Archives for posts with tag: Penn State

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For 37 minutes Saturday afternoon the script went as it has for most of the Mark Turgeon era on a micro and macro level.  After coughing up a 15-point lead at Michigan State, the Terps trailed the Spartans 60-53 with 3:25 left.  Second half slides have been the rule as opposed to the exception over the last decade; just once in Turgeon’s tenure has the team posted a better record in the second half of conference play than the first (the 2014-15 season saw the team start 6-3 in the Big Ten before finishing 8-1).  But instead of another February fade, the Terps turned the tables on the Spartans by holding them scoreless for the final 3:25.  Jalen Smith made a three-pointer and helped hold Michigan State to one shot by notching three late rebounds while Anthony Cowan finished the deal with back to back to back threes (he’d add two free throws with seven seconds left for the icing on the cake) as Maryland emerged with a 67-60 victory.  All of a sudden the team that couldn’t win on the road all season has won four straight away from home in the toughest conference.  And all of a sudden the Terrapins find themselves in position to capture their first regular season league title since 2002.

Alma Mater Update:  the Orange led Florida State until late in the second half, falling  80-78 in Tallahassee when a road victory would have been a signature win for a team that desperately needed one.  Instead, another rough outing saw SU slip to .500 in the ACC and closer to .500 for the season.  Next up? A Louisville team that’s dropped two in a row and is just as angry as the Florida State team they fell to last weekend. When does lacrosse begin?

Wow of the Week: Georgetown beat No. 19 Butler 73-66 Saturday despite being minus their top two players, as Omer Yurtseven had yet to fully recover from a badly sprained ankle and Mac McClung has missed four straight games with a foot injury.  Somehow the Hoyas went into Hinkle Fieldhouse (where the rims are still ten feet off of the court) and hit 10 of 15 three-pointers while Terrell Allen (not even a starter until James Akinjo left the program) scored a career-high 22 points. At 15-10 and 5-7 in the Big East, Georgetown still has a window of opportunity (however slim) to make the NCAA Tournament.

Player Spotlight:  Richmond’s resurgence this winter saw the Spiders avenge their January loss to VCU by routing the Rams 77-59.  This winter they’ve been sparked by high-scoring Blake Francis and anchored by big man Grant Golden while Jacob Gilyard pilots the offense.  But every so often an unsung hero comes up big:  Saturday it was Nick Sherod who scored 23 points while hitting 5-of-7 three-pointers.  The junior has done a lot of the little things this winter to help the Spiders bounce back from consecutive 20-loss seasons, and at this time coach Chris Mooney’s team is making its way towards the NCAA Tournament bubble.

League Look: despite Clemson’s recent success on the gridiron and Virginia’s men’s lacrosse title, the ACC is first and foremost a basketball conference.  Former Duke player Gene Banks said during an era when a maximum of two schools per conference made the big dance that “if the ACC got six teams into the NCAAs, they’d all make the Final Four.”  Six schools have made the field every season since the league expanded to 15 during the 2013-14 season, but this year they’ll be hard-pressed to get five.  Back to back wins by Virginia (one in overtime, another on a last-second shot) have the Cavaliers on the right side of the bubble, but after that there’s a hot mess where fifth and 12th place are separated by a total of two games. Perhaps quality instead of quantity is this year’s mantra:  the league’s  soft center will help upper tier schools like Duke, Florida State, and Louisville likely land top three seeds next month.

Ballot Battles:  last week’s turnover has been rectified, as Pac-12 leader Colorado makes the Top 25.  Maryland moves up three spots on my AP ballot from 10 to 7 this week, while Seton Hall and West Virginia both slide down the teens.  Butler (once as high as number five) drops out after falling to a depleted Georgetown at home.  Small school shout-outs this week go to the usual suspects:  Wright State, East Tennessee State, Stephen F. Austin, and Rhode Island.  Just missing the cut:  Iowa and New Mexico State.

Starting Five:

Wednesday- Georgetown vs. Providence.  The Hoyas lost to the Friars by 16 on the road last month, and while they were hurt by the absence of Mac McClung (eye injury) they were hurt just as much by Alpha Diallo’s 20 points and 8 rebounds.  PC has beaten three ranked teams this month, but has lost road games at Xavier and St. John’s.

Also Wednesday- George Mason at Richmond.  The Patriots are smarting after getting swept by George Washington, but let the record show they went into the Siegel Center last week and beat VCU.  The Spiders shot 67% in a January win at Fairfax, while Mason’s Javon Greene scored 39 points in defeat.

Thursday- William & Mary at Towson.  Both schools are chasing first-place Hofstra in the CAA, with the second place Tribe one-half game ahead of the Tigers, who took the January meeting by 12 thanks to a career-high 21 points from freshman Jason Gibson.  They also lead the conference in scoring defense and rebounding margin.

