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Maryland Spring Preview 2015: Terrapins Need Reload to Stay Competitive

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(Over the next few weeks we’ll be digging in to each Big Ten team as spring football gets closer to a reality)

Thanks to some struggles from Michigan and Penn State, Maryland came into the Big Ten and found some immediate success, finishing 4-4 in conference play, good enough for third place in the rugged East division. However, with some critical leaders and playmakers departing College Park, Randy Edsall will need to reload his roster starting right away this spring if this program is to remain relevant and competitive.

Can Maryland overachieve again? It all starts in the spring.

Previous Previews: Illinois | Michigan | Northwestern

Despite having some all-conference level talent at receiver, Maryland’s offense was fairly pedestrian while trying to adjust for the new defensive schemes in the Big Ten. Indeed, despite looking like a team that would be carried by the offensive talent, the defense made huge plays that were the difference when the Terrapins won games in 2014.

Even with a winning record, Maryland gave up nearly 2 points per game more (30) than the offense was able to score (28). This scoring deficit was generated mostly by blowouts against the best competition on the schedule (Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin). That means the margin between a winning record and missing a bowl is very thin, and a lot of work will need to be done in spring football for the Terrapins to avoid falling on the wrong side of that equation in 2015.

The one certainty is Lou Groza Award winning kicker Brad Craddock will once again help this team capitalize on many scoring opportunities, but there’s a lot of open spots on the offensive and defensive depth charts. Let’s take a look at what will be the important story lines for Maryland spring football in 2015.

 

Spring Football Starting Date: March 2

Spring Football Game Date: April 11th

Key Returning Players: William Likely, CB/KR; Brad Craddock, K; Caleb Rowe, QB; Brandon Ross, RB; Yannick Ngakoue, LB; Sean Davis, S.

Key Losses: C.J. Brown, QB; Stefon Diggs, WR; Deon Long, WR; Cole Farrand, LB; La Goree, LB; Andre Monroe, DE.

 

Terrapins’ Spring To-Do List:

– Find Receivers and Build Rapport with Caleb Rowe: Part of Maryland’s offensive struggles at times in the 2014 season came from the rotating door of players participating in the passing game thanks to nagging injuries to key contributors like C.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs. While that made for some problems in 2014, these trials by fire may actually form building blocks for the returning talent beginning in spring 2015.

Rowe only played in the first six games thanks to a torn ACL suffered after the Ohio State game, but he did see significant playing time in the first two Big Ten games. Rowe may still be somewhat limited in spring ball, but early reports appear to indicate he will at least participate. Marcus Leak is a receiver that will need to step into a leading role, but the more important item will be generating some depth from the other receivers stepping into starting roles or roles on the two-deep.

There are plenty of contenders already on the roster, along with a talented 4-star freshman D.J. Moore coming in to compete as well. The key in spring ball will be sorting out the returning players who should be getting the majority of the playing time, as well as who works best with Rowe, who could start for the next two seasons if his request for a medical redshirt for the ACL tear is granted.

Put simply, there are no clear next-level talents like Diggs and Long on the roster anymore. That makes the experience and relationship between a new starting quarterback and mostly new receivers critical to making sure Maryland’s offense does not completely disappear in 2015.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

– Rework the Defensive Front: Sometimes when a team that struggles on defense loses a bunch of starters, it can be a net positive if the players being promoted have more raw talent or time to develop compared to the departed players. However, it is unclear if Randy Edsall has reloaded the talent at these positions enough to say this is true. This therefore becomes a huge question mark with 6 of the 7 starting defensive linemen and linebackers needing to be replaced.

One big catch that Edsall picked up in the 2015 recruiting class was DL Adam McLean, a 6’2″ 290-pound wrecking ball who will compete for playing time immediately given the lack of depth suddenly at this position. One other defensive line recruit Oseh Saine is the only signee from 2015 who enrolled early and will take part in spring drills. Saine will compete with a unit made up mostly of rising sophomores and juniors who are unproven, but could be developed into a respectable D-line.

And if the total rebuild of the defensive line in spring practice was not enough to do, Edsall and his defensive staff must also replace 3/4 of the starting linebackers as well. The sole returner is Yannick Ngakoue, who put up some nice statistics and performances while being overshadowed a bit by his fellow linebackers who were mostly seniors in 2014. Names to watch out for at linebacker as the spring moves forward are sophomores Jesse Aniebonam and Jalen Brooks (although Aniebonam may be moved to defensive line if depth requires someone to make that move), as well as Jermaine Carter Jr.

