2009 Football Game Preview: #21 Virginia Tech at Maryland

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  • Date: Saturday, November 14th, 2009
  • Time: 1:00 PM
  • TV: ESPN360.com

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Virginia Tech travels north to play Maryland in just their second trip to
College Park since joining the ACC in 2004. The Hokies won at Maryland in 2005,
and have beaten the Terps twice in Blacksburg. Already having clinched a losing
record this year, Maryland will be playing for pride. That makes them a
dangerous team.

This is an easy letdown game for the Hokies, particularly with the schedule
they have already played. Tech has not played a team with a losing record all
season long, until this Saturday when they face the Terps.


Tough Competition
for the Hokies Thus Far

Opp.

Record

Alabama

9-0

Marshall

5-4

Nebraska

6-3

Miami

7-2

Duke

5-4

Boston College

6-3

Georgia Tech

9-1

UNC

6-3

East Carolina

5-4

Maryland

2-7

Virginia Tech has gone 6-3 against nine teams who all have winning records. Two
of their losses have come to two teams who are a combined 18-1. Hokie fans
aren’t happy with the results of the season thus far, but you probably won’t
find anyone in the country who has faced a schedule like Virginia Tech’s.

Maryland has just two wins on the season. They narrowly defeated James
Madison 38-35 in overtime, and they also upset Clemson 24-21. They have losses
at the hands of Cal, Middle Tennessee State, Rutgers, Wake Forest, Virginia,
Duke and NC State.

Nevertheless, they are a dangerous team. The Terps have nothing to lose in
this game. They can treat it as their bowl game, with a ranked team coming to
town.

The Maryland Offense

Ralph Friedgen was known as one of the top offensive coordinators in the
country before taking the head coaching position at Maryland. The talent at
Maryland has dropped off this year, particularly on the offensive line, and
leading rusher Da’Rel Scott was lost for the season in early October.


The Maryland Offense

Category

Stat

Rank

Rushing

97.78 ypg

107

Passing

221.67 ypg

59

Total

319.44 ypg

99

Scoring

22.67 ppg

92

Pass Efficiency

118.19

90

Sacks Allowed

2.78 per game

103

Average

91.67

Friedgen has a good understanding of the passing game, and the Terp wide
receivers are capable of putting up big numbers. However, the lack of a running
game is dooming the Maryland offense this season.

The senior signal caller for Maryland is Chris Turner (6-4, 220, r-Sr.).
Turner has had a solid career for Maryland, and he’s shown an ability to beat
top 25 teams. He is 5-2 against ranked opponents during his career as a starter.
From a talent standpoint, Turner is solid, but his performance has been up and
down this year. He has completed 59.1% of his passes this year for 1,968 yards,
with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

There are good reasons for his struggles. First, Maryland has no running
game, so all the pressure is on Turner and the passing game. Second, the
offensive line has not been able to protect the quarterback all year. The Terps
are 103rd nationally in sacks allowed.

However, the Hokies might not see Turner this week. He sprained his MCL last
week against NC State, and might not play against Tech on Saturday. If Turner
can’t go, Jamarr Robinson (6-0, 190, r-So.) will get the starting nod. Robinson
threw his first collegiate passes against NC State, going 5-of-11 for 27 yards.
At this point Robinson is more of a runner than a passer.


Despite the loss of Top 10 NFL Draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Terps have
a productive group of wide receivers this year. They are led by Torrey Smith
(6-1, 200, r-So.), a Virginia native who attended Stafford High School in
Colonial Beach. Smith has 44 catches for 630 yards this year, a 14.3 yards per
catch average. His four touchdown receptions lead the team.

Smith is a good all-around receiver who is still only a sophomore. He is
poised to have an excellent career in College Park. He is joined at wide
receiver by Adrian Cannon (6-2, 204, r-Jr.), a big target at wideout. He hasn’t
shown great downfield playmaking ability this year, but he is a very reliable
player. He has 35 catches for 352 yards and three touchdowns.