Sunday- American at Boston University.  AU enters the week one game behind the Terriers for second place in the Patriot League;  in a conference where the tournament is played on home courts tiebreakers are all the more important. The Eagles won the previous meeting by four in DC thanks to Sa’eed Nelson; the senior is the only active NCAA D-1 player to have recorded 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in his career.

Sunday- No. 7 Maryland at Ohio State.  The Terps took the January meeting after falling behind 8-0 and going scoreless into the game’s first media timeout.  The sibling tandem of Kaleb & Andre Wesson combined for 29 points and 14 rebounds that night, but their teammates shot a collective 10-for-43 (23%).  The Buckeyes boast the Big Ten’s best scoring defense and are tops at defending the three;  should the Terps find themselves down seven with three minutes left on this time they might not find a comeback as easy in Columbus as it was in East Lansing.

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You just knew this was going to happen.  On a Saturday where No. 1 LSU outscored No. 2 Alabama and No. 5 Penn State would fall at unbeaten Minnesota despite a fourth quarter rally, two schools in the Commonwealth have placed themselves on track for an epic Thanksgiving weekend showdown.  Blame an ACC that divided its schools 15 years ago anticipating a much better showing from Miami.  Blame programs that are in full or semi-rebuild.  Blame a setup where three of your seven schools (Duke, UNC, UVa) value their standing more in basketball than football. In a world where most Power Five Conference divisions have one or two dominant programs (Alabama in the SEC West and Ohio State in the Big Ten East, for example), everybody wins in the ACC Coastal.

The past six years have seen six different schools represent the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game, and it only seemed comical to pump up Virginia (the lone holdout) as the natural successor this fall.  Thankfully the softest Power Five Conference division with multiple schools in rebuild or revamp mode provides the Cavaliers with the perfect avenue to complete what would be one crazy seven-year run for the Coastal.  But to do so they have to get past their nemesis-if you haven’t heard or read before, Virginia has not beaten Virginia Tech in football since the Hokies entered the ACC in 2004.   The Hokies also once ruled the Coastal with an iron fist, taking the division five times over a seven-year span.  Virginia Tech still has to play their way into position over the next two weeks, but I’m marking November 29 on my calendar.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange had the weekend off and at 3-6 are still technically in contention for that Pinstripe Bowl berth, but 1- does anyone think this team can win even one more game? and 2- do we even want to see this team play another 60 minutes after the end of November?

 

Maryland (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) was never in their game at No. 3 Ohio State; the Buckeyes would score on their first six possessions en route to a 73-14 rout that wasn’t as close as the score would suggest.  Perfect time to go on a bye week;  the team’s other week off came against a loss at Temple that set the season’s ceiling.  This defeat established the floor.  There is hope:  the team closes with consecutive games against teams that are currently 4-5.

Terrapin Triumphs: Javon Leake continues to shine on special teams with a 70-yard kickoff return. Keandre Jones tallied eight tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble against his former teammates (the senior transfer played in 34 games with the Buckeyes before coming to College Park).  The men’s basketball team bounced back from an early 12-point deficit to beat Rhode Island Saturday night,  allowing those who made the flight the chance to see the Terps score 73 points in a different sport.

Terrapin Troubles:  seven sacks allowed by an offensive line that remains a work in progress but remains the key for future teams if they want to compete in the Big Ten East.  The offense converted just 2 of 11 third downs while the defense let Ohio State move the chains on 9 of 14 attempts.

Next: November 23 at home at 3:30 p.m. against 4-5 Nebraska.

 

Virginia (7-3, 5-2 ACC) moved within one victory of a first-ever Coastal Division crown, but as has been the case this fall it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.  The 33-28 win over Georgia Tech saw the previously hapless Yellow Jackets lead for most of the first half before Bryce Perkins donned his Superman’s cape yet again and led the Cavaliers to victory.  All that stands between UVa and the ACC Championship Game is Virginia Tech.  How have they fared against the Hokies lately?

Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins is my choice for ACC Player of the Year;  once again the quarterback shines in the air (258 yards and a touchdown passing) while making plays on the ground (106 yards and a touchdown rushing).  His top target Saturday was Terrell Jana, who made 9 catches for 108 yards.  Joey Blount’s first quarter interception not only set up a short field for a game-tying TD, but it also stopped Tech’s early success (the visitors drove 75 yards on each of their first two possessions for scores).

Cavalier Concerns: the defense had some serious hiccups early, allowing Georgia Tech 21 first-half points (it could have been worse; GT missed a 30-yard field goal) after the Yellow Jackets entered the day last in the ACC in passing, total and scoring offense.  One week after allowing a number of big plays to North Carolina, the D surrendered passes of 37, 38, and 59 yards.  They also have a bye week coming up, meaning they’ve chosen to take extra time to prepare for the juggernaut that is Liberty.

