We are very fortunate to have an excellent network of team-specific blogs to talk with during game weeks. This week's edition of our 2011 Opposing Blogger Q&A feature is a conversation with Maryland blog Testudo Times. Author Dave Tucker was kind enough to answer our inquiries about the 2011 Terrapins.
TN: This off-season saw Maryland choosing to part ways with long time coach Ralph Friedgen after a successful 9-4 season in favor of former Connecticut coach Randy Edsall. What was the feeling of the UMD faithful when the move was announced and what is it currently? What are the expectations for Edsall and how patient will Terps fans be with him?
TT: After Ralph was let go, there was a large segment of fans who felt he got a raw deal and shouldn't have been fired. But the reality of the situation was that Friedgen was no longer putting fans in the seats in College Park, which is why Maryland, despite an 8-4 regular season mark, fell all the way to the Military Bowl last year. With the departure of James Franklin, who was the head coach in waiting and guaranteed $1 million dollars if he wasn't named head coach by 2012, Friedgen would have been a lame duck coach as Maryland didn't want to extend his contract.
When Maryland hired Edsall, I think most viewed it as a safe hire, but still a relatively good one. But after flirting with Mike Leach, Edsall certainly didn't seem as high profile. And while Edsall hasn' had the on field results that many expected coming off a 9-4 season, he has done a lot to building the Maryland program and brand, especially in the state of Maryland. A perfect example are the new Maryland uniforms. Regardless of what people say, the team now has a look people outside of Maryland can identify them with and it definitely got people talking about the program who normally wouldn't have done so.
I think people have been somewhat patient with Edsall, but he has to get this team to a bowl game at minimum if he doesn't want things heating up in College Park. Additionally, with the decision to go with CJ Brown at quarterback rather than designing an offensive system around ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O'Brien, Edsall is already catching some flack from fans who think and know O'Brien can be successful. Edsall has also brought a no-nonsense attitude to College Park which has turned many of the players off to the point where some even spoke anonymously to the press to voice their frustrations. Any time you have a coaching change things like that will happen, but Edsall's has rubbed some fans the wrong way with that approach.
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TN: Maryland QB Danny O'Brien won the ACC's Rookie of the Year award after an excellent freshman campaign last year. This year, though, O'Brien has been underwhelming to the point where he is not listed as the starter for Saturday's game. What has been the cause(s) for his apparent regression in 2011? How has the offensive staff turnover in handing Gary Crowton the reigns to the offense affected O'Brien?
TT: Danny O'Brien is a fantastic, talented quarterback. He's also very smart in the classroom (expected to graduate this Spring, meaning he'll do so in three years) and extremely dedicated to football. His first question to Edall when he was hired was "When can I get a playbook to start studying?" Why has O'Brien struggled? That's the million dollar question. O'Brien is a fantastic pocket quarterback who thrived in Friedgen's pro-style offense. Crowton's offense, however, has emphasized bubble screens, a super fast pace, zone reads, and the option, which O'Brien seemed to struggle with after showing initial success during the Miami game. Running an offense like this just doesn't match up with O'Brien's skill sets. That's our best guess. O'Brien is mobile and can run the option somewhat, but it's certainly not his strength.
I think it's taken a lot of the players a while to get use to Crowton's offense, especially the fast pace which he likes to run it. I think they're slowly adapting and getting better at it but I think it's still a work in progress.
TN: In a similar vein, what do you think of the move at quarterback to CJ Brown? What will the Maryland offense look like with Brown in command as opposed to O'Brien? Do you expect to see situational QB use? How long will the leash be for Brown before O'Brien would be brought back into the primary QB role?
