And in that corner... the Maryland Terrapins
It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Randy Edsall in his first year at Maryland. After Terrapins brass decided to say goodbye to former head coach Ralph Friedgen after one of the most impressive runs in the program history, it looked as if the Terps were on a collision course with former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
That kind of coaching hire would have been the splashy, headline-grabbing move the football program needed, as there were feelings that the program had plateaued and fan support had atrophied. Instead, the administration hired Edsall to take over, a move that many saw as a lateral one from afar, especially after he had taken UConn to the top of the Big East after jump-starting it from the I-AA levels.
There for it all has been Jeff Barker of the Baltimore Sun, who has covered the Terrapin beat since 2004. In the midst of a hectic week that included the potential cutting of three varsity sports, he was kind enough to join me for a rapid fire Q&A.
After an impressive opening night, the debut season of Randy Edsall has taken a pretty ugly turn. Seven losses surround a win over Towson, and from the outside it seems like the Terps are in a free fall. Is it safe to blame injuries? Transition? I noticed you mentioned Edsall compared this to building the UConn program, but that’s fairly easy to poke holes in.
Sure, injuries have taken a toll as they always do. At various points all three linebackers have been out, and that was a unit without much depth to start with. It’s also likely we all underestimated the amount of time that the coaching transition could take -- different offensive and defensive systems, tighter rules. I think the program believes that fans and the media may also have minimized the losses, mostly to graduation, of talented players from last season’s 9-4 team such as receiver Torrey Smith, running back Da’Rel Scott and linebackers Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten.
It’s been a weird eleven months for Maryland football. What’s the sentiment of Terps fans out there. How do you judge what’s happened in the athletic department over the past year, and do you think Randy Edsall is going to be able to turn this ship around?
Edsall has a six-year contract and he’s thinking in terms of the long-term success of the program. He has to -- Maryland hasn’t beaten an FBS school in more than two months. Edsall is confident he can turn things around, and I think it will come down largely to recruiting. Under Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, Maryland really wants to get the “right” kind of kids -- those with solid academic qualifications. For Maryland’s sake, you have to hope there are enough of them out there who excel at football.
In the preseason, many of us were expecting Danny O’Brien to make the leap from good to great. Now he’s fighting for a job. What’s happened at the quarterback position this season?
Last season, Danny was accurate, poised and studious and was especially good at avoiding interceptions. He’s been good in flashes this season but not as consistent. I think part of it is the adjustment to an up-tempo, spread offense that requires him to run occasionally on option plays. He doesn’t seem as comfortable taking off on runs as does C.J. Brown, who runs a 4.42 40.
The Maryland defense has been decimated by injuries. Just how bad is it? Do you think they’ll be able to keep up with an Irish offense that has a lot of skill and a really strong offensive line?
The defense suffers from injuries and a lack of continuity. It seems as if coaches are constantly having to shift guys around to fill holes because of injuries. For something like seven weeks in a row, the starting defensive lineup shifted. The Terps have been especially vulnerable to the rush and rank last in the ACC in rushing defense.
Name one guy on offense and one guy on defense that should have Notre Dame fans worried.
Maryland has been playing two quarterbacks. If C.J. Brown gets in again, watch out if he is able to turn the corner. He is deceptively fast for a big guy (6-foot-3). Defensive tackle Joe Vellano is having a big year. He had 20 tackles in a game earlier in the season.
The guys that build casinos in Vegas don’t seem to think Maryland has much of a chance on Saturday night. But this is a primetime game played in the Terps backyard. What’s the key for Maryland if they want to pull the upset off?
Maryland has been good the past few years at getting takeaways, so that’s a key. I always say turnovers can be the great equalizer.