Next: November 23 at home at noon against the aforementioned 6-4 Liberty.   

 

Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 ACC) honored longtime and soon to be retiring Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster Saturday before their game against Wake Forest, and his unit put its best 60-minute effort together in a 36-17 win over the Demon Deacons.  The team that was teetering at 2-2 all of a sudden controls its path to the ACC Championship Game:  three more wins and the Hokies take the Coastal Division.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker isn’t Bryce Perkins just yet, but give him time. The redshirt sophomore threw for 242 yards while rushing for 69 in his return from injury.  Ja’Cquez recorded 11 tackles while the defense held Wake to season-lows in yards and points.  Special Teams was just that:  Brian Johnson converted all three field goal attempts, Oscar Bradburn averaged 51.2 yards per punt, and Tayvion Robinson delivered a 33-yard punt return.

Hokie Humblings: the offense had issues early and often, converting just 3 of 14 third downs while losing two of three fumbles.  Seven penalties (two of which resulted in Demon Deacon first downs) for 55 yards didn’t hurt this week, but the Hokies have minimal room for error if they want to stay on the road to Charlotte and the ACC Championship Game.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on the road against 2-7 Georgia Tech.

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The second Saturday of November represents a major upgrade in matchups.  No offense to Florida-Georgia, but a pair of one-loss teams in The Swamp pales in comparison to not only two games involving unbeatens but the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the regular season since 2011.  That game was LSU-Alabama played in Tuscaloosa, and that’s exactly the same matchup served up this weekend.  But on the undercard at noon is Penn State-Minnesota.  While both 8-0 teams hung over 50 points on Maryland, one serves as a model for Terps head coach Mike Locksley as he builds his program in the shadow of the Big Ten East’s blueblood programs.

Minnesota has a history just like Maryland; both schools have National Championships to their credit while not enjoying a ton of success in the 21st century.  Each has appeared in more Quick Lane Bowls than Big Ten Championship Games.  They’re also both located in a major metropolitan area and compete for attention with multiple professional franchises.  In addition to those obstacles, while Maryland is primarily thought of as a basketball school, the University of Minnesota is a hockey school through and through; the late Herb Brooks won three NCAA championships there before directing the US team to 1980’s “Miracle on Ice”.  Just as the Terps are the red-haired stepchild in a division dominated by Ohio State and Penn State, the Golden Gophers aren’t even the “other school” in the West, standing in line behind Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

But somehow after going 5-7 and 7-6 in head coach P.under head coach P.J. Fleck the Golden Gophers have scraped through a light September schedule before turning into a steamroller:  their first four wins have come by a combined 20 points, and their four most recent victories have come by an average of 32 points.  Even if they stumble against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Iowa, this has been an incredible season.  Can Maryland follow the Minnesota model?

The first key should be finding the right quarterback and keeping him healthy. Just twice in the last 15 years have the Terps started the same quarterback in every game of the season:  both years have been special (2006 and 2014) relative to the other seasons over that stretch.  But the key is keeping him healthy; and that starts with an offensive line.  Maryland’s front five averages 305 pounds.  That’s how much the lightest lineman for the Golden Gophers weighs;  the unit averages 340 points-and they have a 6-foot-9 400 pounder on the roster.  Until Maryland’s offensive and defensive lines mirror the likes of Minnesota’s, the Terps will be a team with splashy skill guys that have trouble overcoming limited lines.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange have this week off, but that didn’t stop another underwhelming night in the Dome from happening.  But instead of the defense allowing 40+ points it was the offense that scored fewer than 40 points.  The 48-34 loss to Virginia was an agonizing way to begin the men’s basketball season; usually November hoops is the necessary salve for the wounds one gets during the first two months of SU football.  It looks like I picked the wrong week to stop drinking bleu cheese dressing.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) at No. 3 Ohio State (8-0, 5-0), noon (FOX).

The Terps were an incomplete two-point conversion away from upsetting the Buckeyes last year in overtime.  This year’s team is once again on a downward spiral towards being home for the holidays, while the Buckeyes have a two-game semi-preseason (they face Rutgers next week) before battling unbeaten Penn State and arch-rival Michigan.  Like they need a tune-up: OSU  leads the Big Ten in scoring offense and defense, rushing offense and passing defense. Their pass rush has a conference-high 34 sacks while the attack converts third downs at a mind-numbing 57.3%.  If you’re the Maryland defense that allows the second most points and yards in the Big Ten (thank you Rutgers for being in the conference), who do you stop?  Quarterback Justin Fields, who’s posting a better passer rating than Dwayne Haskins did while throwing 50 TD passes last year?  Or runningback J.K. Dobbins, who’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry when not sounding like he belongs in a Charles Dickens story?  The best Buckeye is actually on the other side of the ball, as defensive end Chase Young has 13.5 sacks on the season.  Good luck to an overmatched and oft-injured offensive line group. FRIDAY UPDATE: OSU is holding the DeMatha Catholic product and Hyattsville MD native out of Saturday’s game due to a potential 2018 NCAA violation.  But the Buckeyes still boast a unit that includes the likes of Malik Taylor (41 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Baron Browning (2.5 sacks).

