2009 Keys to the Game and Matchups to Watch: Maryland

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The Hokies travel to College Park, MD this week to face a struggling Maryland
Terrapins squad, Tech’s first opponent this year with a losing record. The 2-7
Terps have lost four straight ACC games after upsetting Coastal Division leader
Clemson, and Ralph Friedgen’s tenure at Maryland appears to be coming to an end.
Virginia Tech will be scoreboard watching, as the Hokies need Duke to knock off
Georgia Tech to have a chance at a fourth ACC title. Will VT be focused against
a Maryland team that has nothing to lose?

Frank Beamer and Ralph Friedgen are best friends and former coaching
associates, and the two coaches are open about not liking to play one another.
Friedgen is contracted through the 2011 season, but rumors are rampant that
coach-in-waiting James Franklin could take over the Maryland program as early as
next year. As offensive coordinator, Franklin has implemented a west coast
passing system supported by a physical running game, but the offense has been
erratic this year behind a young offensive line. Multiple injuries have impacted
the offense, with first-team all-ACC running back Da’Rel Scott (#23, 5-11.5,
200, 4.48, r-Jr.) going down in the third game with a wrist injury and veteran
quarterback Chris Turner (#10, 6-3.5, 220, 5.09, r-Sr.) doubtful against Tech
with a knee injury suffered last week in the second quarter against N.C. State.

Friedgen brought in new defensive coordinator Don Brown from UMass to
implement a more aggressive, attacking defense, but the defense has also been
erratic. Brown relies on a zone blitzing strategy, and Maryland has been
considerably more aggressive this year, but shoddy tackling has plagued the
Terps and allowed too many big plays. Injuries have also impacted the defense,
with starting cornerback Nolan Carroll (#14, 5-11.5, 202, 4.44, r-Sr.) being
lost for the season in the second game with a leg injury and promising weak-side
linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield (#59, 6-1, 230, 4.74, r-Fr.) injuring his hand
four weeks ago. Projected starting defensive tackle Dion Armstrong (#99, 6-0.5,
303, 4.98, r-So.) transferred after academic eligibility issues were raised.

Ultimately, this game, when broken down into its simplest components, should
come down to which team is the most physical and can control the
line-of-scrimmage. The Hokies have won the battle up front with Maryland in
their previous ACC meetings. In 2004, the Hokies rattled the Terps’ quarterbacks
into numerous mistakes and a rout ensued. The 2005 game was much tougher, but a
stout defense and some timely quarterback scrambles pulled out a solid win. Last
year, Tech’s offensive line dominated the Maryland defensive front as Darren
Evans broke the single-game rushing record, and the Hokies rolled to a 23-13
win. If Virginia Tech can win the battle in the trenches again this year, then
the Hokies should dominate the Terps once more.

So, what should we expect from this young Maryland squad?

Keys to the Game

When Maryland has the Ball:

1. Control the Line-of-Scrimmage

With QB Chris Turner likely not playing, Maryland will need to stress the
running game more than normal this week. For the Terps to have a chance against
the Hokies, Maryland must win the battle up front, an area that has been a major
concern this year, and establish the running game. Bud Foster, of course, will
look to stop the run first and dominate the relatively inexperienced offensive
front of Maryland.

Maryland has a large, physical offensive line and relies on a power blocking
man-on-man scheme. However, the offensive line is not exceptionally athletic.
The Terps’ o-line tends to engage defenders rather than drive defenders off the
ball, often playing too high in their blocks. Maryland will pull their guards
and center, but generally the offensive line is focused on containing pursuit.
However, do not get the idea that the offensive line is devoid of talent.

Maryland has an NFL talent at left tackle in Bruce Campbell (#74, 6-6.5, 310,
5.02, Jr.). Campbell is an excellent talent with great potential, who has worked
exceptionally hard in the off-season to gain strength (480 pound bench press).
He is still a fairly raw in technique, often struggling with combination moves
by defensive ends, but Campbell may be the best pure offensive line talent in
the ACC. Nekos Brown will have his hands full against the impressive left tackle
for Maryland.

