Maryland Sneaks By JMU: It's a Win, But Worries Remain

Bottom line: it was a win. I was among the masses that wanted a blowout, and this didn't satisfy that desire. But it could've been much worse: it could've been a loss.

Much like the California game, it didn't really break one way. You can't flat out say Maryland showed nothing positive in the game and Ralph Friedgen should be fired immediately...well, you can, but you'd be wrong. Likewise, you can't view the win as a win and write off the performance.

I'll be frank: Maryland probably shouldn't have won this game. If JMU had a decent kicker, or if they didn't commit 105 yards of penalties, or if they didn't - for some reason I am still yet to grasp - share phenomenal QB Drew Dudzik's time on the field with Justin Thorpe, James Madison probably wins the game.

Both the offensive and defensive lines were manhandled by smaller, less athletic players. Sure, the OL was without Bruce Campbell, but they were facing a much smaller opponent, and one with less natural talent. There were several occasions when Chris Turner had to make a hurried throw and was under pressure, and there was a gaping lack of holes for Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett. That hurts Meggett especially - he's a downhill, run hard type of back, and needs holes to succeed.

Defensively, there was nothing up front. James Madison put up a ridiculous 268 yards on the ground, and much of the blame goes on a virtually invisible defensive line. There was never any penetration into the backfield, and they put up an O-fer in the sack category to boot.

Really, the defense as a whole was just demolished. Dudzik put up 141 yards through the air, a modest number until you realize it was done on only 9 completions, but 268 is the number to remember. The demolition on the ground will be difficult to forget. 417 yards is way too many to give up to an FCS team.

The performance in the second and third quarters is hardly encouraging, either. After a rushing touchdown very early in the second quarter, the next half of the game went like this for the Maryland offense: punt, punt, punt, interception, punt. The whole team just didn't show up for an entire half of the game. It wasn't just poor play - they were out of it mentally, too. They got lucky today - if they take two quarters off against Clemson or FSU, they won't come back.

Perhaps the worst part of it all is that James Madison isn't even an FBS team. We can talk all we want about the CAA, the ACC, and whatever other acronym you want to bring, but the fact of the matter is that they aren't what could be described as a "quality opponent", even if it's only because of that label. It's definitely a psychological negative that Maryland got outplayed by a D-IAA team.

Okay, so there doesn't sound like there's any reason to be optimistic. But don't worry: there are several.

First and most importantly, they fought back. Yes, they got down, yes, they looked like they weren't there for several quarters, and yes, they gave up 22 straight points. But through all that, they came back and won. There were a lot of times they could've given up: after James Madison took the lead, for instance, or after Dudzik broke a 70 yard run. They didn't, they persevered, and they fought back to get it to overtime. It's a cliche, but that will come back to help them later on this year.

While I already addressed the lines, it's important to note that the OL is seeing some improvement. There was only one sack today, for example. Scott had a few lanes to hit during OT. And during the final few drives, they started to keep JMU out of the backfield on both the pass and the run. That probably had a lot to do with a smaller JMU team getting fatigued, but I'll take what I can get with this group. There are still a lot of negatives here, but there are some slivers of hope that they're starting to come together.

If they are truly gelling, or at least getting there, remember how talented Maryland's skill players are. Torrey Smith made it clear today that he can be a gamechanger. Adrian Cannon caught a TD pass. Ronnie Tyler had an amazing 4th down conversion (and also a huge 3rd down drop, but that's a discussion for another day). There's no doubting the talent level of Da'Rel Scott or Davin Meggett. Give Turner some time to find them or Da'Vin Sceggett (?) some holes to run through, and the offense could be dangerous.

On defense, it's still early. It's a new scheme with a lot of new starters, and these issues were to be expected. I don't think anyone expected them to be this bad, but it's feasible that they just aren't used to playing aggressively. At the very least, the jury should remain out for another two weeks or so.

Also, keep in mind that JMU is a good FCS team. The Dukes are a legit team in the same conference that houses teams that easily beat Duke and Virginia. I'm not saying they just beat USC, but JMU is a quality football team. The FCS label hurts mentally, no doubt, but in reality, they may be better than several FBS team.

The slow-starting principle still applies in week 2, too - Maryland lost to MTSU last year in the second game, and JMU would put up a great fight against them, if not win, if they were to go head to head.

I'll be the first to admit it's not a very convincing argument for remaining calm. But it's better than what I could come up with after Cal, which rested on historical anecdotes. The play is slowly but surely coming along, but a lot of work still needs to be done.

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