First Happy New Year to you all, I hope you had a great holiday season, modified as it may have been and looking forward to having a productive and successful year filled with as many memories as possible. From a sports standpoint for the Terps we are certainly looking forward to what should be a full 12 game season of football with an expectation of several more wins and competitive play from what is currently on the roster and a Top 20 recruiting class coming to College Park. On the basketball front the rest of the season is likely to have more growing pains and hardship from a roster that could use better shooting and size. That said with a Top Ten recruiting class coming in and experience from a rebuilding year of sorts of this season, I expect we should be back to a normal Maryland season next season which usually brings at least 20 wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
On a professional note, due to Covid-19, my employer Entercom who owns 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore (which is the Flagship Radio Station of Maryland Football and Basketball) froze all part-time employment and that continues indefinitely. That has meant I have not been able to anchor Maryland Football or Basketball on the weekends on the Maryland Sports Radio Network. I have been told that I will get my job back at some point this year including MD Sports and it is my sincere hope that that is the case but in case you have been wondering why you have not heard me that is the explanation. I miss it terribly but have been looking on the positive side of things during this down time that I have had to be able to take care of other things in my life. That said I have enjoyed being apart of the Talking Terps Podcast that is posted here on the website and hope you will continue checking that out on a regular basis.
Let’s get to MD Football and Basketball:
- As I write this the news broke that Scotty Montgomery has been let go of his Offensive Coordinator job by Head Coach Mike Locksley. I am a bit surprised at this move even though I am told many Maryland fans are happy that this action has been taken. The reason I am surprised is first how highly Locksley has spoken of Montgomery in the past. In addition, we heard the immense amount of time the two spent together right after his hiring going through Locksley’s offense and the way he likes things done. Also, the two had additional time presumably due to Covid-19 to continue to work together on the offense especially with the expectation that Taulia Tagovailoa was going to be granted a transfer and eligibility right away although the Terps did not find that out until early August.
To be fair to Montgomery he had no QB year one with an inherited below average to average at best offensive line. This past season COVID-19 certainly hurt every program from a developmental standpoint including Maryland. Getting a new QB so late in the process did not help matters either but you did see the offense show themselves well at times. Given the fact they missed 3 games due to COVID-19 this season leaves it incomplete. That all said its Locksley’s offense, so I trust that he felt he needed to look elsewhere for a new OC. To me the offense is his baby, and he calls the shots ultimately, so he bears some responsibility here as well as to why he felt he needed to make a change. Obviously the number one task will be to continue to develop QB Taulia Tagovailoa.
- The speculation is that Locksely would like to hire Dan Enos who was Locksley’s QB’s Coach when he was OC at Alabama in 2018. I personally am not an Enos fan. Prior to Alabama he took a job on Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan only to quit a month or so later to go to Alabama. Some might say well Mike that is a step up and you can understand why he did it. There is some merit to that, but I also believe in following through on your commitments. But ok let’s forget that for a second. After the season he became the Offensive Coordinator at Miami without literally telling Nick Saban. That story left me speechless, who does that. Enos was due to become the next OC at Alabama after Locksley took the job at Maryland. Ultimately Enos going to Miami opened the door for Steve Sarkisian who has now parlayed that into the Head Coaching job at Texas. Enos failed at Miami and was fired after one season. He served as RB’s coach for HC Luke Fickell at Cincinnati this past season.
- Leading into this season I said the goal for Maryland was to show incremental improvement and they did that especially against Minnesota, Penn State and Rutgers. The offense was good in those games and sans Minnesota the defense really came on from that Penn State game on. I was disappointed though that the lack of discipline with penalties still shows up as it did in the loss to Rutgers, a game they most certainly should have won. I did see a different type team on the field especially with the Minnesota win. Their fight and resiliency were telling and the energy on the sideline. That game may have started to turn the tide and get more players to buy into what Locksley is looking to do with his program. The fact that it came early in the season helped. If they had lost that game after what happened in Week 1 who knows how the season plays out? That first game against Northwestern gave everyone a pit in their stomach because it looked like this past season was headed nowhere and fast. They really turned it around against Minnesota in Week 2. While I may have even sold Northwestern short (although I did predict a bounce back season from them), I thought Maryland had a chance in that game. As we know now that was a good Wildcats team, especially on defense. It probably was not the best team to start the year against, a Northwestern team that had a chip on their shoulder from a poor 2019, had an excellent defense, got a 5th year grad transfer at QB who had success at Indiana and the game was in Evanston. It was disaster in the making and that is exactly what happened. Given how good Northwestern turned out to be, making it to the Big Ten Championship game and nearly defeating Ohio State that loss does not nearly feel as bad. The Penn State game was of course the highlight of the season and a glimpse as to what the team and program can be. How impressive was it to see them go into Happy Valley and kick the door in of the Nittany Lions. Say what you will that was more about MD’s season than PSU. Despite the rough outing by the offense against Indiana in which both teams lacked many players due to Covid-19, the defense played very well in that game and kept the Terps in it for most of the time. I was encouraged partially despite the loss. The Rutgers game got off to a slow start for both especially given LeGendre’s passing issues but the Terps found their way offensively with a DeMatha walk on QB and defense played very well. It was the penalties that did them in unfortunately. Again, I was still pleased with the progress you saw play out on the field.
