Rerunning 31 thorny plays

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During his Sunday teleconference with reporters, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen ID’d 26 plays that, had they gone differently, could have permitted Maryland to win.

Turns out the number was greater – 31 to be precise.

In a game with 151 snaps, that’s basically one in five plays. Which, in a one-point game like Saturday’s loss to Middle Tennessee, isn’t much of a surprise.

Here’s Friedgen’s take before going any further:

“I went through the film after the game Saturday night. I put plays that I thought would make a difference in the game. I had 31 plays – offense, defense and special teams. When I addressed the team [Monday] night, I said ‘There’s a lot of things we’re doing very well. What we have to understand is I’m going to show you some negative things, and the reason I’m showing it is this is what has to get corrected.’ I said ‘Strangely enough, if any of those 31 plays that I showed you had been for us, we might have won the football game.”

Unlike coaches, who are paid beaucoup bucks to watch the film and make evaluations based upon it, I had neither the ability nor the time nor (to be perfectly truthful) the desire to view Saturday’s game all over again.

So am I coming up with 31 plays, some highly nuanced, to back up Friedgen? Not bloody likely. I’ll pretty much take his word for it.

But if you possess a fraction of a clue, you should be able to come up with a fraction of the plays. Let’s see (with a little help from what Friedgen has said) how many can be ascertained.

TURNOVERS (4)

These are the easy ones.

1. Turner intercepted late in the first quarter on deflected pass. Five plays later, Middle Tennessee scores its first touchdown.

2. Scott fumbles, Part I. Three plays later, Middle Tennessee scores its second touchdown.

3. Robinson fumbles. Middle Tennessee got nothing from it, but it zapped a Maryland drive that had crossed midfield.

4. Scott fumbles, Part II. Eight plays later, the Blue Raiders kick a field goal.

FIELD GOALS (2)

Again, also easy to ID.

5. A 31-yard attempt is blocked in the second quarter. Maybe not ultra-crucial, since Maryland recovered a fumble on the next play.

6. A 42-yard attempt sails wide right with 1:35 left. Just go ahead and pair the decision whether to go for it on fourth-and-2 in here as well.

PENALTIES (2)

7. Offsides penalty on fourth-and-1. Middle Tennessee threw an incomplete pass early in the second quarter and appeared to have turned it over on downs. But the flag came, and the Blue Raiders scored three plays later.

8. False start on third-and-8. Maryland’s last possession was disrupted by lots of stuff. The false start made it much more difficult to secure a first down – which the Terps obviously didn’t do.

OBVIOUS IN THE END GAME (2)

Some mistakes simply get amplified because of when they occur. You mess up with eight minutes left in the first quarter? It’s often forgotten. Do so in the final two possessions? Those tend to get noticed.

9. The naked bootleg call. Offensive coordinator James Franklin wasn’t pleased with himself after the game, and this was the big reason why. He knows all too well 2nd-and-20 is an unwinnable situation for the Terps, and the effects of that sack lingered the rest of the night.

10. Chism beat late. Overall, cornerback Cameron Chism played pretty well for a first start. He had two interceptions, and handled the attention Middle Tennessee have him in solid fashion. But even he wishes he could have back getting beat on a 35-yard pass play that set up the game-winning field goal.

BIGGER IN RETROSPECT (6)

All but the last two have been mentioned by coaches, and they certainly weren’t all immediately noticed. But they made a difference:

11. Tate trips on halfback pass. One play after Scott’s first fumble, Middle Tennessee called a halfback pass. Kenny Tate was in coverage but tripped, the Blue Raiders picked up 27 yards to get down to the Maryland 2.

12. Moten stumbles on blitz. Adrian Moten was unblocked on a blitz in the third quarter, but fell down on the way to quarterback Dwight Dasher – who took off for a 26-yard gain. Instead of third-and-forever, the Blue Raiders were in the red zone and scored two plays later.

13. Smith trips while open on a quick screen. Friedgen mentioned Smith tripping at the line on Sunday, and the only time he was targeted that he didn’t make a catch was in Maryland’s first possession on third-and-4. If that indeed was the play, the Terps wound up punting from just inside midfield as a result.

14. Hartsfield dropped interception. Linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield nearly had his first career interception in the first quarter, and a pass hit him right in the numbers. But this isn’t as huge as it seems – Middle Tennessee punted from its 24 on the next play, and Da’Rel Scott had his 48-yard touchdown run shortly thereafter.

15. Middle Tennessee gains 36 on 2nd-and-21. On paper, just the sort of thing – Dasher connecting with an open Garrett Andrews – that shouldn’t happen. That was a crucial part of the drive that helped put Middle Tennessee up 29-28.

16. Terps miss two tackles on Middle Tennessee’s last touchdown. Another Dasher-to-Andrews pass, this one to give the Blue Raiders an early fourth-quarter lead.

That clocks in right around half of the miscues Friedgen was able to identify. Which is right about what a non-coach should be able to see on their own.

The point is, the problems are not always obvious, and thinking all the answers can come from simply taking in a game is foolhardy.

Clearly, there are a lot of much more subtle things at play – some probably easily fixed, others a bit more of a challenge.

And it all leads to an interesting evaluation dilemma: Are the Terps closer to being a decent outfit than they’ve shown, or is the real issue that they’re in position to lose to fairly low-profile opponents at home in the first place?

Patrick Stevens

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