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 45-10.

 

Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (2-6, 1-4), 12:30 p.m. (ACC Network Extra).  November in the ACC usually brings three questions to the forefront: 1- can Clemson get back in the Playoff, 2- who emerges from the quagmire that is the Coastal Division, and 3-should we make Duke or UNC the men’s basketball favorite?  Actually, the Blue Devils/Tar Heels question is more 1A than 3 there–and let’s be honest, UVa is wondering why the defending National Champs aren’t getting more respect despite losing multiple starters to the NBA.  The Cavaliers can take comfort in the fact that they are two wins away from a first-ever Coastal division title, while the Yellowjackets are the lone division team no longer in contention.  They’re in the first year under head coach Geoff Collins and look like a rebuild from central casting:  last in the ACC in passing, total and scoring offense while also bringing up the rear in stopping the run.  Bryce Perkins prepares to don his Superman’s cape one more time after tallying 490 total yards and five touchdowns against North Carolina.

Kippy & Buffy know that not all heroes wear capes; sometimes they make fantastic wines.  In honor of the Yellowjackets’ 2014 Coastal championship, our favorite tailgating duo open a bottle of Twomey’s 2014 Soda Canyon Ranch Merlot as they pursue their “season of possibilities”.  With aromas that include “black cherry, roasted meat, wet soil, loose pipe tobacco and brioche”, the offshoot of Silver Oak Vineyards provides the palate a “velvet entry, mouthwatering, vanilla flavors and an enticing texture”.  And don’t forget the “integrated tannins, elegant, juicy with a long finish and return.”  

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers continue to follow their Coastal compass in a 34-16 win.

 

Virginia Tech (5-3, 2-2 ACC) vs. No. 22 Wake Forest (7-1, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Net).

The Hokies and Demon Deacons get together a few weeks before the fifth year anniversary of the last time they met on the football field.  Remember that dark day in Winston-Salem?  The 6-3 double-overtime win by Wake that was even more as soul-sucking as it sounds and was the metaphorical beginning of the end of the Frank Beamer era as he was captured on video celebrating a missed field goal at the end of regulation but with the 0-0 score in graphics to frame the shot.  The Demon Deacons bring a much better offense into Blacksburg this time, leading the ACC in passing while ranking second in scoring. Even in their lone loss, quarterback Jamie Newman and company put 59 points on the board against Louisville.  The Hokies are coming off of a tough loss at Notre Dame where the offense completed 32% of their passes and gained 2.8 yards per rush.  Wake’s no Fighting Irish on defense, but they lead the conference in turnover margin and are third best at getting off of the field on third down.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies come up short, 27-20.

 

Howard loses to South Carolina State, James Madison beats New Hampshire, Richmond slips at Villanova, William & Mary tops Rhode Island, Towson tumbles at Stony Brook, Morgan State falls against North Carolina A&T.

Last Week: 6-4.

Overall: 63-28.

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Sometimes the leaves turn earlier than one expects.  After the start to a season where all four area FBS schools received national notice (Maryland and Virginia were ranked at points this past month, while Navy and Virginia Tech each received votes along the way), the final weekend of the month saw the four all go down in flames.  Just like no two leaves when they change colors look exactly alike, the status of each of the four teams is markedly different.  Some fractures are hairline, and some are compound.  With the bulk of the conference season ahead, what can be salvaged? That’s for October to decide. Isn’t fall foliage great?

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange routed Holy Cross 41-3 to enter their bye week 3-2, but Tommy DeVito gets banged up. I did not watch, meaning that Cuse has crushed foes 106-20 when I’m not watching/listening…and they’ve been bludgeoned 120-37 when I do.  At 3-2 SU is halfway to a Pinstripe Bowl bid.  Prepare the space for another banner!

 

Navy (2-1, 1-1 AAC) got the weekend of woe underway by taking a 20-7 first half lead at Memphis, only to lose 35-23.  It was a tale of two halves as Tigers were just too much after intermission, outgaining the Mids 203 yards to 81.

Midshipman Medals: Keoni Makekau rushed for 101 yards while Malcom Perry added 91 on the ground.  The defense held the Tigers in check for most of the first half, allowing just 98 yards of offense and holding Memphis to 0-3 on third down.  Owen While averaged 45.2 yards per punt. Nizaire Cromartie recovered a fumble.

