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Saturday, September 27, 2008

A True Test

Clemson came very, very close, but they just couldn't beat the Terps.

You could see the frustration on the faces of Clemson fans as soon as Cullen Harper came up short on a QB sneak. I pitied them for a few brief moments before I realized that my team was going to win today.

I can understand their frustration - Clemson probably should've won today. They had more offense and more consistent defense. However, they coughed the ball up three times, and that won't win you anything. Sorry Tommy Bowden, you're just not going to have an easy week.

For their part, Maryland capitalized, capitalized and capitalized. They turned turnovers into points and basically did just enough to bag the win. One Chris Turner pass, one Da'Rel Scott run, and two Obi Egekeze field goals turned out to be just enough. Also, gotta shout out to Darrius Heyward-Bey for making what I consider to be one of the game-changing plays: a 76-yard reverse. I swear to God that reverses never ever work for any team I root for... unless it's Heyward-Bey, who somehow always makes at least a 30-yard gain out of those.

I love the win. It puts us at 4-1 (better than I would've expected this season thus far) and that much closer to bowl eligibility. Heck, it might be ambitious, but the Terps are certainly in the race for winning the Atlantic Division. So far, Maryland has only played one conference opponent so there's a long way to go, but it's feasible.

Next week is a good start: Maryland head to face the Virginia Cavaliers, who were just stomped by Duke of all teams, 31-3. Duke, by the way, wins its first ACC game in the last 26 attempts.

However, Jeff Barker notes in his Tracking the Terps blog that Ralph is not taking Virginia at all lightly, and considering the rivalry the two teams have built, that sounds like a sensible mentality. Virginia has bested the Terps in 12 of the past 16 matchups, which is kind of domination, or as my two new favorite bloggers would say, dominasian (yes that was an off-topic shoutout by the way).

Also, the injury report isn't looking good: Adrian Moten is out for awhile, and Danny Oquendo, Nolan Carroll, Scott and others are questionable.

But lets hope the Terps have enough juice to pull it out. To be honest with you, I think they do.

Photos by Adam Fried

Monday, September 22, 2008

Reality Check - Going to Death Valley

Don't get me wrong, I love to celebrate wins. I think it's great that we're 3-1, and that's really the best we could've hoped for in the first four weeks of our schedule. I think it's great that we just put up 51 points on Eastern Michigan. I think it's great that every College Park resident gets 12 free toppings on their pizza at Papa John's.

But just look on the schedule: Next up, Clemson. I hope that name makes you wince.

They crushed the Terps last year. They blighted them. At home, no less. It was a miserable game. I left at halftime. The final score of 30-17 didn't reflect how horrific the game was.

When thinking about going on the road against Clemson, the home pummeling of Eastern Michigan doesn't give me that much comfort. The Tigers are ranked No. 20 in the AP poll, and for good reason:

- They're scoring 34 points per game and only allow 15 points per game.
- They have the third-best red zone offense in the ACC.
- They have the second-best passing defense and fifth-best rushing defense in the conference.
- They have Cullen Harper, one of the most efficient passers in the ACC (and who kind of looks like a tool on the Clemson site), and James " I guarantee it" Davis and C.J. Spiller, two of the most explosive backs in the ACC.

I think the best way to react to the Maryland victory is to think about all the positive things we learned and apply it to how we can beat Clemson. So let's take a walk on the positive side...

- Maryland has the ACC's most efficient passer. No, it's not Chris Turner. No, it's not Josh Portis. Answer is: (dun dun dun) Danny Oquendo! All he does is throw 43-yard touchdown passes!

- Morgan Green is finally doing something. Green was spotted actually running into the end zone, not once, but twice! He finished with 40 yards on the day to go with his two scores. Now he only has to rush for 3,883 more yards and score 50 more touchdowns and he'll finally prove he was worth taking over Steve Slaton!

- Da'Rel Scott is still the ACC's leading rusher. Hilariously, he hasn't moved from the top spot after missing a week of work, and his YPG looks even better.

- Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a kicker. Obi Egekeze came out of a coma and went 3-for-3, shattering his season-high mark of zero field goals in a game.

Ok, ok, ok - I know none of those observations are helpful at all.

However, Maryland can beat Clemson. Da'Rel Scott is expected to return this week, and James Franklin seems to be getting a spark out of this offense. Between 51 points against Eastern Michigan and 35 points against Cal, there's promise here yet.

Turner did throw two interceptions this week, but also had two touchdown passes. Josh Portis once again didn't complete a pass, but he did rush for an astonishing 98 yards, which is more impressive when you consider teams know he can't throw the ball. The running game overall was still fantastic without Scott: 231 yards ain't bad at all, and we're still the second-best rushing team in the conference.

The biggest problems we face are on defense. The Terps are just giving up waaaaay too many passing yards. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley skinned us to a near-comeback, and the Eagles' Kyle McMahon still threw for over 275 yards, which is a good total by any standard.

The return of Terrell Skinner will help, but Kevin Barnes and company have to play some tight ball. Harper can toss the ball on a defense and at least keep them honest enough to set up the run. James Davis and the Clemson o-line will test Maryland's undersized front seven.

In order to be successful, the defense has to be able to penetrate the pocket. Against Cal, Maryland had five sacks. They'll need that kind of pressure again to really bring the heat to the hot-handed Harper. Should Clemson choose to run the ball straight at the defense, the Terp linemen and linebackers have to finish their tackles. If you allow James Davis and C.J. Spiller to run at your secondary, they will end you.

Really, there's little room for error in this ACC dogfight. The last two years, this has been a game for the road team, and Maryland will hope to keep that particular streak going on Saturday. Should they succeed, a national ranking might be in the works for a tough Terrapin team. Should they fail...

... well, let's not worry about it.

Photos courtesy of baltimoresun.com sports.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jin Soo Kim has arrived

I get star-struck. I really do. Sometimes when I see athletes, I know better, but I still feel kind of a rush, knowing that I'm going to be cheering for them at some point or will see them on TV. It's just kind of exciting.

I've worked to get over this, but I couldn't help myself yesterday afternoon in South Campus Dining Hall. There are reasons for this:

- I had written about this person, but I had never met him before.
- The person was not someone I was expecting to see on campus.
- This person was a 6-foot-9 Korean man in basketball warmups.

I knew immediately who it was: Jin Soo Kim, a small forward who hopes to play basketball this fall for the Maryland Terrapins. He's going to be the first Korean-born DI scholarship basketball player in the country.

Of course, I followed my immediate impulse to introduce myself, and the results were terribly awkward:

SCENE: SoCo Dining Hall

BLOGGER approaches KIM slowly and creepily.

BLOGGER: Hi, are you Jin Soo Kim?

KIM: Yes.

BLOGGER: Hi, I'm **********. I write a blog called It Never Rains in College Park. I've written about you!

KIM: Oh...

BLOGGER: Are you enjoying classes?

KIM: It's OK...

BLOGGER: That's good. Are you playing basketball this season?

KIM: I hope so.

BLOGGER: I hope so too! Nice to meet you!

KIM: Yeah...


So hopefully that gives you an idea of how awkward I am, but also, it should make you say, "Wait, why haven't I heard about this yet? I read INRCP religiously, so I've heard about the guy, but I didn't know he was coming this year."

The answer is you probably shouldn't know about it. Every news outlet is completely quiet because no one is talking about it: not Gary, not athletics, not anyone. He's unofficial so far. Maryland is still waiting to hear a ruling on his eligibility for this fall.

We might not know for some time whether Kim will be on the court this season, but he hopes so, I hope so, so if we all hope, maybe it'll happen.

If you need to jog your memory:

Go Terps!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Da'Rel Scott - Best Back in the ACC

When the season started, more than a few questions were raised about how the Terps running game would go on without the tag team of Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball that basically carried the Maryland offense on their shoulders in 2007.

Da'Rel Scott, a sophomore with blazing speed, had been a hero against Boston College the year before, but would he be able to do it with a full load of carries?

