Unfortunately for in-state foe Morgan State, the NCAA FCS opponent that Maryland takes on this weekend, the Bears are just the type of opponent the Terps need to build confidence and work out some of the kinks that were evident during Monday’s thrilling victory against Navy. A closer look at the Terps’ recent history, however, reveals that these “confidence builders” have proven to be anything but.
Recent games against FCS teams such as Delaware, James Madison and William and Mary have turned out to be much tougher-than-to-be-expected victories, and Maryland has struggled against the likes of Florida International (a four-point win) and Middle Tennessee State (back-to-back losses) during the second half of the decade. So, while on paper Maryland should be able to allow nnew starting quarterback Jamarr Robinson and a passing attack that generated a disturbing 11 yards and contributed two key turnovers vs. the Midshipmen to develop some rhythm and confidence, the Terps have to approach this game as they would a key November ACC battle. Otherwise the results could be devastating and confidence-shattering.
Maryland unveiled a new offensive line and a strong running game featuring option runs by Robinson and the speed/power combination of Da’Rel Scott and Davin Meggett against Navy. Scott was able to run hard between the tackles and also get to the edge, amassing 58 yards on 10 carries. Meggett used two game-changing long runs to contribute a career-best 105 yards on eight carries, and Robinson piled up 103 yards on 12 carries – most of that damage coming on solid option reads and fake wide receiver screens that were turned into quarterback draws. The Terps amassed a total of 272 yards on 34 carries (7.7 ypg) against the Mids, which was made even more impressive by the fact that Navy held a two-to-one time-of-possession advantage.
Maryland needs to stick with its strength early by pounding Morgan State on the ground so that the Terps can open up the field a bit and allow Robinson and his talented group of receivers, led by All-America candidate Torrey Smith, to relax and get on the same page. In spite of the need rev up the passing game, the Terps still have the type of ground attack that allows them the luxury of forcing any opponent to prove it can stop them before attempting to sling the ball all over the field.
Maryland could have taken control against Navy early, but committed the cardinal sin of putting the ball in the air in a crucial situation even though the Mids had not been able to slow the Terps’ ground game even a little bit. After three drives that featured nothing but running plays led to a pair of touchdowns and a trip to the edge of the red zone, the Terps had Robinson throw his first pass of the game only to see Navy intercept the ill-advised toss near the goal line. From that point on the Maryland coaches lost confidence in their QB’s ability to throw downfield, and Robinson himself seemed to be shaky in the pocket.
While the Terps had some success throwing the wide receiver screen to Smith and getting him the ball in a position to use his athleticism to make plays, they will not be able to compete in the ACC with such a limited air attack. And they surely won’t be able to
average 7.7 yards per attempt on the ground against better defenses, including the one they will face in Morgantown, WV, Sept. 18. A one-dimensional offense will not be able to keep Maryland in the game against the nationally ranked Mountaineers, which makes taking a big step toward developing a balanced offensive attack the top priority this weekend in the home opener vs. Morgan State.
The Terps’ defense took quite a bit of heat for allowing Navy to hold the ball for more than 40 minutes and to grind out 429 yards on 5.7 yards per carry in the season opener, but Maryland for the most part contained Mids’ catalyst QB Ricky Dobbs, forcing him into a pair of key fumbles, and kept Navy off the scoreboard on five trips inside the red zone. The Terps’ defense was definitely a bend-but-don’t break unit, but they did stop Navy on three straight key possessions in the fourth quarter, including the final drive in which defensive back Kenny Tate shot through a gap to keep Dobbs out of the end zone.
To go along with that spine-tingling stop, linebacker Adrian Moten made what may turn out to be one of the defensive plays of the year earlier in the game, soaring over the line a la Lavar Arrington to force a Dobbs fumble on the 1-yard line, and do-everything linebacker Alex Wujciak was all over the field, recording a team-high 18 tackles.
The Midshipmen usually are among the nation’s leaders in rushing and time of possession, so nothing that they accomplished was unexpected. What was unexpected was for the Terp defense to show itself to be a group of capable, athletic playmakers, forcing a disciplined Navy team to cough the ball up repeatedly and to commit uncharacteristic penalties.
For a Maryland team that posted just two victories a season ago and dropped four games by four points or fewer, the win against a favored Navy team was just the shot of confidence it needed. Now, if the Terps can take care of business against Morgan State this Saturday while working out some of the kinks in the process, it would set up a very interesting rivalry game the following weekend at West Virginia.
There’s no shortage of talented athletes and football players on the Maryland side of the ball. What the Terps need is a little confidence after a rough 2009 campaign. The victory against Navy paired with a business-like and efficient home win against the Bears this weekend would be just what the doctor ordered as the 2010 season begins to unfold in College Park.
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Written by Scott Lowe