Midshipman Miscues: it all began on special teams when the Mids allowed a kickoff return late in the first half that turned a double-digit lead into a single-possession game.  The offense converted just 1 of 7 third downs after halftime, and the running game was held to 74 yards on 23 tries following the break.  The defense also had issues in the third and fourth quarters;  after holding Brady White to 12 yards passing in the first half the Tigers quarterback completed 10 of 13 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns the rest of the way.  Six penalties, an interception and a fumble lost didn’t help either.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 3-1 Air Force.

 

Maryland (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) kicked off conference play Friday night, and things did not end well.  Actually, things didn’t even start well as Josh Jackson was intercepted on the fifth play from scrimmage and Penn State cashed in with a quick touchdown.  A three and out then set up a 58-yard touchdown pass by the Nittany Lions.  It appeared as though the Terps regained themselves and were about to put points on the board but then Jackson threw another interception at the Penn State goal line.  The ensuing 11-play, 95 yard march put the visitors up 21-0 with 13:23 left in the 2nd quarter.  The student section looked like a guy with male pattern baldness as the quarter (along with more Penn State points) progressed, and resembled actor Bruce Willis after halftime.  The 59-0 loss was the school’s worst since 2017 when Penn State last came to College Park and rendered a 66-3 bludgeoning. They’re on the schedule again next year, right?

Terrapin Triumphs: Brandon Gaddy and Colton Spangler each averaged 42.8 yards per punt, although whenever one leads this category with the punter it’s not a good thing.  Nick Cross had a sweet sideline interception that kept the Nittany Lions from scoring on every one of their first half possessions, so there’s that.  The lone genuine highlight of Friday’s game was the welcoming back of former head coach Ralph Friedgen;  the honorary captain won 75 games and led the Terps to seven bowls during his 10-year tenure.  It’s just a shame the game was out of hand when they honored Fridge on the field.

Terrapin Troubles: Jackson’s two interceptions represented a 10-point swing at best and a 21 point swing at worst.  He was also sacked four times and completed just 10 of 21 passes for 65 yards.  They weren’t helped with eight penalties for 70 yards-in the first half.  Both sides of the ball were dominated on third down:  Penn State converted 9 of 13 while the Terps were held to 4 of 15.  The offense tallied just a pair of first downs in the second half.  And the defense just couldn’t contain Sean Clifford all evening.

Next:  Saturday at noon on the road against 1-3 Rutgers.

 

Virginia Tech (2-2, 0-2 ACC) took a 3-0 lead over Duke with a first quarter field goal, but it was all downhill from there as the Blue Devils scored touchdowns on their final three drives of the first half.  To prove that wasn’t an aberration the visitors reached the end zone on their final three possessions of the second half, and the Hokies were handed a 45-10 loss- their worst since falling 48-7 at No. 2 LSU in 2007.  The 35-point margin was their worst at home since 1974 when they got blown out 49-12 by Houston (gotta love the late Bill Yeoman and the veer offense).  Interesting note:  current Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians was the quarterback for that Hokies team.  Another note:  this year is turning into one major nightmare for the Blacksburg brethren.

Hokie Highlights: Deshawn McClease ran for 102 yards on 17 carries. Damon Hazelton had an impressive 72-yard catch for the team’s lone touchdown. Reggie Floyd and Rayshard Ashby each tallied eight tackles.  Hezekiah Grimsley notched a 25 yard punt return while Oscar Bradburn averaged 41.2 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings:  the defense failed to get a sack as Blue Devils quarterback Quentin Harris completed 20 of 27 passes.  The D also allowed 5.7 yards per carry and coughed up points on seven of Duke’s final eight possessions.  Ryan Willis completed just 7 of 18 passes, and if you take away his TD strike to Hazelton he averaged under six yards per completion.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 2-2 Miami.

 

No. 18 Virginia (3-1) wrapped up the trend of taking a first half lead to put hope in the hearts of its fans, only to come up short in a 35-20 loss to No. 10 Notre Dame.  The defndefense that had been responsible for come-from behind wins against Pitt, Florida State and Old Dominion couldn’t survive a pair of crucial second half fumbles.  The first led gave the Fighting Irish the ball on the UVa seven and they scored two plays later; the second was returned for another touchdown.

Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns, with Hasise Dubois (9 catches for 143 yards and a score) doing the most of the damage.  Joey Blount led the defense with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery, and the defense notched four sacks.  Brian Delaney connected on both of his field goal attempts.

Cavalier Concerns: the offensive line allowed eight sacks, leading to three Bryce Perkins fumbles. Perkins also threw a pair of interceptions, and the Fighting Irish were able to turn those five turnovers into 28 points.  The running game went nowhere again, generating just 59 yards on 21 carries after accounting for sack yardage.

Next: Friday October 11 at 2-2 Miami.