TT: Before the Clemson game last week, when I found out that Brown was starting, I thought it was a mistake. And despite the great game Brown had, I still think it was a mistake. Brown did a great job running the offense, especially the zone reads, but I think a lot of that was a result of no one really having film on Brown and Clemson's head scratching refusal to go to a zone defense that spied Brown at QB. Once Clemson made that adjustment in the 3rd quarter, they forced Brown into situations where he had to throw the ball, which is by far his biggest weakness to date. Because Maryland runs such a fast, up pace offense, if they go three and out, that means the defense might only get a 2-3 minute breather, which allows a good offense, such as Clemson's, to exploit a tired and exhausted defense.
I haven't been a fan of Crowton's offense to date. I think it has potential but it's clear that rather than adapting his offense to best fit O'Brien, Crowton has stuck with his guns and created a quarterback controversy in the process. I'm not taking anything away from CJ Brown; he's extremely talented, especially in his mobility and surprising speed when he gets into the open field. But his weakness is definitely the intermediate and deep throws, which are O'Brien's strengths. O'Brien and Brown actually complement each other very well and you'd think that both could be utilized on the field at the same time but we've yet to see that. It appears that CJ Brown is now the starter and if Crowton is going to stick to his system, Brown seems to be able to operate it and execute much better than O'Brien. As long as Brown is able to move the ball and not turn it over, I think you'll see him as the starter. If teams are able to stop Maryland from running and force Brown to beat them through the air, that's where I think he could struggle and O'Brien could be back in the mix.
It's just an unfortunate situation for Danny because he's doing and has done everything right, even in handling the change in who's starting, and yet he's getting screwed over.
TN: Which other offensive players should ‘Noles fans be wary of on Saturday?
Running back Davin Meggett has done a very good job this season running and protecting the ball and has largely flown under the radar. He's averaging almost 5 yards per run and does a great job running between the tackles. Freshman running back Justus Pickett has also done surprisingly well and seems to have leap frogged sophomore running back D.J. Adams, for reasons Maryland fans don't quite understand. Pickett is good, but Adams had shown so much success, especially in the redzone, that no one is quite sure why he's in Edsall's dog house.
Maryland has had a lot of shake ups at the wide receiver position and Kerry Boykins could be another person to keep an eye on. He's worked his way up the depth chart due to injuries, suspensions, etc., but has performed well while doing so.
TN: The Terrapin defense currently features three freshmen linebackers in the starting lineup. How will Maryland scheme to mitigate the concerns that a unit such as this naturally elicits?
TT: Maryland is so young at both the linebacker and defensive front positions that I've been amazed they've been able to do as well as they have this season, especially shutting down Georgia Tech's triple option. They guys who are starting now are talented and when facing a mobile QB, have done a great job of staying and home and stopping the run. Maryland has struggled getting pressure on the opposing quarterback, which has put added pressure on the secondary that is without Kenny Tate at star, pseudo safety position due to injury. Honestly, the biggest problem the linebackers are facing is a lack of depth behind them. They have a tendency to start off games strong, but get tired and worn out by the end of the game and thus have missed tackles and allowed for big plays by the opposition that has often put the game out of reach.
TN: How do you see Saturday's game playing out and what will the Terps need to do to pull the upset?
TT: If Brown can do anything close to what he did against Clemson, I think Maryland could have a chance at pulling out an upset. If Maryland can move the ball on the ground and keep their defense fresh, I think FSU fans might be surprised and what Maryland can do. However, I think FSU's speed, depth, and athletic ability, especially on defense, is what will allow them to prevail in the end. I also think the Noles might struggle initially with containing Brown, but will make adjustments that will force him to throw the ball. And with the talent FSU has at the corner position, that will likely end badly for the Terps.
Maryland is also very banged up right now and certainly has a lack of depth, especially on defense. I think the game will be close in the first half, within 7 points or so, but the Noles will wear out the Maryland defense, make adjustments for stopping Brown and the run game and get a few big plays that will seal the victory.
Could Maryland win? Sure. Will they? I think CJ Brown comes back down to earth a little and the Noles prevail, 31-23.
Thanks to the guys from Testudo Times. Our answers to their questions are here.