Justin Forsett Key To Ravens Success

The Ravens will be a legit contender in the AFC if they recognize Justin Forsett as their number one back and give him the bulk of the carries. So much of what this Ravens team is about revolves around the run game. Running the ball well allows them to take time off the clock, keep their defense fresh, open up the play-action passing game and take pressure off of Flacco. When the Ravens can run the ball and dominate time of possession, if forces teams to move quicker to play catch up, which is when they become vulnerable to mistakes, giving Baltimore’s defense chances to create turnovers.

(Discuss this post on the BSL forums here)

Forsett has been far and away the most effective runner for the Ravens this season. He’s currently averaging 6.4 yards per carry, a full yard and a half more than the next closest back, Lorenzo Taliaferro. Even if you take away his 111 yard game against a poor Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, he still averages a yard per carry more than Taliaferro.

I’ve talked before about how both Bernard Pierce and Taliaferro leave yards on the field. Forsett is much more natural when it comes to the zone running scheme. He doesn’t miss cutback lanes like Pierce does, but he also doesn’t force the cutback like Taliaferro has done. He reads the play well and makes the correct cut a high percentage of the time.

cutback 1a

This run starts with Forsett taking the hand off to the left.

cutback 1b

But he’s actually running a counter, where he cuts back against the direction of the offensive line.

cutback 1c

Forsett approaches the backside of the offensive line. The plays is designed for him to cut it all the way back, but the Panthers have a backside defender waiting there for him. Instead, Forsett shows great vision, reading a defender playing with outside leverage. He spots a small gap for him to work with.

cutback 1d

Forsett squeezes through the hole and is into the open field. He ends up picking up 21 yards on a play that other backs might have only managed four or five.

He also displays excellent patience when it comes to running the zone scheme, something that is critical to have to be successful.

stretch 1a

This time, we see the Ravens run a stretch play to the right.

stretch 1b

Forsett makes his first read quickly, knowing he has to cutback inside.

stretch 1c

But as he approaches his lane, he notices a defender working to fill the hole.

stretch 1d

Forsett stays patient and waits for his offensive lineman to sweep the defender out of the way before cutting in behind him.

stretch 1e

Forsett bursts through the hole and finds himself in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown.

The vision and patience Forsett puts on show on these two runs is something unmatched by Pierce and Taliaferro. Taliaferro has shown glimpses of promise, and should be used to spell Forsett. But I believe Forsett needs to be treated as the number one back and given more carries. He needs to get more carries than the season high of 14 he had this past Sunday against the Bucs. I’d like to see the Ravens give him up to 20 rushes a game and see how he fares. I believe that that will be the key to the Ravens becoming a legitimate contender in the AFC.

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Weekly Preview: Iowa

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Image Credit: UMTerps

Opponent: Iowa Hawkeyes (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten Conference)
Location: Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium (54,000)
Date: Saturday, September 18, 2014
Time: 12:00 PM ET
TV/Radio Broadcasts: ESPN2, Maryland Sports Radio Network

(Discuss this article on the BSL Message Board here.)

Opponent Preview

For the first time in their history, the Iowa Hawkeyes will make the 906-mike trek from Iowa City, IA to College Park, MD to take on the Maryland Terrapins. The 2014 season has been an odd one for the Hawkeyes, as they have an impressive record that doesn’t feel very impressive. The combined records of the teams that they have played so far is 15-22. Their lone loss came at home to Iowa State, a team that now holds a 2-4 record on the year. Kirk Ferentz is in his 16th season as the head coach of the Hawkeyes, and many fans have been calling for his dismissal for years. They have not won more than 8 games since 2009, an odd occurrence for a team that always seemed to be in the mix in the Big Ten Conference.

The problem with the Hawkeyes this season has been their offense, as has been the case for a few years. Greg Davis is in his 3rd season as the team’s offensive coordinator, and moved the offense to a no-huddle attack last season. Like Maryland, the Hawkeyes don’t go no-huddle to go fast, they do it in an attempt to keep the same personnel on the field defensively. Iowa still wants to pound the ball down the defense’s throat until they prove that they can stop it. They run a pro-style offense, but teams tend to operate more out of the shotgun formation when they go no-huddle. Regardless, their main goals are still the same: run the ball, run the ball, play-action pass.