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More isn’t always better; sometimes it’s just more.  College football rules the roost on Saturdays between Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekend, and Thursday night football has been a fixture for over 20 years.  As previously mentioned in this space, college actually does Thursdays better because more often than not the teams playing are coming off of bye weeks and even those that aren’t have had four days off instead of the NFL’s three (and with a larger roster to eat up snaps).  Expansion to Friday only seemed the next logical move, and when it comes to Friday games I don’t count Labor Day’s opening weekend nor do I count the day after Thanksgiving due to the fact both are “holiday Fridays”.  But it’s not necessarily better, nor welcome.  Instead of the Thursday night island, distinct enough of an entity to have its own sense of place; Friday night feels like the sand bar at low tide.  And just like Sundays belong to the NFL, Fridays should belong to high school football.  I mean, has nobody read the book or watched the movie/TV show “Friday Night Lights”?   (Aside: if you stopped watching the show during season two’s murder storyline, I’d understand).

One of the reasons I was happy Syracuse was leaving the Big East was that at the time the ACC didn’t have Friday night games.  Now they do, as is the case with everybody but the SEC (even the ten-member Big 12 has Kansas playing on a Friday night this year).  And this is the third season of Friday night football in the tradition-rich Big Ten; it was only a matter of time before Maryland would have to close down its campus for classes on a Friday and host one of these games.  I get it. For schools and conferences that aren’t major brands it’s a great way to be in the spotlight as opposed to being buried as one of 50+ games on a Saturday.  But just because one can play games on a night previously reserved solely for the feeder system to your sport doesn’t mean you should for some TV bucks.  And just because I’m not a fan of the 21st Century version of Friday Night Lights doesn’t mean I won’t watch when teams I cover or root for are playing. Clear eyes, full hearts. Right?

Alma Mater Update- the Orange host Holy Cross Saturday at noon.  I do believe “Syracuse-Holy Cross” is Greek for “noon kickoff”, although I’ve been wrong before. I’ve also been wrong in supporting my school this fall. As I realized over the weekend, SU is outscoring foes 65-17 when I’m not watching/listening (thank you 1180 AM in Rochester for your long reach after dark) while I’ve witnessed them getting outscored 120-37.  Surely I can cut into that deficit while watching the Orange roast an FCS team, right?  I’m still on the fence–it’s been one of those years.

 

Thursday’s Game:

Navy (2-0, 1-0 AAC) at Memphis (3-0), 8 p.m. (ESPN). 

Both teams are off to dominant starts, but while the Midshipmen are outscoring the opposition 87-17 those wins have come against Holy Cross (1-2 with a three-point win over New Hampshire) and East Carolina (winless against FBS schools).  The Tigers have beaten an SEC school (Ole Miss counts, believe it or not) and have also won on the road (South Alabama isn’t the Crimson Tide, but the Jaguars are in FBS).  They also finally decided the “Brady Brawl” at quarterback:  Brady White starts while Brady McBride transferred to Texas State.  Even with last year’s one-point loss in Annapolis, the Tigers won the AAC West and they look better this season.   And while Navy’s much better than last year’s 3-10 nightmare, a prime time game on the road might be too much to ask.

Presto’s Pick: Mids come up short, 35-24.

 

Friday’s Games:

Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-1 ACC) vs. Duke (2-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN). 

After a week off, the Hokies rollercoaster ride continues with a date against the Blue Devils.  Both schools lost Labor Day weekend, but while the Hokies coughed up a winnable game at Boston College the Blue Devils were blown out by No. 2 Alabama (somewhere there has to be that oddball who roots for Duke football and Alabama basketball).  Duke has also dominated in its two wins while Virginia Tech has struggled to scrape past Old Dominion and Furman.  Daniel Jones may be off to the NFL, but Quentin Harris is completing 73% of his passes and unlike ODU’s Sterling Smartt or Furman’s Darren Grainger actually saw action on the field last year.  The Blue Devils also keep Harris upright:  Duke has allowed an ACC-low eight sacks this fall while the Hokies pass rush has been somewhat lacking.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies are humbled, 21-16.

 

Maryland (2-1) vs. No. 12 Penn State (3-0), 8 p.m. (FS1).

The rivalry that isn’t has two Eastern schools in a Midwest-based league kicking off conference play.  The Terps’ tumble at Temple robs what could have been some serious buzz around this game.  Instead, prepare yourselves for a Penn State invasion:  College Park is the closest Big Ten campus from Beaver Stadium and there are plenty of alumni and Nittany Lion fans inside the beltway (including one or two that work at WTOP).  Maryland owns the conference’s top-ranked running game and the defense that ranks second-best in sacks is also third best in getting off of the field on third down.  Penn State’s led by first-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford, and while he’s put up decent numbers (facing Idaho and Buffalo will do that) the sophomore is directing an offense that ranks last in the Big Ten on third down conversions.

Presto’s Picks: Terrapins tumble, 24-17.

