Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on three topics from the past week in Maryland sports.
What are the keys to Maryland’s chances against Florida State, a more than two-touchdown favorite?
Jeff Barker: I’m going to be watching the takeaways. The Terps have 13 of them this season, tying them for fifth in the nation. Their opportunism has characterized the first third of the defense’s season. Maryland has created turnovers partly by forcing quarterbacks into rushed decisions.
Obviously, Florida State has an important home field advantage in large Doak Campbell Stadium. Since Jimbo Fisher became head coach in 2010, opponents have averaged 12.1 points per game in the stadium.
So Maryland needs something to even the odds, and that something could be takeaways. Takeaways are a neutralizer against top foes. Maryland has at least two takeaways in every game this season and had six in its last game – a 37-0 rout of West Virginia.
Fans may focus on Maryland’s offense, averaging 39.8 points per game. Florida State will try to tighten up a defense that surrendered 200 rushing yards at Boston College last weekend.
But I’m going to be keeping track of the takeaways. I think the Terps may need some to win.
What's to like about new Maryland safety commitment Jordan Noil?
Jonas Shaffer: To answer that, I spoke with the coach most familiar with Noil's game: Reggie Cockerm, the defensive backs coach at Norcross (Ga.) High and a former college player himself.
Noil committed to Maryland this week, Cockerm said, because "there was a little bit of loyalty to Maryland. Maryland was his first big offer, his first big opportunity. He liked that consistency, that loyalty."
As for his game? Cockerm called Noil a "ball hawk." There are 18 schools in the county in which Norcross plays. Noil leads the league in interceptions with six.
"I put him on the field and ask Jordan to go get the football," Cockerm said. "We don’t ask him to go knock the hell out of people. He’s accepted the role that we’ve asked him to do."
At 6 foot 3, 175 pounds, Noil still has room to grow. Cockerm joked that a college program would do Noil good, because it would all but guarantee "three square meals" a day for his spindly safety.
"He’s got a frame that’s just built for muscle," he said.
There's one play in Noil's career that sticks out to Cockerm. It came in last season's AAAAAA state championship game. Norcross, playing high-powered Lovejoy, was down 7-0 in the third quarter. Lovejoy's Alejandro Bennefield thought a receiver was open, "and here comes Jordan," Cockerm recalled.
Noil intercepted the pass, returned it 30 yards, and Norcross scored on the ensuing drive. The Blue Devils won, 21-14, the first title in more than 50 years of football for Norcross.
"He’s just so rangy," Cockerm said. "I don’t know who you can compare him to. He can go sideline to sideline."
He added: "Sean Taylor, he could just go downhill 20 yards. Jordan’s more left to right. You can put him back at 10 and 12 [yards from the line of scrimmage] and say, 'Don’t let anyone get past you.'"
They seldom do, Cockerm said.
What is the biggest battle for the Maryland men's basketball team as preseason practice continues?
Don Markus: Mark Turgeon likes to talk about how he has at least two players at each position, and in most cases, the individuals involved bring different skills to the court. Four of the starting jobs seem to be locked up – in particular juniors Dez Wells and Nick Faust on the wings, junior transfer Evan Smotrycz at either power forward or even center and sophomore Seth Allen at the point – but there is competition for playing time.
While I think Turgeon is going to try and bring freshman Roddy Peters along slowly, I can see Peters eventually moving Allen off to his more natural shooting guard positon. I can also see sophomore Shaquille Cleare, if he doesn’t have any more back issues, starting at center, with Smotrycz playing a stretch 4 – long-range shooting forward. Sophomores Charles Mitchell and Jake Layman, both of whom played significant minutes a year, will also have chances to start.
So where is the biggest competition?
Based on what they did last year, and the way Turgeon wants to play this year, I think it’s going to be between Layman and Faust on the wing, as well as Cleare and Mitchell inside.
Turgeon has been loyal to Faust, mostly because of the 6-foot-6 guard’s talents but also because he stuck around as a freshman when everyone else bailed after Gary Williams retired. Faust has certainly been a solid, if erratic, player during his first two years in College Park, but he is pretty streaky. What could keep Faust on the floor this year is his leadership and defense, even more than his offense.
But Layman is going to be hard to keep on the bench. NBA scouts are already mentioning the 6-8 forward along with Wells as Maryland’s best prospects, and Layman showed some of those skills after a rough start to his college career. While Turgeon can certainly play Faust and Layman together, and will, I think Layman is going to make a strong case for a starting job by the time the season begins.
The other battle that could evolve is between Cleare and Mitchell.
While they essentially play different positions, with Cleare being more of a center and Mitchell more of a power forward, they fill the same role – a big body who can rebound, defend the rim and score off rebounds and post moves. Mitchell was given more of an opportunity last year, and can be a volume rebounder who might be a little more skilled offensively than Cleare.
But Cleare came in with a bigger reputation, and was a good soldier last year when Turgeon often went with Alex Len too long hoping that the 7-1 center would dominate. Sometimes he did, but more often he did not. With Len off to the NBA, Turgeon is going to have to decide whether he’ll play a more traditional lineup where Cleare is his best option for a back-to-the-basket center, or go with a smaller lineup that might feature Mitchell or even Smotrycz.
One thing is apparent: Turgeon has more players at his disposal than at any time during his first two years at Maryland and if a starter is struggling will be more likely to pull him out without losing much by who he is going to put in. It’s great to have that kind of talent, managing their egos (and in some cases the egos of their parents) could be as difficult a job for the third-year coach as the Xs and Os.