Jake Rudock has been Iowa’s main quarterback this season, but he has received some competition from C.J. Beathard. Both quarterbacks can run a little bit, with Beathard averaging 4.4 yards per carry and Rudock averaging 3.3. Rudock has thrown for over 1,000 yards this season while completing 67.5% of his passes. He also has a good touchdown:interception ratio at 7:2. Kirk Ferentz has expressed the desire to play both quarterbacks moving forward this season.

The Hawkeyes have always prided themselves on their running game and their defense, and while their defense has been stellar this season, their running game has faltered. Mark Weisman, a beast of a fullback playing running back, is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Many of those yards have come in short-yardage situations however, and he does have 8 rushing touchdowns. Getting the running game moving has to be a point of emphasis for Kirk Ferentz and Greg Davis, because their quarterbacks have not proven to be able to carry the load offensively.

Defensively, the Hawkeyes boast the 19th-fewest points allowed per game in the country. They are led by their defensive line, which could be the best unit in the country. Senior defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat will make it very difficult for Maryland to run up the middle at all. Trinca-Pasat is second on the team in tackles with 39, 5.5 coming behind the line of scrimmage. He also boasts 2.5 sacks on the year. Drew Ott is a standout defensive end for the Hawkeyes, leading the team in both tackles for loss and sacks. The linebacking unit is led by Quinton Alston, who leads the team in tackles with 44. John Lowdermilk also plays like a linebacker from his strong safety position, and is one of the best around. The Hawkeyes’ defense, led by defensive coordinator Phil Parker, is the main reason why the team’s record is 5-1. 

Maryland Preview

It’s homecoming week at the University of Maryland, and the students are ready to rock Byrd Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The campus has been buzzing with anticipation for this game all week long, and the Terps should have another big crowd on hand for their second Big Ten home game. After falling to #20 Ohio State by a score of 52-20 two weeks ago, the Terrapins enjoyed a much-needed bye week last week. Their record stands at 4-2 (1-1 Big Ten Conference), and fans are still waiting for the team to break out.

C.J. Brown will start at quarterback for Maryland this week after he was benched in favor of Caleb Rowe for the second half against Ohio State. Head coach Randy Edsall compared the situation to a baseball starting pitcher simply not having it, and he had to go to his bullpen. While many fans would rather see Caleb Rowe, C.J. Brown gives this team the best chance to win at this point. The offensive line has greatly struggled so far, and a mobile quarterback is a necessity to avoid the free rushers that seem to come on every down. And, against Iowa, the Terps will need to get to the edge of the defense with their running game, because it will be very tough to run inside against Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat.

Brian Stewart’s defense has been plagued with injuries so far this season, but they get back a big piece this week. LB Abner Logan, who was suspended before the start of the season, will be eligible to play against Iowa. For a linebacking unit that has been riddled with injuries, getting Logan back will be big. Expect to see him on the field in certain packages, and in relief of Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree. The entire defense struggled mightily against Ohio State, but the bye week should help them to clear their heads and prepare for a physical Iowa team.

Opponent Interview

This week, I was able to speak with Marc Morehouse about the Iowa Hawkeyes. Marc covers Iowa football for The Cedar Rapids Gazette. I’d like to thank him for his participation and for his insightful responses.

BSL: The Hawkeyes enter this game with a record of 5-1 (2-0 Big Ten Conference) with their only loss coming at home to Iowa State. However, no team that they have played so far has a winning record coming into this weekend. How would you rate Iowa’s play so far this season, and how do you expect the second half of the year to turn out for them?

Morehouse: Iowa is 5-1 and is an incomplete team. Offensively, the Hawkeyes have struggled to score points, last week’s explosion notwithstanding. The running game, central to all championship-caliber Iowa teams under Kirk Ferentz, is the conundrum. Iowa averages 3.80 yards a carry. It hasn’t produced a 100-yard rushing effort in nine games (something it can and has lived through). Iowa challenged for a Big Ten title in 2009 with 3.27 yards a carry, but everyone on that defense had a shot at or was drafted into the NFL. This defense is greater than the sum of its parts. That leaves it vulnerable to victimization that went on last week against Indiana, the 316 yards and running back Tevin Coleman’s TD runs of 83, 45 and 69 yards. For the rest of the season, Iowa’s defense, which has played as many as 24 players in games, will continue to plug holes as they spring. Offensively, the passing game might be the make-or-break as far as West Division contention is concerned. Iowa is great in short-yardage running situations, but it’s still not making enough money there.

BSL:  Iowa’s offense has struggled so far this season, despite putting up 45 points on Indiana last week. They rank 88th in the country in points scored, and are 91st in rushing yards per game. How disappointing has this offense been to this point, and what steps have the coaching staff made in an attempt to remedy the team’s offensive struggles?