 

Saturday’s Games:

No. 18 Virginia (4-0) at No. 10 Notre Dame (2-1), 3:30 p.m. (NBC).

The Fighting Irish are coming off of a six-point loss at No. 3 Georgia, just the kind of tough defeat that may have actually helped their chances at getting into the College Football Playoff.  As crazy as this sounds, the Cavaliers are currently the highest ranked foe remaining on their schedule (Michigan has dropped to No. 20 and USC is No. 21).  Ian Book threw for 275 yards in the loss to the Bulldogs.  Even though UVa’s defense has allowed just three second-half touchdowns this fall (and two were while holding a 30-plus point lead over William & Mary), Book is better than any of the four QB’s they’ve faced.  Bronco Mendenhall’s ground game took a step back against Old Dominion (27 carries for 85 yards when accounting for sacks), and that’s a shame because Notre Dame allows over 200 yards per game rushing.

Kippy & Buffy realize if you can’t beat them, tailgate with them.  Knowing that Irish are stereotypically redheads, their plan is to enjoy a bottle of Mount Veeder 2017 Chardonnay: “On the nose, beautiful and delicate floral aromas of jasmine marry with sweeter notes of honeysuckle and candied ginger. A very subtle hint of vanilla creme and toffee from the oak aging emerge on the lingering finish.”  Let the record show that Kippy & Buffy are cool with redheads, as Thomas Jefferson founded the University.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers linger into the second half but come up short, 30-18.

 

Howard slips to Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses at Columbia, James Madison beats Elon, Towson tumbles at Florida, Richmond beats Fordham, William & Mary edges Albany.

Last Week: 4-2. Overall: 25-8.

This is it.  Eight games over the next seven days to determine if the Nationals will host or be on the road for the Wild Card Game…or if they’ll be on the outside looking in.  A second straight 3-3 week would be a nightmare, if it weren’t for the Chicago Cubs’ epic collapse (1-6 with five straight one-run losses).  The magic number to make the postseason is four, but the Nats will play a Philadelphia team fighting for its playoff life and a Cleveland squad in the AL Wild Card mix. It won’t be easy-but nothing about the 2019 season has been easy.

Health Check- Manager Davey Martinez re-joined the team for their series in Miami after having a procedure last week.  He suffered chest pains during Sunday’s win over Atlanta, but is back with the team for the stretch run.

The Wild, Wild, Sprint- Milwaukee’s magic number to make the playoffs is three, and the Brewers battle sub-500 teams Cincinnati and Colorado this week.  The Chicago Cubs are also in the hunt, and have three games with Pittsburgh before three more with St. Louis (they were swept by the Cardinals last weekend).  The New York Mets also have a “tragic number” of four, and play four against Miami before meeting Atlanta (Braves likely resting up before the NLDS).  Philadelphia (tragic number of three) can play its way back into the conversation by taking four or five games in DC this week, while Arizona (tragic number of two) needs to basically run the table against St. Louis and San Diego.

O’s Woes- the nightmare is almost over as the Birds at 51-105 are done at Camden Yards for the year.  They did win a series for the first time this month.  On to 2020.

Harper’s Weekly- he’s heating up, hitting .350 with 2 HR and 6 RBI as the Phillies went 3-3 against contenders Atlanta and Cleveland.  His 34 doubles are four shy of his career high, and his 108 RBI represent a new career best.  Bryce also sets a new high with 170 strikeouts.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick hit .529 while Yan Gomes batted .364.  Patrick Corbin struck out 11 over 6 scoreless innings in his only outing.  Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey and Javy Guerra combined to throw 9.1 scoreless innings over 8 appearances.

Last Week’s Humbled- Fernando Rodney generated little respect and did not look marvelous, posting an ERA of 15.43.  Hunter Strickland and Sean Doolittle also delivered in the double digits.  Anthony Rendon hit .167 while Juan Soto batted .056.

Game to Watch- Tuesday evening Max Scherzer (0.75 ERA against Philly this year) pitches against Aaron Nola (12-5, 3.75 ERA) in game three of the team’s five games over four days against Philadelphia.  The bullpen could be blown up by this point, and a stellar Scherzer performance is needed.  But can he dial up the Max of June in what might be his final start of the season?

Game to Miss- Friday’s game has the Nats hosting Cleveland.  After the NL East brawl, lets just stay the intensity may be a little down for a foe from the AL Central.  Austin Voth also pitches.  Friday there’s also a Big Ten opener in College Park, as Maryland meets No. 12 Penn State.  A little Terpness will be on tap.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Welcome to another new era of Maryland football.  For the third time this decade a new regime checks in with high hopes.  Following a season where redshirt freshman Jordan McNair died during an offseason conditioning drill and the entire football program/athletic department/university was placed under a microscope, a fresh start will be more than welcomed.  And taking the Terps into the future will be a figure from their past:  Head Coach Mike Locksley previously spent time in College Park as running backs coach under Ralph Friedgen and as Offensive Coordinator under Randy Edsall (before taking over as Interim Head Coach for six games in 2015) and has deep ties to the area, having played high school football at Washington DC’s Ballou before playing at Towson.

