Meant to get this series started a little bit earlier, but work and an eagerness to put a week between the end of the season and the start of an evaluation pushed it back to now.
Anyway, over the next 10 days, I’ll run down a different facet of the 2008 Maryland football team and perhaps offer a a little bit of a look to next season. But most of this is just an assessment of the season that just went into the books last week in Boise.
We’ll start with Maryland’s kicker and punter, since the Terps only used one guy at each position. And while one of the pair was extremely consistent, the other had a few befuddling moments few will be able to forget.
That would be Obi Egekeze, who missed his first five field goal attempts after missing from 27 yards against California. But coach Ralph Friedgen stuck with him, and he went on to make 14 of his next 16 tries.
With that stretch was a game-winner in the final seconds against N.C. State and the go-ahead kick in the last two minutes against North Carolina. Neither was terribly long, but both were extremely meaningful. If Maryland had only split those games, it might have been the team searching for a bowl home in December, not N.C. State.
Still, any mention of Egekeze’s season has to include the feeble onside kick attempt at Virginia and the line drive to the up man against Nevada in the Humanitarian Bowl. The latter at least occurred as the wind was blowing the ball off the tee.
It wasn’t a Groza Award-winning season, and it certainly wasn’t without its harrowing moments. But with a couple walk-ons in the program and one incoming freshman committed according to the usual recruiting sites, chances are the Terps would like a 15-for-19 stretch over the final 10 games from whoever wins the job next year.
Unlike Egekeze, punter Travis Baltzwill return next season. The sophomore joined Edwin Williams in the competition for Maryland’s most consistent player, and both were deserving all-conference selections.
Baltz placed 24 of his 61 punts inside the 20, which spoke volumes both about his work and how often Maryland punted from close to midfield. His average was a more-than-capable 41.1 yards, but his net average zoomed from 34.8 yards to 37.4 yards.
That improvement pretty much assures that, barring a huge surprise, Baltz will be Maryland’s third straight four-year punter. The position hasn’t been a serious question since early in the 1999 season, when Brooks Barnard wrested the job away from Sean Starner and held onto it through 2002.
The progression led to Adam Podlesh and now Baltz, and it shouldn’t be an issue in ‘09 – or 2010, for that matter.
Maryland’s kickoff game never seemed especially great or poor, and they’ll have to replace Egekeze as their primary specialist in that area. Opponents started on average at their 29 off the Terps’ kickoffs, which was actually three yards worse than a year earlier.
The average kickoff traveled nearly 60 yards, so some of that is on the coverage team as well. But you can be sure Maryland will be in a bit of trouble if opponents start bringing kickoffs beyond the 30 with regularity next season.
Overall, the kicking game was almost the same in the one and only year of the Danny Pearman Era as it was toward the end of former special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski’s tenure. Maryland still hasn’t missed a game-tying or go-ahead field goal attempt in the final minute of regulation or overtime under Ralph Friedgen, and hasn’t had a punt blocked since 1999.
That’s good stuff. So while inconsistency plagued Maryland for much of the season, it really can’t look at its specialists as a source for the unpredictability. Baltz was steady all year, and Egekeze followed an awful stretch with a very solid one, with pretty much nothing in between.
A rerun in 2009 – despite the early anxiety – probably wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Terps.