Morehouse: This is offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ third season at Iowa. The roster has been somewhat shaped to fit his vision. Davis came in from Texas and immediately noticed a speed gap at wide receiver. The Hawkeyes signed six receivers in the last two recruiting classes. Iowa signed a pair of 180-pound running backs in 2013 (Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley), which totally went against the grain for what Iowa has been at running back (at its best, think Shonn Greene and his 235 pounds of straight-ahead headache power). Iowa has speed now, but is still struggling to unfurl it in an organic manner. The offensive line has had struggles with cohesion, particularly on the inside. Iowa came into the season needing more out of QB and isn’t getting it between Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard. Iowa has been diverse in its personnel packages, but still hasn’t consistently constrained safeties. It feels as though things cycle for three years now in college football. Either it works in three years or it doesn’t. Iowa’s offense has hit a tipping point. It would be hard to ask a fan base to buy into another year of what we’ve seen in the first half. Now, it has six games to outrun that narrative.

BSL: The Hawkeyes always seem to have a tailback who looks like he should be a fullback carrying the ball every season, and Mark Weisman is certainly that type of player. But he has really struggled this season, and has not run for 90 yards in a game yet this season. He only averages 3.3 yards per carry, but has scored 6 touchdowns on the ground. What has been his main problem so far this season, and do you believe he will get things turned around?

Morehouse: There is somewhat of a fallacy in Weisman’s numbers. A good number of his carries have come in short yardage. He has had a high success rate there (6 of 6 on fourth down attempts) and doesn’t get enough credit for it. If he makes it next season in the NFL, it will be as a fullback. He has no delusions. At Iowa, however, he is the primary running back. You could argue Iowa isn’t getting enough out of the position, Weisman or not. Junior Jordan Canzeri, Iowa’s most instinctive runner, has been hampered by injuries all season. If he’s healthy this week, he could breathe some life into it. Senior Damon Bullock’s role is strictly third down, passing back. A big part of Iowa’s success in this game is winning the line of scrimmage. If it can move the Terps’ D-line (not a given, not at all), Weisman/Canzeri can do some damage. The rushing numbers have edged up the last few weeks, but they’re far from optimum.

BSL: The Iowa defense has been stellar once again this season, ranking 19th in the country in points scored against them. Who are the defensive players that Terps fans should keep an eye on this week when Maryland has the ball?

Morehouse: Iowa’s defense is greater than the sum of its parts, but the star of the show is the defensive line. Tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat are all-Big Ten caliber. Davis was all-Big Ten last season. Trinca-Pasat has put up more tackle numbers this year than in the previous two as a starter. Davis is a 6-5, 315-pound space-eater with a better-than-average first step. Trinca-Pasat needs to have a boulder dropped on him to kill his motor. Defensive end Drew Ott is a budding star. He’s among Big Ten leaders in sacks and tackles for loss. Opposing offenses aren’t running his way very often. In the secondary, cornerback Desmond King started 12 games last season as a true freshman and has picked up where he’s left off. He returned an interception for a TD last week. He’s a physical corner with really strong hands. He’s also a willing tackler.

BSL: This is Iowa’s first-ever trip to College Park, and the Terps are fresh off of a bye week after losing to #20 Ohio State at home two weeks ago. What do you believe will be the keys to winning this game for the Hawkeyes?

Morehouse: Iowa will have to keep Maryland’s big plays to a minimum. That’s an “of course, Iowa does” item, but look at last week. Iowa allowed three long TD runs and should foot the bill for defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s blood pressure meds this week. Maryland will notch a few big plays. The Terps wideouts are too good not to produce one or two bursts. Iowa’s best chance will be to minimize run after the catch and contain QB C.J. Brown. Iowa knows it has to force Maryland to string together 15-play drives rather than allowing the big play. Also, the Hawkeyes have to defend the perimeter. Teams have moved the sticks with quick plays off the edge. Offensively, Iowa has to win the line of scrimmage. It’s the burly Big Ten team and if the Hawkeyes want to be a factor in the West, it needs to make that work before November. This is Iowa’s final game before all-West Division border battles in the season’s final month.