Throw in Ronnie Tyler (5-11, 190, r-So.), and the Terps have a very solid
trio of wide receivers. Tyler has 23 catches for 286 yards and a touchdown.
These Maryland receivers are playing at a higher level than what was expected of
them heading into the season.

Da’Rel Scott ran for over 1,100 yards for the Terps last season, but he broke
his forearm on October 3. He is returning to practice this week, but he is
doubtful for the Tech game. In his place, Maryland starts Davin Meggett (5-8,
215, So.). He has run for 269 yards and four touchdowns this year, but behind a
below average offensive line he is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry.

Meggett is the son of former New York Giants running back Dave Meggett. He is
a quality runner who is capable of getting the job done, but the Maryland
offensive line hasn’t been able to block anyone all season long.


The Maryland Offensive Line

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

LT

Bruce Campbell

6-7

310

Jr.

LG

Paul Pinegar

6-4

290

r-Jr.

C

Phil Costa

6-3

300

r-Sr.

RG

Andrew Gonnella

6-6

305

r-So.

RT

R.J. Dill

6-7

320

r-Fr.

This offensive line is still young, particularly on the right side. They have
also had some injuries this year that has held them back.

Bruce Campbell is a prototypical left tackle. He has an NFL career in front
of him on the offensive line. Center Phil Costa is the most experienced and
probably the most consistent performer up front for Maryland. However, the right
side of the line is very inexperienced. R.J. Dill is only a r-freshman, and
Andrew Gonnella played in just one career game before this season.

The formula for this game is simple. Take advantage of Maryland’s offensive
line by shutting down the running game and making the Terps one dimensional.
When you get them behind the chains and behind on the scoreboard, unleash a
variety of zone blitzes that this inexperienced line won’t be able to pick up.
That’s what worked for Bud Foster at East Carolina last week, and we’ll probably
see the same strategy at Maryland this Saturday.

If Chris Turner can’t go, life will be very difficult for Jamarr Robinson.
Bud Foster will throw a lot of things at him that he’s never seen before. If
Robinson has to play, don’t expect much out of the Maryland offense.

The Maryland Defense

In 2008, Darren Evans ran for a school record 253 yards against Maryland in a
Thursday night game in Lane Stadium. Last year’s Maryland defense was very soft
up front, and the Terps had to replace many of their starters in the front seven
this year. There are a lot of newcomers up front, particularly on the defensive
line.

Maryland will play as many as nine players on the defensive line, and five of
them are freshmen. Of those freshmen, two are true freshmen. You aren’t going to
have a good defense with that many young players getting playing time up front.


The Maryland Defensive Line
(2-Deep)

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

DE

Jared Harrell

6-5

265

r-Sr.

DE

Derek Drummond

6-4

250

r-So.

NT

A.J. Francis

6-5

315

r-Fr.

NT

Zachariah Kerr

6-2

330

Fr.

DT

Travis Ivey

6-4

325

r-Sr.

DT

Joe Vellano

6-2

290

r-Fr.

DT

Justin Anderson

6-5

265

Fr.

ANCH

Deege Galt

6-4

264

r-Sr.

ANCH

Masengo Kabongo

6-1

275

r-Fr.

*Starters in BOLD

Even those defensive linemen who are not freshmen are not particularly
impressive. Jared Harrell and Travis Ivey never even lettered until they were
juniors. Geege Galt was a member of the practice squad until this year, his
fifth season! This is just not a particularly talented group, and the Tech
offensive linemen (and Ryan Williams, of course) should be licking their chops.

The players listed on the current two-deep along the defensive line for
Maryland simply haven’t been productive this season. The nine players in the
table above have combined for just nine tackles for loss and seven sacks. They
might not be playmakers, but this group does have a lot of size. They are better
this year against the run than they were last year, simply because they are a
lot bigger on the defensive line.

Maryland does have a playmaking group of linebackers, and that is probably
the strength of their defense. Middle linebacker Alex Wujciak (6-3, 255, r-Jr.)
leads the team with 103 tackles after finishing last season with 133 tackles. He
also has five tackles for loss and a sack. Wujciak is one of the most productive
players in the ACC. He has great size for a middle linebacker.