A strong defensive front is critical to slowing down the various types of attacks in the Big Ten, and particularly the running attacks. Maryland has recruited what appears to be good talent for these positions, but the development must begin in earnest now if the 2015 defense is to develop into anything respectable up front.

– Develop a Running Game Plan of Attack: Granted, the talent on Maryland’s 2014 offense definitely slanted hard towards having a pass-heavy offense, not the least of which was the inexperience across the offensive line. That result played out on the field as the Terrapins generated only 120 rushing yards per game to go with 220 passing yards, with a lot of the rushing coming from QB C.J. Brown.

Now with Caleb Rowe taking over at quarterback, who doesn’t happen to be much of a runner even disregarding the fact that he will want to avoid risking a third ACL tear in 4 years, the running yards will need to come from the guys who have manned the backfield for the past two seasons: Brandon Ross and Wes Brown.

Ross and Brown made some strides as the season went along and defenses wore down in the Big Ten, but both seem to lack the explosive speed needed to break off huge runs. Moreover, both have played inconsistently, although that may change with a heavier focus on the run game this offseason along with some depth upgrades at the offensive line (when considering those returning from injury as well as suspension).

Just like what Iowa learned to do (somewhat) with converting a fullback Mark Weisman into a featured back role, Maryland’s coaching staff needs to accept Ross and Brown for what they are and then put a running scheme in place to exploit their talents as well as possible. This of course means that the offensive line must generate some positive push and holes in opposing defenses. If that occurs and Maryland has a cohesive plan to run the ball, consistency will likely finally be seen from these two running backs, and this will be crucial if Maryland wants to compete in the Big Ten East division in 2015.

– Avoid the Injury and Suspension Bug: One nagging item that has defined the first four seasons for Randy Edsall in College Park has been a high number of suspensions and serious injuries that his team has had to traverse while building the program back to the respectable level of results reached in 2013 and 2014. Offseason conditioning and careful practice procedures in spring drills need to be used in order to avoid losing players well before the 2015 season even starts.

Furthermore, those players coming back from injury or suspension need to stay back, and part of keeping in the good graces of the coaching staff and athletic department will be showing up and being a team player and leader throughout spring practices. On offense alone, QB Caleb Rowe, WR Levern Jacobs and OT Moise Larose return from suspension, while WR Taivon Jacobs, OG JaJuan Dulaney and TE Andrew Isaacs are coming back from injury. Important defensive contributors and likely starters DE Quinton Jefferson and LB Abner Logan return from injury and suspension, respectively.

Maryland’s 2015 team is clearly a work in progress, with some significant retooling at key positions and a potential drastic change in offensive philosophy to a run-heavy attack. Although some positions have depth on the roster, it is largely unproven depth. Thus, even if spring practice is successful at identifying the next starters and key contributors for the Terrapins, it will all be for naught if those same players can’t actually stay on the field once the season arrives in September.

If Maryland wants to sniff the same success as last year, good health and players keeping their noses clean is a must. Hopefully starting with spring drills, Randy Edsall has a plan in place to help his players achieve both these important goals.

And that’s just off the field, on the field Maryland needs to keep working on their sportsmanship as well, if the Penn State coin flip fiasco from 2014 is any indication. For Maryland fans, these incidents need to become the outlier rather than the general rule.

Plenty to accomplish next month in College Park. Hop to it, Terrapins!

Dave is a FWAA member and a Columnist focusing on Big Ten football for talking10. Before joining talking in 2014, he was a Featured Columnist for three years at Bleacher Report and previously wrote for seven years on SouthernCollegeSports.com. He was born in Hawkeye Country and went to college in Columbus, so there's plenty of B1G running through his blood. Dave is a patent and trademark attorney in his day job. If you have any questions in those areas or about his latest articles, please contact him on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy.

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2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special

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The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?

Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.

So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.

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Terps Prove They Understand What it Means to B1G in Quick Lane Bowl Loss

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How do you as a new member of the family fit yourself in the mix? You either stand out enough that everyone follows you or you become one of the followers. In the case of Maryland, it appears they have the Big Ten postseason playbook down pat. 

What could be more Big Ten in bowl game season than losing after all?

That’s what the Terps did, dropping a sloppy and at times difficult to watch 36-30 loss to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl.

About the only thing that wasn’t very Big Ten-like was the high-scoring nature of this contest. That’s not to say defense didn’t play a big role, because it would be defensive plays made at opportune times that made this game high-scoring.

Boston College’s ability to turn four Maryland turnovers in to 10 points proved pivotal in the loss.

Just how sloppy was this game for the Terps offense though?

Maryland gave up eight sacks, 14 tackles for loss, were called for 11 penalties as a team and committed four turnovers. It was a miracle that things seemed as close as they did on the scoreboard as the game went final.

