Here's my half of a Q/A with Matt from the Maryland Terrapins blog Turtle Waxing. My answers should be up on his site at some point in the near future.
Last year, the Terps rebounded from their loss to MTSU to beat Cal the next week, on route to another winning season and a bowl game. Can they do it again? Do Ralph Friedgen's teams usually respond well to adversity?
If this Maryland team can keep from giving up turnovers they certainly have a chance at a bowl game. I'm not sure a winning record is likely but 6-6 is possible with Virginia and Duke on the ACC schedule. I'm not sure the problems this team has are the kind that will get better as the season goes along. There is some history of Friedgen's teams stumbling early and then getting in a groove to finish the season. In 2002 and 2003 the team started 1-2 and finished winning 10 of the last 11 games both seasons but that was a long time ago. Recently Maryland's teams have not finished the season well going 18-21 in games after September since 2004. I don't see any miracle turnaround for this season.
Going into the season, there was a lot of concern about the offensive and defensive lines. OT Bruce Campbell has missed time due to injury, and DT Dion Armstrong left the team during camp. Have the trenches been as troublesome as expected? What's the ideal strategy for attacking Maryland on both sides of the ball?
Both lines have been as bad as Maryland fans could have feared. The losses of Armstrong and Campbell have certainly hurt but the truly disappointing aspect is that young players on the offensive line have failed to develop. There are two former walkon players starting on the offensive line and that doesn't say much for the third year sophomores that were recruited to play on the offensive line. On the defensive side you have to question how good the talent is even on the two deep. There are some very young players who may be good in a year or two but right now they are not ready to contribute. I'm not sure there is an "ideal" strategy for attacking either group. There isn't much experience in either position group so trying to confuse them or get them out of position shouldn't be difficult. Blitzing should be effective on defense and on offense trapping or misdirection should also yield some good results.
A big change this year has been with Maryland's schemes on defense. Out is coordinator Chris Cosh and his multiple-look, read and react scheme, and in is the new DC Don Brown, with reportedly a more aggressive approach. Given that Cosh's schemes and playcalling always faced a lot of criticism, how has the new defense worked out to this point? Is it a good fit for players like LB Alex Wujciak?
Based on the results you'd have to conclude the new defense has not worked out so far. I think it has the potential to get much better at dictating tempo to the offense but the players have not been able to execute the play calls. There have been numerous times in the first three games where individuals were in position to make a play and failed to do so. The linebacker corps is more suited for a read and react scheme at the moment and Wujciak has struggled a little to become a 'backer that plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Adrian Moten is probably more the style of linebacker that would flourish in Brown's system. Wujciak will continue to post good tackle numbers but too many of them are down field. The ineffectiveness of the defensive line doesn't help the linebackers who are not used to taking on offensive linemen to make a play.
From the last meeting between the two teams in 2007, I remember Darius Heyward-Bey having a strong game, but what most sticks out in my mind is that Ralph Friedgen favored a very conservative, run-heavy attack. He brought in a new OC in James Franklin last year, and the offense also has had to adjust to a few personnel changes this fall. Any impressions to this point on the likes of Chris Turner, Da'Rel Scott, and Torrey Smith?
The identity of the offense is a bit of a question this season, even to the coaching staff it would appear. It isn't clear what kind of offense Franklin is leaning towards. In the first three games there were probably times he should have run the ball more often but the offensive line struggles may be limiting what Franklin feels he can do with his play calls.
Chris Turner has been decent, though unspectacular, at quarterback. He is more of a game manager than a dynamic gun slinger. His tendency is to throw underneath the coverage and on quick hitting routes. He will throw passes into coverage but he isn't careless with the ball and has a sense of the limitations of his arm. Consistency is his biggest problem.
Scott had a rough game against MTSU with two fumbles but he is clearly the best running back on the team. He has the speed and moves to break any run for a long gain but has been more limited by the shaky run blocking this year. Friedgen has a habit of going with a running back by committee and it will be interesting to see if he reduces Scott's roll on offense after his fumbles.
Torrey Smith has had a very good season so far and has a flair for making big plays. Adrian Cannon was supposed to be the breakout player in the receiver corps this season but Smith clearly didn't get the memo on that. Smith has good speed, good hands and runs good routes but nothing about his game is exceptional even though he makes big plays happen.
One interesting thing that I've picked up on over the past few days is that Maryland has been using an option package this year with backup QB Jamarr Robinson, and it happens to be extremely ineffective. This stands out, because Rutgers does the exact same thing. Everyone in the stands knows that Jabu Lovelace has no accuracy on his throws, everyone knows he's going to scramble, and the play will inevitably busted for no gain or a tackle for loss. Yet, for some reason, the Rutgers offense keeps sticking to it, foolishly throwing away valuable downs and putting the team in difficult second and third down situations. Bottom line, is there a special place in hell for this god-forsaken "Wildcat" fad?
To his credit Franklin dismissed using Torrey Smith in some sort of "Wildcat" role by observing that it would be better to focus on doing the basics well before trying to use some gimmick scheme to jump start things. Robinson fumbled in one of the few times he was in the game last week and his packages are all some variation of a QB option so Rutgers may not see any of that this week. Last season Florida transfer Josh Portis ran a variation of the same option attack and that failed to produce any consistent results. The staff dumped it by the end of the season but as with a moth and flame I'm sure they will go back to it at some point this year.
Lastly, I'd like to get your take on the pulse of Maryland athletics at this point. Are people being patient about the possibility of going through a rebuilding year, or are they ready to toss Testudo into the soup pitcher? With a younger roster, does the future look brighter in the years ahead? Is there a link between what's going on with Maryland football right now, and the constant back and forth regarding basketball coach Gary Williams and the athletic director Debbie Yow?
The fans down here do not have the same expectations for football as they do for basketball. I think the struggles of the football team are met with apathy more than anything. The crowds have been some of the worst in years but that is probably more a function of the economy than a mediocre football team. Still there is a growing feeling that the Ralph Friedgen era has run its course among the more serious fans though with coach-in-waiting James Franklin not exactly impressing as OC you have to wonder if the future is brighter with the big man gone.
It is tough to say where the program is heading except to say that is seems to be at a crossroads. There is a fair amount of young talent on the squad at some of the skill positions particularly wide receiver and running back. On the other hand the quarterback position is totally up in the air after this season and the offensive line needs a big upgrade since Campbell is likely to bolt for the NFL unless his injury clouds his draft status. On defense there is reason to be optimistic for the future with players like CB Cameron Chism, S Kenny Tate and a few freshman defensive ends that could be very good with some seasoning.
The relationship between AD Debbie Yow and Friedgen couldn't be as bad as the frosty one she has with Gary Williams but I don't think it is all that rosy either. The elevation of Franklin as Friedgen's successor may have appeared very cordial but I don't think it was Friedgen's idea and he may not be entirely comfortable with it. Yow is feeling the pressure to make the football program a profit generating machine for the athletic department and with recent capital expenditures and improvements to the football facilities she probably feels the trends are going in the wrong direction. Yow has an abrasive personality and is probably difficult to get along with in the best of times least of all when she has risked the financial condition of the athletic department on a program that seems to be floundering.
Thanks again to Matt for answering my questions.