Friday, September 12, 2008

Terps preview and key matchups

I am glad there is starting to be a bit more buzz about this game, because early in the week, you'd think by the coverage Cal was playing Cal Poly in a scrimmage. Before previewing the game, it bears mentioning that this is probably the biggest media exposure game Cal has played under Tedford besides Tennessee 2006. First off, it is truly national TV, not regional, and it is ESPN which means any highlights will be played over and over all week. Second, the game is in the time slot immediately following ESPN game day - right after slanty-eyed Lee "Orange Face" Corso defiles himself by putting on a Trojan helmet, ESPN will cut to the Cal game, at high noon. There are no other big matchups on in this time slot, so everyone is going to be watching this.

Second, the paper that covers the Terps is none other than the Washington Post, whose team coverage makes the SF Comical and SJ Murky News look high school (CC Times - you get the Daniel Laruso "you're alright" award-Okanes does a good job). The Post's writeup will be picked up by every major newspaper. Third, any time you have a traditional West Coast-East Coast matchup, the East Coasters get jacked up, wetting themselves at the thought of re-establishing East Coast dominance and making the West Coast look soft. In 2006, Cal sent the East Coast into rapture when it curled fetal in Knoxville, and they never stopped hearing about it the rest of the season. Make no mistake, this is a huge game in terms of national perception and reputation.

The Maryland Offense

Maryland has a new offensive coordinator this year, Franklin, brought in by head coach Ralph "Fridge" Friedgen to take over the offense for exactly the same reasons Tedford brought in Cignetti. Unlike Cignetti though, Franklin brings a totally new offense to Maryland - the West Coast Offense. Maryland used to be a pro-style, traditional, pound the rock to set up the play action-type offense, with Friedgen pretty much running things. Now they mix things up more, but they also put a ton more pressure on the QB to make reads, and keep precise timing. This presents problems with them being in the midst of changing QBs, currently settling on up-and-down junior second stringer Chris Turner.

Their offense consists more of short passes, lots of screens, lots of play-fakes, and sweeps and reverses. They remind me most of UCLA under Dorrell. The one wrinkle they add is the use of third string QB Josh Portis as runner, a very highly touted dual threat QB recruit, transferred from Florida, who is big (6-4, 210) and can really run. They have thus far used him sporadically but they will undoubtedly have some packages for him to stretch out the defense.

Key Matchups when Maryland has the ball

WR Darrius Heyward-Bey vs. Cal secondary
This kid is the Terps' marquis player, a sure-fire first round pick with all the tools: 6-3, 200, sub 4.3 40, 10.4 100M, good hands. See post below for a video clip of him. They will do everything they can to get him the ball. Given Cal's struggles to stop the pass vs MSU, get ready for them to send HeyBey at the Bear secondary early and often. While I think Syd will hold up well, if I were Maryland, I would move this kid around as much as possible to get him lined up on Ezeff or Hagan, because I think he will abuse them one-on-one. I expect to see at least one deep ball where he gets behind the coverage (whether it's a completion is another story), and I expect to see at least one strike right to the middle of the field with 3 or 4 Bears in a halo around him. The thing holding him back is the QB's grasp of the offense.
Edge: HeyBey

RB Da'Rell Scott vs Cal LBs

Cal players and coaches have been consistent in saying Scott is the best back they've faced, and as good as any back they'll see in the Pac 10. He's fourth nationally in rushing, and like Best, he is truly gone if he gets into the secondary. Also like Best, he is a sophomore, and he is really underrated. His numbers are remarkable given how poorly the Terps' offense has played and how few points they've scored. Unlike Ringer, he will run right at people rather than trying to bounce outside. This means Cal is going to have to keep the gaps tight and force him to make reads, to keep him from getting a full head of steam heading into the secondary. I think he is going to get his yards and probably gash Cal for a big play or two. But Cal's advantage here is that they have speed at linebacker and discipline on the d-line. As long as Cal stays home, they can check this guy's explosiveness a bit.
Edge: Push

The Fatty Express vs. Cal's d-line

I know I highlighted the whale-fat that resided on the Michigan State o-line, and they did not disappoint, but the blub that awaits the Bears this weekend is on a whole other level. The Maryland o-line must be celebrated for their obesity. There is no other way to put it. They should be placed on a pedestal like the revered Sumos of Japan, who are given a lavish retirement by the government and driven around in limos the rest their lives, in recognition of their greatness. Their measurements from left to right are a svelte 335, 330, 315, 308, and 300.

The 300-lb player has been publicly disgraced for his weight, and has received a dagger in a sealed envelope in his locker "to end things honorably." He has tried manually crowding food into his mouth in the middle of the locker room in an effort to save face, and has received some disaffected nods of approval. But he is still considered an embarrassment to the program.

The Cal d-line will once again have its hands full, and will have to try and keep these Bundies off of Follett and Williams. The good news is Kane is healthy again so he can rotate with Hill at nose to keep him fresh. The one thing I noticed about this line is that like MSU, they are not all that athletic. I also have read player and coach quotes that suggest they are still having trouble with their blocking assignments both in protection and in run, due to the new offense. Their strength is definitely straight ahead run blocking.
Edge: Push in the run game, slight advantage to Cal in pass protection

The Maryland Defense

Like their offense, the Maryland defense has gone to a new look this year, which makes scouting them a bit more challenging for opponents. They have switched to a 3-4 like Cal in order to take advantage of more talent at LB, though like Cal, it is a look they used in the past with some success. The chief difference is that the Maryland 3-4 uses a hybrid outside LB they call the "Leo" position. It is basically a glorified pass rushing linebacker, but also a guy who can pull back in pass coverage if needed. Cal has used Jordan in this way a bit.