That’s because the Terps defense couldn’t find a way to get key stops when needed as well. Boston College put up 177 yards on the ground and 348 yards of total offense in what was expected to be a highly defensive affair.

The Terps were awful for large parts of the game, including racking up a single yard of offense after one quarter. It didn’t get much better defensively in the first half, as Boston College held a 29-13 lead at the half.

Despite the sputtering offensive start, things heated up for the Terps offense in the second quarter in large part thanks to sophomore running back Ty Johnson. He needed just 15 carries to put up 159 yards and two touchdowns, helping him top the 1,000-yard mark for the year.

Johnson did most of his damage trying desperately to get Maryland back in the game after Boston College raced out to a 16-0 lead. First it was a 62-yard rush just over a minute after BC kicked a field goal to go up 16-0.

He then made it 23-13 on a 30-yard scamper to pay dirt on the Terps next possession.

Yet, Maryland’s day was perhaps summed up best by what took place on either side of halftime. With two chances to set the tone for things to come, a 10-point game became a three-possession game as BC scored a touchdown with just 35 seconds left in the first half.

The Eagles didn’t let off the gas out of the half at the Quick Lane Bowl, taking all of two minutes to jump on a Terps turnover and literally turn it in to immediate points thanks to a forced fumble from quarterback Perry Hills at the Terps’ own 1-yard line.

BC jumped on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and a 36-13 lead and would never need another point.

If you enjoy sloppy football, the fourth quarter was certainly for you. That’s because we saw a Terps interception of BC quarterback Patrick Towels followed by a lost fumble and then a fumble recovery of its own.

All of that in a matter of five plays, including three penalties on consecutive plays (two from Maryland and one from Boston College). Let’s just say this wasn’t a quarter or a bowl game for anyone outside of the diehards of these two teams.

In the end, none of that would matter as BC’s 23-point lead to start the third quarter proved too much for Maryland to overcome. Yet, head coach D.J. Durkin saw plenty of positives out of what everyone else saw as a brutal sight to have beheld.

“We’re 6-and-7 now, so that’s certainly not what we’re shooting for.” Durkin said following the Quick Lane Bowl loss. “There’s a lot of positives. There’s a lot of guys who got better, who played a lot of football for us that were maybe not ready yet to play but we had to play them. The good part moving forward is they have that experience under their belt. There’s certainly a lot to grow from and move forward with our guys, understand our system and how we do things.”

That may have placated Durkin, but about the only good news from this loss was Maryland showing it wasn’t going to lie down and take a beating anymore. It fought hard in the second half, nearly completing the comeback but just simply didn’t have enough.

Considering the depths of this program heading in to Durkin’s first season, getting to a bowl game was nothing short of an unexpected treat in College Park. Now the work of making this team from bowl eligible to really and truly competitive in the Big Ten East division begins.

If the bowl game was any indication, there will be plenty for this team to work on come this offseason.

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5 Reasons to Watch Maryland vs. Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl

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We continue to whet your palate for the postseason by looking at the bowl match ups involving Big Ten teams. Today we continue with a look at the bowl in Detroit…between two East Coast teams…trust us, we’ll find something to encourage you to tune in!

After all, someone at 6-6 has to finish with a winning record. We think.

Thanks to conference expansion, the Big Ten now regularly fills the Detroit bowl game (it did not do so under the old Little Caesar’s Bowl contracts). Ironically, with this one being near the bottom of the line-up, the last two years have features Rutgers and Minnesota, two of the farthest places from Ford Field. Once again, long travel is in the mix with the Terrapins coming to the 2016 version to play a former ACC rival Boston College.

Here are five reasons to enjoy the day after Christmas with holiday cheer from the Motor City:

— It’s the first bowl game for the B1G, ending a 23-day football drought

If you’re going to watch all 10 (or 11) B1G postseason games, then this is your starting place. Plus, almost everyone has this Monday off thanks to Christmas falling on a Sunday in 2016, and what better way to avoid more awkward political conversations with your uncle and grandparents than focusing on good old-fashioned football?

Speaking of droughts, both these teams have gone a long time without winning a bowl game. The Eagles last won one in 2007, and the Terrapins in 2010. Thus, one would expect high motivation levels and perhaps a high level of play from both of these teams, despite their mediocre season records and rough conference play experiences.

After all, 6-6 is a lot better than 3-9, which is what both of these teams were in 2015.

Bottom line: you have to start somewhere, and this is where the journey begins for the Big Ten.