Zack’s Keys to the Game

  • Beat them with speed - Unlike Ohio State, the Hawkeyes want to beat the Terps with power. Maryland should have an advantage in the speed category. Getting to the edge of the defense with C.J. Brown, Brandon Ross, and the wide receivers has to be the biggest emphasis for Mike Locksley this week.
  • Tackle, tackle, tackle - The Maryland defense is usually a very sound tackling team, but they faltered in a big way against Ohio State. Mark Weisman is going to be extremely tough to bring down, but Darius Kilgo and Cole Farrand must show their physicality this week.
  • Lots of options - When you face a team with the interior defensive talent that Iowa has, option plays should be a central part of your offensive game-plan. Read options, speed options, triple options, and inverted veers should all be on full display this week. I’d also like to see Mike Locksley break out a few more counter runs to keep the Iowa defense on their toes.
  • Get ready for Craddock - I fully expect this game to be a defensive battle which is won in the fourth quarter. I also expect Brad Craddock to get plenty of opportunities to prove that he is the best kicker in the country. He’ll need to be on his game on Saturday.
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The Maryland Basketball 2014 Preview

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The Maryland Basketball 2014 Preview

(Discuss over on the BSL Forums here)

Coach Turgeon, Maryland’s head coach, has yet to make a tournament while at the University. He’s won nearly 58% of his games at 59-43, but he hasn’t won a single meaningful game (at least in the eyes of fans) in the postseason, in large part because he hasn’t gotten there.

Turgeon has had an NBA lottery pick (Len), an overseas success (Stoglin), a five-star (Peters), and a diamond in the rough (Allen) run through his system, but the elephant in the room is the lack of postseason appearances. Nothing Turgeon does will look good without one, and the fan base gets hungrier with every appearance while the optimism around his tenure at Maryland diminishes. If they miss the tournament this year — the fifth straight — it would be the longest gap in over the past 40 years.

But Coach Turgeon actually happens to have one of his most well assembled, dynamic, rosters to date. With an infusion of youth to supplement already-developed senior talent, Turgeon will no longer need to see who will mature into a great player; he knows how good his team can be, he just needs to coach it out of them. There is more talent on this roster than Maryland has had in at least six years, believe it or not.

Gone are the knuckleheads, the selfish players, the ones who don’t fit roles due to height or weight limitations. Turgeon has a team of guys who know how to play a couple positions and play them well. There’s size up front, depth in the back, and his boys are balanced, healthy, and ready to work.

Whether Turgeon can coax a tournament berth out of that incredible talent is another thing.

Key Departures

 G Seth Allen

 G Nick Faust

 G Roddy Peters

 F Charles Mitchell

 F Shaquille Cleare

As shown above, the Terrapins lose quite a bit of depth this season after an unprecedented amount of players transferred from the program this off-season. But perhaps none will have a more drastic impact than PG Seth Allen. Allen may have only played in 20 games, but he was the team’s second best scorer over that same period of time and Maryland played much better with him on the court.

Losing Allen’s scoring at the point guard position will have more impact than any other loss, but the others contributed as well. Nick Faust was a very solid wing defender (despite having a barren cupboard scoring-wise); Charles Mitchell was one of the best rebounders in the country last season; Roddy Peters was a borderline five-star PG who represented the future.

These aren’t massive losses separately, but all at once? We’ll see.

Key Returners

G-F Dez Wells

F Jake Layman

F Evan Smotrycz

F Damonte Dodd

F Jonathan Graham

Maryland may have lost a solid amount of talent, but they brought back a group with tons of ability as well. That begins and ends, of course, with Dezmine Wells, Maryland’s unlikely senior leader. With Wells sticking around for his senior year, Maryland retains one of the best shooting guard’s in his class as well as the team’s leading scorer. Wells averaged just shy of 15 points per game last season, and was the most consistent player game-in and game-out for Maryland. His expectations for this year are higher than they’ve ever been, and rightly so.

Maryland also brings back two of the best stretch forwards in the Big Ten in Evan Smotrycz and Jake Layman. Smotrycz offers not only senior leadership, but a player who is familiar with the Big Ten already; he transferred from Michigan two years ago. Layman is a solid wing defender who can heat up and torch teams with his length. Both players should be due for bigger roles and bigger season’s.

Finally, Graham and Dodd offer both veteran leadership (for the former) and youthful exuberance (for the latter). The two are going to have to have made some big strides though if they want to be big impact guys.

Newcomers:

G Melo Trimble

G Dion Wiley

G Richaud Pack

F Jared Nickens

F Michal Cekovsky

Again, and we’ll have more on this later, the Terps bring in a whole lot of talent this year to help offset all those losses via transfer. The coup de gras of this recruiting class is of course Melo Trimble, the five-star McDonald’s All-American guard who is easily Maryland’s most talented recruit since Mike Jones back in 2004.