Strongside linebacker Adrian Moten (6-2, 230, r-Jr.) is perhaps the best
playmaker on defense for Maryland. He is a good athlete, and he leads the team
with 7.5 tackles for loss and five sacks on the season. In fact, the two biggest
defensive playmakers on the field on Saturday could be from Gwynn Park High
School in Maryland. Moten was a teammate of Virginia Tech cornerback Rashad
Carmichael at Gwynn Park.

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Ben Pooler (6-3, 235, r-So.) is having a solid season at the weakside
linebacker position. He has 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. All three of
Maryland’s linebackers are capable of making plays. On paper, this looks like
the strongest part of the Maryland defense.

Maryland has a lot of experience in the secondary, with three senior
starters. Anthony Wiseman (5-10, 185, r-Sr.) is a returning starter at
cornerback, but he’s never been a playmaker for the Terps. Wiseman has just one
career interception. The other cornerback is Cameron Chism (6-0, 185, So.).
Chism has potential after playing as a true freshman in 2008. He currently leads
Maryland with three interceptions on the season.

Both of Maryland’s safeties are experienced seniors. Terrell Skinner (6-3,
214, r-Sr.) was made famous on national television last season when he was run
over
by Darren Evans. Skinner has no interceptions and just three passes
defended this year. His is joined in the deep secondary by strong safety Jamari
McCollough (5-11, 200, r-Sr.). McCollough has experience as a cornerback and
safety. His four interceptions in 2008 led the team.

McCollough has just one interception on the season, which means Maryland’s
starting defensive backs have combined for just four picks on the year. (Tech’s
Rashad Carmichael has five by himself.) Considering the experience in the
secondary, the Terps have struggled against the pass in 2009.


The Maryland Defense

Category

Stat

Rank

Rushing

141.11 ypg

63

Passing

249.44 ypg

100

Total

390.56 ypg

84

Scoring

32.33 ppg

103

Pass Efficiency

142.04

99

TFL

5.22 per game

82

Sacks

2.56 per game

27

Average

79.71

Maryland isn’t really good at anything on defense, but they really struggle to
defend the pass. Their size in the front seven helps them slow down the run, but
Ryan Williams should still be able to find plenty of running room.

Special Teams

We talked about Virginia native Torrey Smith’s production at wide receiver
earlier in the preview, but perhaps his most impressive contributions have come
on kickoff returns. Smith has returned two kicks for touchdowns this season,
averaging 26.5 yards per return in the process. The Terps have given up one
kickoff return for a touchdown to Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, but in general their
kickoff coverage is solid.

Maryland hasn’t been as good in punt returns, where Tony Logan (5-10, 180,
r-So.) is averaging just 7.5 yards per return. Kenny Tate (6-4, 225, So.) has
also seen action on six returns, averaging 7.2 yards per return. Starting
cornerback Anthony Wiseman has averaged just 3.6 yards per return on seven
returns. It seems that whomever Maryland plugs in at punt returner doesn’t have
much running room.

Nick Ferrara (6-0, 200, Fr.) is a solid placekicker for Maryland, making
14-of-20 attempts with a long of 50 yards. Two of his six misses were the result
of blocks, so you could see the Hokies come after some field goals in this game.
Ferrara has a strong leg, with six field goals from beyond 40 yards this year.
Just a true freshman, Ferrara should be one of the top kickers in the ACC for
years to come.

Ferrara has also done some punting this year, averaging 39.7 yards per punt.
Right now Travis Baltz (6-2, 210, Jr.) is listed atop the depth chart. He has
averaged 40.2 yards per punt on his 26 attempts this season.

Overall, Virginia Tech has the advantage on special teams. The Hokies have
dynamic players in the return game, and a more consistent placekicker and
punter.

Conclusion

Maryland looks like the worst team in the ACC right now. The Terps have a lot
of young players on the field, and many of their older players simply aren’t
that talented. Ralph Friedgen is a very good football coach, in my opinion, but
apparently not much of a recruiter.

