. Texas
3. Alabama
4. USC
5. Penn State
6. California
7. Mississippi
8. LSU
9. Boise State
10. Ohio State
11. BYU
12. Georgia Tech
13. Oklahoma
14. TCU
15. Virginia Tech
16. Utah
17. Oklahoma State
18. Nebraska
19. Georgia
20. North Carolina
21. Miami (FL)
22. Cincinnati
23. Oregon State
24. Iowa
25. Kansas

Others receiving votes: Michigan, South Carolina

Some Week 2 Observations:

Michigan may not win the Big Ten this year or play on New Year’s Day, but this team is on its way back to glory. The defense may need more time to catch up, however.

Maryland is that bad, apparently. Win or not, that question was answered.

Ohio State is still a great team (especially on defense), but Terrelle Pryor may not fit into that Tressel offense just yet. Matt Barkley was incredibly cool under pressure on that last drive to beat TOSU, but I’m not putting him in the “next great USC quarterback” conversation just yet.

So much for Stanford’s big run this year- Wake Forest could be a very sneaky team in a down ACC this year.

Was Clemson’s D able to respond to Tech’s offense and force the close game? This year may determine whether the triple option is viable on the big stage after the conference has had a year to adjust to it.

Al Groh has never been able to capitalize on the resources and potential at Virginia. After starting the season 0-2, he has no excuses left. The only question now is whether he will be allowed to play out the rest of the season.

Not ready to drink the Kool-Aid on Nebraska, but one more big win will have me believing. Nice test next week against Virginia Tech.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 38, Chiefs 24

The word of the game is... uncharacteristic. The Ravens’ traditional formula of coupling a suffocating defense with a conservative run offense was thrown out the window today. Instead, Harbaugh and company opted for a wide-open game plan against a weak Kansas City secondary. The results were mixed, in that while the Ravens prevailed, the outcome was far more in doubt than it should have been based on the state of the Chiefs’ franchise. Regardless, Joe Flacco was able to execute the aerial attack and showed a new side of the Ravens offense.

The defense began the game in its typical dominant fashion, but after a couple of bounces put Kansas City back into the game, the defense began to falter and allow Croyle to gain a rhythm in the second half. In the end it was the Ravens returning to the running game late while mixing in a few clutch passes which put them over the top. Clearly the issue of run/pass balance will be one that the coaches will have to be more judicious with, but unlike season’s past, that decision isn’t being made for them.

Offense - Overall Grade: A
Quarterbacks: A-

Joe Flacco was asked to carry this team and he proved more than able. He passed for a career high 303 yards, with three touchdown passes and one interception. While Flacco did make some poor throws, his decision making and pocket presence was outstanding throughout the game. His preseason exploits are not looking like a fluke.
Running Backs: A-
This unit stabilized the game for the Ravens in the second half. When Kansas City gained momentum, it was the three headed monster of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain which took control. While Ray Rice took the headlines with his 100+ yard performance, attention should be given to Willis McGahee. McGahee looked the best he has in years, and was able to notch on a touchdown for good measure to finish the game. When Cam learns how and when to use these running backs, watch out.
Wide Receivers: A
This unit made all of the plays they were asked to make. No, they still did not display much deep play ability (although that was a pretty reception by Mark Clayton on the 31-yd touchdown pass), but they were consistent throughout the game. Ravens fans have to be pleased with the performance of Kelly Washington, who reeled in three catches for 43 yards and appears to be headed for a solid season from the third wide position. The one negative is that I would’ve liked to see Demetrius Williams get involved at some point.
Tight Ends: A+
Welcome back, Todd Heap. The ‘stormin mormon’ appeared to be back to his old form, as he hauled in five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. It’s true, he did drop a pass, but the sheer joy of having a guy like Todd return to form is enough for me to warrant giving this grade.
Offensive Line: B+
All in all a very good performance, as Flacco had a good deal of time to throw and the running backs did have space to run. Their excellent pass protection is what allowed Cameron to finally utilize Heap as a receiving threat, and first rounder Michael Oher looked excellent in his first start. At the same time, I don’t feel like this unit was as dominant as it could have been, particularly early in the running game. It wasn’t until late that Rice and McGahee had the holes they needed to break off some runs.

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

This unit put consistent pressure on Brodie Croyle, particularly at the start of the game. Ngata, Pryce, and Gregg all were able to get into the backfield early on several running plays, and they made Larry Johnson make moves behind the line of scrimmage all afternoon.
Linebackers: A-
There is no corps of linebackers in the NFL as deep and talented as this one, and they continue to show that to the world. The least heralded of the bunch, Jarrett Johnson, probably had the best game, but it’s good to see Suggs back and healthy. The Ravens gave Suggs plenty of money this offseason, it’s good to see that he’s playing just as hard as he was beforehand.
Defensive Backs: B+
Dominique Foxworth impressed in his regular season debut, as he was able to shut down the Chiefs’ most prolific receiver in Dwayne Bowe. Bowe’s only reception came on a mismatch against Dawan Landry, who played well despite that misstep. This unit showed some chinks in the armor in the second half, but still played a solid game.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: C+
Kicker: B-

Despite missing a 41-yard field goal, Hauschka still converted a 44-yard field goal and was excellent on all of his kickoffs. Don’t panic, Ravens fans, he’ll be just fine. No need to call Mr. Stover.
Punter: C+
Not sure if Sam Koch is really the one to blame on the blocked punt (I'm sorry, I'm no Ron Jaworski), but he's the one taking the hit in the grade. Aside from that he had his usual excellent performance, but that block allowed KC back into this game.
Returners: C+
Chris Carr had some room to work with, but failed to take advantage in any of his punt or kick returns. The Ravens picked him up for his return abilities, but there’s plenty of depth behind him so he can’t have many more days like this one. Not that he was terrible, but the Ravens would want more from their returner than what they got today.
Coverage: B+
Kansas City got little if anything going on in the return game despite using a few different return men. The Ravens were disciplined in their coverage and sound in tackling, and Chris Carr was given solid blocking on returns. A good, not great day for the coverage and return units.

Coaching - Overall Grade: B
Offensive: A-

I know that there are a lot of Baltimore fans who don’t like how heavily the Ravens relied on the pass for much of the game. Still, I for one am behind Cameron’s game plan; it made sound football sense in that the Chiefs were without their two best cornerbacks and the Ravens had good matchups to exploit. And what’s more is that Cameron actually has an offense which can execute that plan. At the same time, he did move to the running game when the situation called for it. A little more balance overall would have been the best way to go, but still a very good game for Cam Cameron and his staff.
Defensive: A-
After a hot start, the Ravens defense was put into tough spots and began to show some cracks. Greg Mattison seemed to keep things much the same as they have been in past years, which is a good sign. However, he should have dialed up the blitz more when Brodie Croyle began to establish a rhythm in the second half. The defense started to get a little bit relaxed and vanilla, and I think that helped encourage Kansas City’s rally.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Joe Flacco–
A career day for the franchise quarterback. It wasn’t perfect, but the Ravens are starting to resemble a real NFL offense.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Sam Koch– Again, I'm not certain how much blame for the block goes on Sam Koch versus the members of his protection team, but regardless he can't let that happen. Without that play, I doubt Kansas City is ever in this football game.

(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)