Although it was not a foolish question given the lack of evidence, it does seem rather foolish now: Da'Rel Scott is the ACC's leading rusher at week three. And he's leading by a lot.

Scott is averaging 135 yards per game. That's almost 50 YPG more than the guy behind him, Josh Nesbitt of Georgia Tech (who's the quarterback in a triple-option offense). Actually, he's the fifth-leading rusher in the country in YPG so far.

As a result, Maryland is fourth in the ACC in rushing, just six yards behind Virginia Tech's season total. That's fairly impressive considering that quarterback Chris Turner is immobile and Scott's backup is a true freshman.

Also, you have to consider that he only ran in half of last week's matchup against the Golden Bears. He had already had accrued 87 yards and two touchdowns. If Davin Meggett still went on to gain 82 yards in Scott's absence by running at defenders, imagine what Scott could've done with his speed and agility running around defenders. It's hard to doubt he would've easily gone over the century mark for the third week in a row.

This week against Eastern Michigan, Scott is questionable because of his shoulder injury (from the Cal game), but his running ability will be needed to set up the passing routes in James Franklin's offense. Meggett is serviceble, but no one confuses him for the guy that could take it to the house on any given hand off. Scott gets that kind of respect - he's the best back in the ACC (for now).

Photos by Adam Fried

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Terps Topple Golden Bears

So that's pretty crazy, right?

One week ago, let us recall that we were rehashing the Terps latest disappointing letdown against MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE. And today we beat... a No. 23-ranked Cal?


I don't know. Nobody knows. Not even the Schmuck. I'm not even going to pretend to understand how different this team looked today. I suppose you could attribute some of that to jet lag. You could say that Cal couldn't play defense. But you have to give the Terps some credit for an amazingly efficient offensive performance, and good defense for three quarters. Props as well to the fans who were dedicated enough to stay the whole game through the sunburn and dehydration (I wimped out early to be honest).

I mean, let's look at some areas of statistical weakness we talked about last week:

- Chris Turner bounced back from a three-interception performance last week with a 15-for-19 showing with 156 yards and two touchdown passes. Not stunning numbers, but the kind of numbers Maryland needs to complement their rushing game.

- The offensive line looked better, but Turner was still sacked four times. We need to improve in this area. But on rushing plays, the line was hitting their blocks very well against a seemingly toothless Cal defense.

- On the other side of the ball, the defensive front seven finally had some pressure... most of the game. The team had five sacks today, with two from Moise Fokou and one-and-a-half from Rick Costa. It was a big improvement from zero total sacks in the first two games. Beyond that, the line and the backers ate up the run. The Golden Bears finished with 38 rushing yards, the Terps had eight tackles-for-a-loss, and Dave Philistin had 13 total tackles. Like a champ.

- Obi Egekeze still stunk it up, to put it lightly. He missed a 27-yard attempt. Ugh. Right now, Obi is 0-for-5 on the season. I'm thinking about camping out on my roof until he does it. Anyone with me? Anyone?

The biggest problem is a classic Maryland characteristic: We have a hard time holding a commanding lead. The secondary was torched for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, which is simply inexcusable, and I expect Friedgen to say as much this upcoming week.

It was a problem last year against Boston College, and the Terps routinely come down to nail-biting finishes. The best teams in football take commanding leads and hold them. We need to play a full game. The offense did a great job of this, especially considering Da'Rel Scott went down for the game in the first half (he seemed OK at the end and was on the sidelines). The defense was blown away.

We'll see if perhaps Maryland treats Eastern Michigan the same way they treat Cal. EMU just lost to the Toledo Rockets and is currently 1-2, but I think a good lesson the Terps learned a week ago is to not take opponents lightly.

But today, way to go Terps, and good win!

UPDATE: Also, good hit Kevin Barnes! You know how when an announcer says that hit made him spit out his breakfast? Well...

Photos courtesy of baltimoresun.com.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Middle Tennessee State? Ouch...

The people have spoken: The blog is back. And we're talking Terps.