- I am very much looking forward to this 2021 season where there is no reason to think that the Terps will not only be in most every game outside of maybe Ohio State but also start to string together wins. This season they will need to, this will be a big steppingstone season where talent and growing pains need to develop into wins. You need those wins to keep the team believing and after two rather good recruiting classes you need future high school recruits to continue to see not only progress but results i.e., Wins and Bowl appearances. While I am not necessarily expecting an 8-4 or even 7-5 season, I expect they absolutely should be at or near that point in 2022. This upcoming season I expect 4 to 5 wins and an incredibly competitive team.
Around Football in The Big Ten:
- Speaking off Offensive Coordinator changes, Penn State Head Coach James Franklin fired his OC Kirk Ciarrocca after just one season. Ciarrocca had been lured away from PJ Fleck’s Minnesota staff after an 11- win season and Bowl victory over Auburn in 2019. So, it was surprising to see he was let go after just one season especially when Penn State was second in the Big Ten in total yards and TDs. That said it was a very disappointing 4-5 season for PSU who started the year 0-5 but did rebound quite nicely in their last four games. That said you could see a big drop off early on with the offense compared to 2019 and the regression of QB Sean Clifford was very visible. Maryland’s D frankly took them to the woodshed surprisingly enough. Mike Yurcich the former Texas Offensive Coordinator this past season was hired. He only spent one year in Austin due to the firing of Head Coach Tom Hermann. Yurcich coached in 2019 as OC with Ohio State, where Hermann once coached. Yurcich is from Ohio but played at Division II California University of Pennsylvania in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. He also was the OC at Division III Shippensburg (PA) before moving to the Power 5 where he also coached at Oklahoma State before his time at OSU and Texas. Yurcich clearly has a good understanding of Big Ten Football and the state of PA. One would expect a bounce back year from Clifford and the offense with this hire.
- Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh signed a 5-year extension on Friday to remain as the Wolverines Head Coach avoiding a lame duck 2021 with no contract after this season. It dragged out much longer than what many had hoped and there were several reasons for it. The reason I bring it up is A. this means there likely will not be a rash of Wolverines in the transfer portal for other Big Ten teams like MD to be able to try to bring on to their roster. B. A few weeks ago, although they never made it official DC Don Brown, who also once served in that capacity at MD was let go and has since taken the same job at Arizona. News reports on Friday confirmed that Mike MacDonald the current LB’s coach for the Baltimore Ravens will take the job. MacDonald of course works John Harbaugh the HC of the Ravens but now will be working for his brother Jim in Ann Arbor if these reports are true. One of the complaints of the media and Michigan fans was Don Brown was too aggressive at times and needed to play more Zone. His defenses recently also were embarrassed against Ohio State twice and Alabama last year in their Bowl game. This year was the worst of his five seasons, so the downward trend left him packing. That all said the Ravens D is multiple, is blitz happy and likes to play a lot of man to man as well. I expect that generally you will see the same philosophy on defense for at least the next few seasons to come from Michigan. C. One of the issues Jim Harbaugh has had at Michigan is developing QBs other than Jake Ruddock in his first year and when he was healthy did a good job with Wilton Speight but failed with Brandon Peters who transferred, Dylan McCaffrey barely played and transferred. Joe Milton was hyped up but had a poor season with accuracy issues and was benched. Shea Patterson lacked consistency especially in the big games although he did go 19-7 in two seasons. Harbaugh reportedly will coach QBs himself this season and has let go QB Coach Ben McDaniel the brother of NE Patriot OC Josh McDaniel. There has also been talk that Michigan is trying to lure away Joe Moorhead from Oregon the former PSU OC and Miss St. Head Coach to be co-offensive coordinator given Josh Gattis’ struggles as OC since taking over with a new Spread approach in 2019. Gattis was supposed to come with Locksley from Alabama to College Park to be the OC before Harbaugh was able to lure him to Ann Arbor.
Going to keep my thoughts brief here but Maryland Basketball was not expected to do much this season. The Terps lost one of the all-time great players in the history of their program in Anthony Cowan and a big-time front court player in Jalen Smith who got drafted in the Top 15 in the NBA this past year. This season would be easier to swallow if we had had a Big Ten and NCAA Tournament to see last season’s team play a bit longer and while we don’t know how they would have done many feel they would have gotten to the Sweet 16 and maybe beyond, we will never know. Most seasons I would say having a losing year is not acceptable in College Park and it has been an exceptionally long time since the Terps have had one, but this year looks like it will happen. Given the lack of size, the lack of 3-point shooting and an extremely good Big Ten its trending that way. The Terps do have a Top 10 recruiting class coming in and will return Senior Guards in Ayala and Wiggins next season and Junior F Donta Scott as a part of the roster. I was encouraged by the competitiveness of the Terps against Michigan for a while and their win at #6 Wisconsin. A really good Big Ten is probably highlighting the Terps weaknesses more than if it was an average or below average conference this season to be fair so put that in perspective. The loss to Indiana should not have happened and Iowa really turned the screws on how average the Terps are this season. I hope Turg treats the rest of the season as a growth and development season with the prospects of next season much rosier.
Mike Popovec is a Weekend and Fill-In host at 105-7 The Fan. In addition Mike hosts the Pre and Post, Halftime and Scoreboard Updates for the Football Games on the Maryland Terrapins Sports Radio Network. He also hosts the Pre and Post Game Show on weekends for some of the Maryland Basketball Games. Popovec also hosts a local News, Talk and Sports Morning Program at the beach on 92-7 WGMD. He also produces and hosts High School Football Games and Shows throughout the season out of Easton covering the Eastern Shore’s Bayside Conference. He sideline reports for CW54 for the Maryland State High School Football Playoffs with Bruce Cunningham, Doug Duvall and Wally Williams.