Virginia Tech has a talent edge, an experience edge, and they have a lot more
to play for than Maryland. Picking the Hokies in this game is a no-brainer. The
Terps have struggled all season, and have shown no signs of improvement
recently. A couple of things make me hesitant to pick the blowout, however.

First of all, I pick Maryland to finish dead last in the Atlantic Division
every year, and every year they do better than I expect. They have lacked talent
recently, and only Friedgen’s coaching (in my opinion) has kept their heads
above water. Even Fridge couldn’t do it this year, as Maryland is 2-7. However,
the Terps have been excellent against Top 25 teams with Chris Turner at the
helm. They know how to get up for big games.

Second, I just haven’t seen great spark out of Virginia Tech as a team
recently. Sure, the Hokies have their playmakers who are playing well. I’m not
knocking the things that Ryan Williams, Rashad Carmichael, Tyrod Taylor and Cody
Grimm are doing. But I just haven’t seen the Hokies look like a complete team
since their wins over Miami and Boston College.

The Hokies looked like a typical Virginia Tech defense in those games. Three
or more players would arrive at the football at the same time, and in an angry
mood. Things have been different since. Even in the ECU game, I saw a lot of
solo tackles. Tech’s numbers were good against the Pirates, but I just didn’t
see that swarm of three or four defenders blowing the play up.

Offensively, the Hokies rolled through Miami, Duke and Boston College like a
well-oiled machine. It seemed like Tech had taken what happened against Nebraska
and used it as a motivational tool. Then they traveled to Georgia Tech, and
things started to come apart. Since then, the Hokies have struggled to score on
the plus side of the field.

The Tech offense isn’t taking advantage of opportunities. They are averaging
just 18.67 points per game over the last three games. Things have been even
worse in the first half, where the Hokies have averaged just 5.33 points. If
Tech does that against Maryland, and they allow the Terps to stay in the game in
the fourth quarter, you never know what could happen on the road.

I want the Hokies to come out firing on all cylinders in this game. Maryland
has been pretty bad all year, and there’s no excuse for Tech not to go up to
College Park and take care of business with a comfortable win.

I’ve been sticking with trends for my picks all season. Right now, the trend
says the Hokies might not play particularly well on Saturday. They haven’t
played a complete game of football in the last month (October 10 against Boston
College). However, I’ll reverse course this week and pick Tech to play a good,
complete game against the Terps. There’s no real reasoning behind that pick. But
I’ve used reasoning all year in my picks, and it didn’t work. It’s time to try
something different.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Maryland 7

Will Stewart’s Take: It’s been a long, hard fall for the Terps from ACC
Champions to the mantle of Worst Team in the ACC. The Terps won the league title
outright in 2001, breaking a streak of nine straight seasons in which the
Florida State Seminoles won or shared the title. Eight years later, Maryland is
on the fast track to last place, one of just two teams with a single ACC win,
and the only team with just two wins overall.

Ralph Friedgen can coach, but he apparently can’t run a program. As Maryland
fans have discovered, there’s a difference.

The Hokies are going up against a two-win team, Tech is all but eliminated
from the ACC Championship picture, the game is being “broadcast” (I
would actually use the term “narrowcast”) on ESPN360.com, and all the
hoopla this week has been about Maryland’s
uniforms
and Virginia
Tech’s uniforms
, not about the game itself.

Did I leave anything out? This game defines the term “under the
radar.” What a setup. The Hokies still need to be careful, and they still
need to put forth a strong effort, or they could get burned. On paper, this is a
complete mismatch, but the Hokies can’t mail it in.

Fortunately, football players and coaches love the game, and that’s what
keeps them going when it seems the game doesn’t matter. I’m not inside the
Hokies’ heads, so I’m not sure how fired up they’ll be, but if they keep it
relatively mistake-free and play with some emotion, this game shouldn’t be a
problem. It could even wind up being fun.

For purposes of my prediction, I’m going to assume that Chris Turner isn’t
going to play or won’t be effective, and that the Terps will therefore struggle
greatly to score. The Hokies will probably get some short fields and some
turnovers, then just grind it out on the Terps in the second half.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 37, Maryland 3

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