In Trimble, the Terrapins get a local guard who represents someone that should develop into a superstar within a year or two, but can play point guard right away. Trimble will most definitely soften the blow of losing Allen pretty quickly, as he’s much further along in his development than Allen at the same point.

Dion Wiley is another local guard who is extremely versatile and should be able to come off the bench and play well early on. Both he and Jared Nickens are some of the better shooters in the 2014 class, and will make an immediate impact offensively right away.

The most underrated of all might be Richaud Pack, the North Carolina A&T transfer who opted to play his graduate season at Maryland. Pack was an elite scorer against inferior competition, but will definitely still retain some of that ability on the Terrapins with his crafty veteran game.

Finally, the X-Factor remains Slovakian import Michal Cekovsky. The highly regarded import big man is a real question mark, but scouts have regarded him as another stretch 4 (and distinct from Alex Len).

Frontcourt

Maryland’s front-court is the biggest question mark, although all the entities are pretty well known. Evan Smotrycz and his 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists come back, and Maryland is going to need him to improve his efficiency numbers if they want to have success. Smotrycz was great at times, but his body broke down as the season progressed and his workload increased.

Smotrycz shot 40% from the floor last season, and while he hit 37% of his three pointers, Maryland needs him to raise those percentages. Smotrycz found himself doing to much at times and eventually relegated to coming off he bench, but expect a major increase this year as he returns to a familiar foe in the Big Ten.

Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekovsky, and Jonathan Graham represent the known unknowns for the front-court. Dodd looked nowhere near ready to become a starter last year when he played in scant minutes; his foul rate was off the charts and he didn’t score or rebound well. But his length and athleticism are representative of a player who could turn into a force in the front-court depending on how much better he’s gotten in the off-season.

Graham is what he is: a hard-worker without much natural ability and a non-factor offensively. He can stay on the court, but if he is starting for your team, you’re probably losing games.

Cekovsky has scouts raving about his skill level, and while not a lot is known about him right now, if he can impress early on he may start quickly. As a hybrid 4/5, Cekovsky figures into a lot of Maryland’s lineups alongside Smotrycz at the center spot, off the bench in place of Smotrycz, or in a center-by-committee look with Graham and Dodd.

Backcourt

Addition by subtraction is just a cliché that actually has no basis in reality, but darned if it doesn’t apply to the Terps back-court situation. Dez Wells is a guy with NBA potential and a proven track record of really good-to-star potential, and he’ll be the undisputed alpha dog on this team. He’s motivated, he’s a fantastic teammate, and he should anchor this offense.

But he’s got more help than he’s ever had now. Funnily enough, losing Seth Allen isn’t as impactful when you have a Burger Boy replacing him in Trimble. That’s not a knock on Allen as much as it is the praise Trimble has gotten. He may not be a point guard, but he’s a winner and a leader by example whose work ethic should rub off on the entire team.

Richaud Pack and Dion Wiley will solidify the backup shooting guard spot with ease, and because neither of these guys has expectations of being an immediate superstar right away, it might be better for the team. Nick Faust had a touch of megalomania, and rather than play for the team tended to do things for himself. Neither of these guys have that mentality and Maryland is better for it. They’re also both decidedly more efficient shooters off the bench than Faust and Peters ever were.

At the small forward spot, Maryland has nothing but shooting ability and length. Jared Nickens is a star in the making, and they won’t lose a ton of Layman’s deep stroke when he’s on the court. Fortunately, both Nickens and Wiley can and will be able to shoulder the minute load for Layman. Part of Layman’s biggest problem was that his legs got tired playing more basketball than he ever had before as Maryland had no backup for him. For a jump shooter that’s a death sentence. He won’t have to worry about that now, so expect the numbers to rise.

Outlook

Emotions aside, if I were to say you could have a team with a McDonald’s All-American, a top 15 senior, a double-digit scoring senior stretch 4 with deadly accuracy from three, a junior year NBA prospect, a top 40 European 7-footer, and a top 60 elite shooter…wouldn’t you take it?

Is it that hard to envision a team like that making the tournament? Much worse teams have made the tournament than this 2014 Terrapins squad, at least on paper. Getting the results to come out the way you envision them is never easy work, but this is Mark Turgeon’s most talented roster to date. It’s also his brightest.

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