For those of you that don't follow too closely, Maryland was embarrased Saturday night by the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. Also for those of you who don't follow too closely, I don't blame you. Who wants to watch this team?

There are good points, but the bad news is that the two good points are only two players - Darrius Heyward-Bey (an 80-yard TD) and Da'Rel Scott (123 yards and a 63-yard TD).

The bad points are team problems:

- QUARTERBACK PLAY: Many Maryland students spent a lot of their time during the first three quarters of the Delaware game booing Jordan Steffy and calling openly for Chris Turner. First of all, I hate when people start chants against their own team, especially when it's about someone ON THE FIELD. Secondly, don't you feel foolish now? Turner showed an inability to make good throws on Saturday, but beyond that, he showed a shallow understanding of offensive plays by locking on to receivers with his eyes and forcing throws to receivers who weren't open. Hence, three interceptions for Sunshine.

Similarly, backup QB Josh Portis showed poor decision making by tucking and running Tavaris Jackson-style every time he had to stand in the pocket for more than one second.

This is speculation, but it seems as though the three-headed quarterback battle backfired. No one seems to know new coordinator James Franklin's playbook. This isn't going to correct itself before Maryland plays Cal this Saturday (and look what they did in their game this week).

- PASS BLOCKING: Perhaps I'm not being fair to the quarterbacks given that they had to scramble so often in the backfield. I'm referring to the fact that it seems as though our offensive line doesn't know how to block on passing downs. Any offensive lineman will tell you run blocking is much more "fun" because the big uglies can just run at the defense and push them out of the way, creating running lanes. So far, we've done well with this aspect. However, the tables turn when the O-Line is forced to stop pass rushers from getting to the QB. It's a much more difficult aspect of the game, one the Terps are not very good at.

The Blue Raiders racked up 3 sacks during the game. On one specific play, the defense bull-rushed Chris Turner (meaning they just charged trying to push the offensive line over). Three linemen missed their blocks almost completely, and Turner got taken out by a linebacker who was going one-on-one with either Edwin Williams or one of the guards. Not very good at all.

- PASS RUSH: On the other side of the ball, it's pretty sad when your D-I line can't manage a single sack at all against a mid-major opponent. It comes down to girth. Last year, Dre Moore (who went on to be drafted and subsequently cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) created an inside presence at least some of the time with his 305 lbs. Our best defensive tackle this year is Jeremy Navarre, who weighs 280 lbs and used to be a defensive end. Ick. I love Navarre's hustle and motor, but he isn't big enough to be the anchor in the Terps line, at least in the middle. We've recruited bigger bodies, but they're all probably a year away from seeing playing time.

In addition, the linebackers (Adrian Moten, Dave Philistin, etc.) seem unable to find the gaps in the blocking scheme or let QB Joe Craddock (doesn't he look kind of like a serial killer in the photo?) escape their grasp. Even against Delaware, Maryland didn't ring up one sack in the stat column. On the other hand, there were five tackles for a loss in the MTS game, so maybe some hope exists that the Terps can get more punch inside.

- OBI: Really? 0-for-4 on the season? Who misses 4 field goals in a row? I know Obi Egekeze is better than that, and he's really got a lot of leg, but hitting the crossbar multiple times is simply not acceptable, and the Terps don't have another suitable kicker on their roster (I believe...). Sooner or later, the Fridge is just going to go for it every 4th down, Tommy Bowden-style.

Big problems. Unfortunately for the Terps, the Golden Bears aren't going to wait for the Terps to be ready. It could be bloody when all is said and done on Saturday. I'm going to be there, but if I were Testudo, I would hide in my shell.

PERSONAL NOTE: Glad to be back, thanks for all the encouragement. In particular, I'd like to thank Viqui Dill, Karen Goldstein, Andrew Zuckerman, Melissa Weiss, Adam Fried, Kevin Robillard, Dewey Hammond and Jeff Amoros for specifically telling me to get off my butt and start the site back up.

Also, stay tuned for a possible URL change. The Terps may not be all that great right now, but I'll be here, typing away. Thanks a lot, loyal readers!

Photos courtesy of baltimoresun.com sports