Two weeks ago, senior Justin Johnson was academically ineligible and uncertain whether he would play college football again. On Monday, he was declared eligible and thrust right back into the fold as the starting strong safety.
Johnson’s return was timely because Christian Dunbar, who had been playing that position, will need to start at defensive end. Dunbar, who has played every defensive and special teams snap this season, replaces senior Rodney Wormley, who suffered a potentially season-ending injury to his knee.
“The timing is good for the team because Justin’s got to step in and play right away,” Wallace said. “He was a starter when he left, so we’re thankful that we’ve got him back.”
Before the season began, Johnson was intended to be the starting Owl safety, an outside linebacker/strong safety hybrid. As a safety, Dunbar often lines up on the line of scrimmage, but as an end he will be called upon to do more rushing the quarterback than dropping into pass coverage.
In five games this year, Dunbar has 32 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles; Wormley had 23 tackles. Johnson has 20 career tackles in 13 games.
More than one group to blame for scoring struggles
No obvious mechanical problems caused quarterback Mike McGann’s three interceptions on Saturday, Wallace said. Sometimes McGann tries to make a harder throw to a covered receiver when another receiver is open, Wallace said, but mostly McGann is simply throwing inaccurately even when the intended receiver is open.
McGann led the Owls on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive in the third quarter against Bowling Green, but by that point the game was well out of hand and his forgettable 66-yard performance was all but in the books.
When senior running back Umar Ferguson crossed the goal line with 4:43 remaining in the third, the Falcons’ rout was already in effect.
“We’re not throwing the ball very accurately,” Wallace said. “That’s an obvious thing that you can pinpoint, that Mike’s got to throw the ball more accurately.”
The Owls, who threw 24 times and rushed 38 times, like to think of themselves as a running team. That heightens the importance of every one of McGann’s throws.
“The problem is, most of the time we’re throwing on conversion downs,” Wallace said. “If we complete the pass, we get to keep playing offense – if we don’t, we’ve got to come out and punt. … We don’t throw every down like some teams, so when you do throw, you’ve got to have a high percentage of completions.”
McGann’s completion percentage this season is below 42 percent, and he has thrown one touchdown to nine interceptions. He has thrown 23 touchdowns and 46 interceptions in his career.
Along with McGann’s inaccuracy, the receiving corps has not shown consistent ability to impact games. While talented, Wallace said, the receivers’ lack of discipline has made McGann and backup quarterback Colin Clancy’s jobs harder.
“The receivers have got to run good routes, too,” Wallace said. “We played very poorly at receiver. We don’t block anybody, and we don’t run very disciplined routes. It’s not all on Mike.”
McGann has not hit a wide receiver for a score this season. His lone touchdown pass was completed to Ferguson at Arizona State. Senior wideout Brian Allbrooks’ single touchdown grab came from the arm of Clancy after the freshman replaced an ineffective McGann against Toledo.
All-ACC hopeful defends pass, run with energy
Maryland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, in short, is the Terrapins’ defense. The 6-1, 230-pound senior led the Atlantic Coach Conference in tackles last season and finished a close second for ACC Defensive Player of the Year. This season, he is leading his team in tackles by a wide margin.
Jackson has notched 72 total tackles in five games. No other Terp has more than 36 total tackles.
So far, he has done nothing but justify his placement on the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott Awards watch lists in the preseason. With 382 career takedowns, Jackson is closing in on 400 career tackles.
“He has tremendous instincts and vision,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said of Jackson. “He can find the football, and put that with great speed and competitiveness, he’s a heck of a football player. We’d be in real trouble if we didn’t have him.”
A different kind of Iron Owl
Temple, like most college football teams, gives a special designation to its most intense weightlifters. Temple lifters, under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Bruce Seidman, are traditionally called Iron Owls. Maryland lifters are Iron Terps.
But a different type of Iron Owl has manifested on North Broad. Seniors Ray Lamb and Christian Dunbar have played every snap of defense and special teams for the Owls this year, Wallace said.
Wallace evoked the image of two of the defensive leaders valiantly chasing Bowling Green’s Corey Partridge on a 79-yard punt return touchdown early in the fourth quarter last Saturday.
“You can look at the film,” Wallace said. “[The players] don’t quit. But when you get down by that much that fast, everybody’s human. The will to win lessens, but it isn’t quitting.”
“Their last touchdown on a punt return to make it 70-7, Christian Dunbar, who’s played every snap, every special teams, Ray Lamb, who’s done the same, are sprinting as hard as you can sprint to try and catch the guy,” he added. “It makes you hurt for the kids when you see them trying so hard.”
A few other players may have participated with their unit in every play, but The Temple News does not keep complete individual statistics on player participation.
Terps coach warns against overstating last victory
Despite defeating No. 19 Virginia, 45-33, on Saturday, Friedgen said it’s too early to call the win a turning point. Last October, he pointed out, the Terps beat No. 5 Florida State but were outscored 19-78 in their next three games to end the season.
So, what if the Terps beat the Owls convincingly and then top Virginia Tech or FSU in the two following weeks?
Yeah, then last week could be considered a turning point, Friedgen admitted.
“I think it’s too early to say that [now] because we have to wait to see how the rest of the season goes,” Friedgen said. “Last season we beat Florida State and couldn’t get up the rest of the year. So I think it’s too easy to pass judgment on that yet, but I’m hoping this game gives us confidence to go into the rest of the season getting better.” …
Center C.J. Blomvall (2001-04) is serving as offensive and defensive line coach at Washington High School in Philadelphia, and said he will play in NFL Europe in the spring. Blomvall also said Taso Apostolidis, who was playing Arena2 football, is close to signing with the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League.