— Defensive masterminds at work

D.J. Durkin earned the Maryland head coaching job by helping turn Michigan’s defense around very quickly in Jim Harbaugh’s first season in Ann Arbor. While he may have a lot of recruiting and player development to do before Maryland gets to the same level, the defensive numbers were better than a year ago, at least in scoring defense.

Durkin was replaced at Michigan by Don Brown, the man who built Boston College’s defense into a powerhouse. Even with Brown gone this season, the Eagles put up impressive numbers (24.6 points per game allowed, 310.6 yards allowed per game) for being in the same ACC division as Dalvin Cook, Deshaun Watson, and Lamar Jackson.

Both head coaches Steve Addazio and Durkin plus their defensive assistants will have these units ready to hit hard and make some big plays in this bowl game. It should be low-scoring Big Ten style football at its finest.

Embed from Getty Images

— Perry Hills’s last hurrah as leader of the Terrapins (and Caleb Rowe, too)

Perry Hills led the charge early in the season as a senior quarterback, and while he distanced himself from freshman Tyrrell Pigrome and his long-time QB split-time buddy senior Caleb Rowe, he eventually became injured and largely a non-factor in November. Not coincidentally, that’s when the Terrapins went on a four-game losing streak.

However, with most of November to mend and now December as well, Hills should be ready to lead this team once more in an effort to perhaps win a bowl game before he leaves College Park. Hills has been a steady presence since 2012 (redshirt in 2013), and with a 10 touchdown-3 interception ratio this season, he should be able to test BC’s defense without making too many costly mistakes.

Hills and any other Maryland quarterbacks who play will also be severely tested by Eagles DE Harold Landry, who has a NCAA-high 15 sacks so far this season. If Hills can avoid allowing Landry to become a factor in this game, Maryland will have a good chance to emerge victorious.

— It’s a true coin flip game with no clear outcome

The spread in Vegas has bounced around even, with Maryland currently being favored by about a point. The Football Power Index that ESPN uses to predict game outcomes has this bowl at a 51%-49% split between the two teams. Every metric appears to agree: nobody knows who wins this game.

That type of unknown outcome makes a game like this more fun and interesting to watch for outside observers with no dog in the hunt. After all, nobody really wants to see a blowout type matchup, which is what makes the new partnership between the ACC and the Big Ten for this bowl a great arrangement, at least when both conferences fill the bowl commitment.

Maryland’s best win came on the road at UCF, which finished 6-6. No other Terrapins defeated opponent ended with a .500 or winning record. Likewise, BC’s best wins came on the road at eventual 6-6 teams NC State and Wake Forest.

Whichever team wins, it will actually be a pretty big win compared to the remainder of the season. Unpredictability and high motivation in bowl games…yes, please!

http://gty.im/158639565

— See the uniforms and the future of the Maryland football program

Boston College represents the past for Maryland, and it’s a part of that past the Terrapins would likely want to forget. BC went 7-2 in this series over the 9-year overlap when both were in the ACC, and Maryland would love the opportunity to stick it once more to the conference that lost them.

However, this game should be more about the future of the program under D.J. Durkin.

With no bowl practices last year and not being hired until mid-December, this is the first time the Terrapins and Durkin will have extra bowl practices to prepare the young players on this squad. Look for some new faces to see playing time as Durkin positions himself for his second full season in 2017.

Plus, the uniforms. Maryland is the Oregon of the East, except with a garish state flag to wrap themselves in depending on what the color palate of the day is. As long as it’s not the covered in blood all reds worn against Ohio State, it should be a pretty thing to watch, especially in contrast to BC’s classic style.

So there you have it. As a former presidential candidate would say, please clap (and please watch). Let’s see the B1G get off to a good start with a win in this first bowl game of 2016-17.

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Maryland Terrapins: Around the Campus 2016

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Welcome back for another installment in Talking 10’s “Maryland Week” series. Although most of our articles for “Maryland Week” are focusing on football, this is our weekly chance to check in on all the other athletic success stories going on in the DMV area.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of 2015-16 and how that will project forward for Terrapins fans in 2016-17. There were some conference championships in College Park, so jump right in!

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Field Hockey

(Celebration was a typical sight this year, courtesy umterps.com)

The Maryland field hockey team dominated the competition in the Big Ten, continuing to own some of the lesser-known sports in the conference. The Terrapins put together a 19-4 record last fall, including a school-record five consecutive shutout victories in the middle of the season.

That record was good enough to win the regular season title going away, and then the gauntlet was set for the conference tournament: Michigan State, followed by Northwestern and then nationally-ranked (and runner up in the regular season) Michigan. Maryland rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Wolverines, cementing both Big Ten championships available this school year. Senior Welma Luus set a conference tournament record with 7 goals over the 3 games.