Really, their defense is very similar to Cal. The linebackers are definitely the strength of this defense, led by their Weekly Ball of Hate award winner weakside terror LB Dave Phillistin, who plays like a Philistine - he is their Follett. The Leo is senior 6-3 240 Trey Covington who is a good pass-rusher and who they'll try to get free for sacks. The d-line has the size for the 3-4, with the nose listed at 6-4 325, and other two lineman at 6-3 270 and 6-5 252. They have good pass rush speed off the edge, though they've been unable to translate it to sacks, much the same as Cal. Terp fans have complained that the defense does too much bend-don't break, and is too vanilla and does not get enough pressure. Sound familiar?

Key Matchups when Cal has the Ball

Maryland secondary vs. Cal receivers

Maryland basically has one sure thing and three so-so players in the secondary, having lost their very good FS Skinner to injury. The sure thing is NFL-caliber corner Barnes (6-1, 188) who can probably stay with just about any of Cal's WRs. Though a backup, the other guy to watch is backup FS Perez, a highly recruited safety who transferred from USC with a reputation for laying the lumber. The guy he is replacing though was very productive, so there are some concerns there. Aside from Barnes, the rest of the secondary is unproven and hasn't played all that well.

While Cal's receivers haven't lit anyone up yet, I do think there are going to be opportunities, especially opposite Barnes, for Riley to make some long throws. Since there isn't much film on Cal's wideouts, guys like Calvin and Boateng may end up opposite the other corner in a mismatch. I also think the secondary is going to bite on play-action big-time because of how much they respect Cal's run game, especially with a green FS who loves to come up and hit. Perez was even quoted as saying they need to hit Best so he doesn't want to run anymore. This sets the table nicely for Tedford's lethal use of play-action, as shown in one of my favorite highlights:

Finally, I think if Maryland stacks the box to stop the run, which as I have said repeatedly you must at least try versus Cal to frustrate their offense early on, the corners and FS are going to be vulnerable over the top. Riley has a chance to punish them early for this.
Edge: Cal

Maryland's Odd-Numbered Front vs. Cal's blocking schemes

Cal had a bit of trouble with shifting and unorthodox fronts a couple times vs Wazzu. I suspect shifting is something Maryland likes to do anyway with their 3-4 look, so Cal's o-line is going to have to be ready to adjust their schemes on the fly. I'd look for Maryland to move guys around just before the snap to throw off Cal's blocking and try to create a mistake. While I do not think this will allow Maryland to dominate, I do think it is going to lead to some stuffed runs and broken plays. The one thing Cal has going for it is they face the 3-4 in practice every day.
Edge: Maryland is going to have some success here

Cal RBs and TE vs Maryland LBs

Middle Tennessee State beat Maryland with its speed by spreading the defense out. Cal has more speed than MTSU and Tedford has always been very good at attacking various parts of the field to run defenses ragged, and get them to show tendencies. Maryland DC Cosh specifically lamented the fact that MTSU was able to get them to show their defense early by using the no-huddle to freeze the defense and then adjusting the play at the LOS. Cosh talked about doing a better job of calling in changes from the sidelines to avoid confusion. This of course is exactly what Tedford wants, so he can see how they play different looks.

I think Cal is going to find holes in this defense by moving the RBs around, throwing to them, and changing the point of attack and personnel packages up. I also think if Maryland plays straight up and gives Cal the short pass, Morrah is going to be a speed mismatch for their linebackers. But if they stack the box, Morrah is going to have to stay home to block.
Edge: Cal

Cal punter Anger vs. Maryland punt cover team

Anger has consistently had problems catching the snap, and now he has a sprained knee. If I were Maryland, I would come after it on every punt, especially since there is no point in setting up a return with how well he is punting it. A blocked punt is just waiting to happen. And if it doesn't, I think Anger's punts are still going to be affected, which may lead to better field position for Maryland.
Edge: Maryland

Maryland home field advantage

This is going to be a big factor. First, it's an early kickoff. Second, it's on grass, which Cal has had trouble with (Rose Bowl, Coliseum, Tennessee to name a few). Third, Maryland has re-done their stadium, including a new endzone design, which everyone there is jacked up about. Fourth, Maryland is going to be hungry to play better after a bad showing, and eager to make a name for themselves against a favored Cal team. They have the athletes, and are just lacking the execution and focus. They are hoping to pull it all together this Saturday. We shall see.


Anonymous said...

To be fair, Jonathan Okanes basically works for the San Jose Mercury News since The Merc, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times are one company that shares resources.

Also, Jon Wilner isn't all bad, love him or hate him.

Anonymous said...

Cal 49 - Maryland 9. Maryland is awful...and I am a fan who will be at the game. Terrible coaching.

Anonymous said...

cal who? go maryland.

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