He’ll also be the fourth different head coach for some of the fifth-year players in the program.  “We’re all well aware of the things that have taken place here but again we’ve told our players that this team, this 2019 team will be defined in the present.” Locksley said, “Meaning whatever it is we do today that’s how we’re going to be defined by.”  This is also a chance for Locksley to redeem his earlier head coaching career, after he went 2-26 at New Mexico and 1-5 as the Terps’ interim coach.

Even in a new era, the quarterback question is once again a crucial one.  Last year the Terps passing offense ranked 13th in the Big Ten and they lost leading passer Kasim Hill to transfer (Tennessee) in the offseason.  Added to the mix of the oft-injured Tyrell Pigrome and 2017’s leading passer Max Bortenschlager is Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson:  the ex-Hokie threw 20 touchdown passes in 2017 before his 2018 was cut short with a broken fibula suffered against Old Dominion.  “Number one in a starting quarterback for me is a guy who does the best job taking care of the football on the offense side of the ball,” Locksley said, “The next the most important thing is who makes the players around them better. Who gives us the chance to allow all the different weapons we have in our program to be successful on the offensive side of the ball.”  I’m also going to add whoever stays healthy as Maryland’s quarterbacks have been cursed with injuries over the years.  Since 2003, only Sam Hollenbach in 2006 and C.J. Brown in 2014 have started every game for the Terps.

The Terps lost a major weapon when wide receiver Jeshawn Jones tore his ACL during summer workouts.  That means the returning leading receivers (senior D.J. Turner and sophomore Dontay Demus) tallied 13 catches apiece in 2018.  Thank goodness for graduate transfer tight end Tyler Mabry (27 catches last year for Buffalo).  And thank goodness for a running game that will feature sophomore Anthony McFarland, who rushed for 1034 yards last fall.  “I feel like the offense is good, it’s very explosive.” McFarland said, “His (coach Locksley) offense is getting the playmakers the ball in space-and not just me.  We got a lot of guys that are gonna get the ball in space and really show what we can do.” One such playmaker is junior Javon Leake, who averaged 9.1 yards per carry in 2018.  Junior center Johnny Jordan and senior guard Terrance Davis anchor an offensive line that generated 5.7 yards per carry (third best in the Big Ten) but allowed 30 sacks (fourth most in the conference) last year.

The defense returns five starters on a unit that allowed more than 30 points in half of their games last fall, but may be trending upward as for the first time since Maryland joined the Big Ten they allowed fewer than 400 yards per game.  Senior safety Antoine Brooks (68 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception last year) looks to help this unit make the next step, and knows he’ll have to be an active ingredient.  “We gotta play more together, try to talk more and be more into each other as a group on and off the field,” Brooks said.  They’ll get a boost from Ohio State transfer Keandre Jones.  How does the senior linebacker expect to contribute? “Fill in that leadership role, being a leader on and off the field, whether it’s in the film room or outside. Just making sure guys are doing the right thing,” Jones said.  He’ll also be expected to help a pass rush that has sagged the last two seasons (34 combined sacks in 2017 and 2018 after notching 37 in 2016).

The schedule begins with Howard August 31 in College Park.  The other non-conference foes are two teams that went to bowls last year in Syracuse (beat Maryland in their last College Park meeting six years ago) and Temple (routed the Terps by 21 points last year).  The Big Ten campaign kicks off on a Friday night against Penn State and this year’s crossover tilts will be against Purdue, Minnesota and Nebraska (the trio went 17-21 in 2018).  November could be chilly as the Terps face Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State: four schools that are each ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25.  The Big Ten East is once again a gauntlet, but the new coach is more than ready for the 2019 season to begin.  It’s excitement. It’s a lot like Christmas in August,” Locksley said. “We’ve got a lot of great pieces and presents here in our program and I just really want to see these guys go out and exceed where we are.”

 

Dream Scenario- the Terps come out of the gate with Jackson at quarterback and shock ranked foes Syracuse and Penn State in September before bouncing either Ohio State or Michigan in November.  They don’t win the Big Ten East, but the foundation is set for one incredible era.

Nightmare Situation- Josh Jackson catches the injury bug that has bedeviled every quarterback who’s taken a snap in College Park since Sam Hollenbach.  The receiving corps can’t recover from the loss of Jeshawn Jones and the one-dimensional Terps tumble early and often in Big Ten play to stadiums that are either white (Penn State) or blue (Michigan).  They get the benefit of the doubt when Nebraska’s red-wearing fans visit.