That led to a matchup with Princeton in the NCAA Tournament, a rematch of a win from earlier in the season. This was also the program’s 21st straight NCAA appearance, which leads the rest of the country. However, the Tigers got the best of the turtles, sending Maryland home before the rivalry with top-ranked Syracuse could be renewed in a Regional Final.

Four of the players earned All-American awards on the first or second team for this great season, including seniors Anna Dessoye, Sarah Spink, and Welma Luus. Freshman Linnea Gonzales also joined the All-American teams. She will be the anchor and leader of this team in 2016-17, as the Field Hockey program will need to reload all these stars from the conference title run.

Look for rising seniors Kasey Tapman and Emma Rissinger to also lead this squad next season. It will be difficult to maintain the high standards of 3 conference titles in 4 years, but do not expect Maryland to give up the championship crown easily in 2016.

Women’s Basketball

(Coach Brenda Frese, photo courtesy umterps.com)

Perhaps the most dominant team Maryland brought to the Big Ten conference was this women’s basketball program. Brenda Frese has built a coaching staff of great mentors over her many years in this program, and a team full of star recruits that benefits greatly from the mentoring available from this staff.

The dominance led to a 30+ game conference winning streak (including 19-0 last year) upon entering the Big Ten. However, that streak did come to an end this year, as Maryland went “only” 17-2 with two losses to Ohio State. However, with the Buckeyes taking on 3 losses of their own during the regular season, the door was opened for Maryland to win an outright conference title again.

Following that achievement, the team once again swept through the Big Ten tournament with wins over Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan State. All wins were by 15+ points, which was improved over 2015 when Ohio State played the Terrapins close in the championship game.

The Terps were set up with a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and took care of Iona in the first round. Then against 7-seed Washington, a rebuilding team with no seniors, Maryland had one of its poorest shooting days on the season and the run ended right there. It was a disappointing result in March, but a great season overall at 31-4 (the only other loss coming to eventual national champion UCONN).

Looking ahead to next season, Maryland will need to replace 4 seniors including Chloe Pavlech, who is now in the WNBA. Of course, bringing in the No. 1 ranked recruiting class nationally will fill any gaps quickly, which is just what Coach Frese and company did. Destiny Slocum, a point guard, and Jenna Stalti, a center, are the key pieces which should see significant playing time right away.

Thus, while there’s potential for a small drop off for the Terrapins, it is more likely than not that this team will once again be at the top of the chase for the Big Ten title, so long as Coach Frese keeps going as well as she has for the past decade.

Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse

(photo of the Men’s NCAA Final, courtesy umterps.com)

If there’s one sport which Maryland does better than most Big Ten schools, it is lacrosse. To be fair, many of the other schools prefer tennis or hockey, but to each their own.

Starting with the men, the Terrapins took a couple of early season lumps from fellow top-10 teams Yale and Notre Dame to fall to 1-2 overall. Then this squad put together an incredible 16-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Championship game. This included a clean 5-0 sweep of conference play to win the league title.

In the postseason, the Terps first knocked out Penn State and Rutgers to win the Big Ten tournament, and followed that up with wins over Quinnipiac, Syracuse, and Brown to reach the Championship. Old rival North Carolina was waiting there, with revenge on the mind following a loss to the Terrapins in the regular season. The game went to overtime, and Maryland fell just short of winning a national title.

Obviously a great season for the men at 17-3, but the women also played well in 2016. The ending would be eerily close to the men, however.

The Terrapin women entered the season top ranked in the country, and they lived up to all expectations in the regular season with a 17-0 record. In the Big Ten tournament, Rutgers and Northwestern proved no match to stop the Terrapins as well. In the NCAA Tournament, Maryland steamrolled through Johns Hopkins, UMASS, and Syracuse to set up a Championship game against North Carolina.

Just like the men, the women lost this battle for a national title to the Tar Heels, this time in a 13-7 shocking decision. Maryland came so close to bringing home huge national hardware in this sport to the conference, but it’s a great season at 22-1 nonetheless for the women.

The men will lose 12 seniors to graduation, including Scholar All-Americans Matt Dunn and Henry West, while the women will lose only 6 seniors to graduation. Thus, expect the women to definitely compete for a national title again, while the men will need to rebuild a bit next season to get back to that stage.

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Be sure to continue to support and enjoy these other achievements that the student athletes are bringing home to Terrapin Nation now and in the near future.

Stay tuned as we move back out west to Wisconsin for our next in the ATC article series. Also, check out previous 2016 ATC articles already done (Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska). Have a great week!

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