Center Phil Costa (#72, 6-2.5, 300, 5.15, r-Sr.) is the other returning
starter on the offensive line. Costa started at right guard last year, but he
has returned to his more natural center position. Costa is a strong, aggressive
blocker who is solid in his overall game. Maryland’s offensive line problems
this year have come at the other three positions. The Terps have only started
the same combination on the o-line in consecutive games once this year.

Former walk-on Paul Pinegar (#71, 6-3.5, 290, 5.31, r-Jr.) has started at
three different positions this year – right tackle (four games), left tackle
(three games for an injured Campbell), and left guard (last two games). Pinegar
is tough and works hard, but his limited athleticism exposed him at tackle; his
best position appears to be guard. Another walk-on, Andrew Gonnella (#77, 6-5.5,
305, 5.40, r-So.), starts at right guard backed up by Justin Lewis (#78, 6-4,
320, 5.52, r-Fr.). Lamar Young (#70, 6-4, 320, 5.51, r-So.) and former Tech
recruit Maurice Hampton (#66, 6-2.5, 295, 4.95, r-So.) will also see action at
guard. Overall, the guards are tough and physical, but lack quickness off the
ball and have limited mobility.

Right tackle has been a problem spot for the Terps, and rookie R.J. Dill
(#76, 6-6.5, 320, 5.51, r-Fr.) has taken over the starting job. Like the other
newcomers on the offensive line, Dill is tough and physical, but he is limited
athletically. Speed rushers can present Dill a lot of problems, so Jason Worilds
should be looking at a big day playing in the Maryland backfield. True freshman
Nick Klemm (#61, 6-6.5, 275, 5.39) backs up Dill, and former Tech recruiting
target Justin Gilbert (#75, 6-6, 300, 5.18, r-Fr.) provides depth at left
tackle.

The Hokie defensive line needs to be quick off the ball to disrupt the o-line
of the Terps. Tech needs to avoid a “pushing and shoving” match in the
trenches, instead relying on penetration and better leverage to disrupt the
running game. The defensive tackles, in particular, need to match the effort of
last week against East Carolina. The Hokies need to be especially effective
stopping the run on first down to force Maryland into passing situations with
their new quarterback.

2. Harass the Quarterback

With rookie Jamarr Robinson (#11, 6-0, 190, r-So.) likely to take over for
Chris Turner, Bud Foster will surely bring the heat and look to harass the
inexperienced quarterback. Robinson is much more mobile than Turner, but
obviously is still new to the west coast passing system. James Franklin will
keep the offense simple for Robinson, relying on easier reads and basic
play-calling, while taking advantage of Robinson’s athleticism. Before the
injury to Turner last week in the second quarter against N.C. State, Maryland
had gained nearly 200 yards of total offense, but the Terps gained less than 100
yards for the remainder of the game behind Robinson.

The backups to Robinson will be two true freshmen, Danny O’Brien (#18, 6-3.5,
205, 4.84) and C.J. Brown (#16, 6-3, 195, 4.84). Both quarterbacks are pocket
passers with potential, but neither QB is ready to play yet. Franklin will have
a big challenge ahead of him to devise an offensive game plan against the Hokies
with virtually no experience at quarterback.

Look for Foster to employ a scheme similar to the 2004 game in which Maryland
started an inexperienced quarterback. Tech used a variety of zone blitzes to
confuse the quarterback and mixed coverages to create turnover opportunities.
The Hokies may blitz more in this game than any game previously this year, not
only to harass the QB but also to limit the running game.

Davin Meggett (#8, 5-8, 215, 4.65, So.) will get the majority of the carries
at running back. He is the son of former NFL running back Dave Meggett and is a
very strong runner with good vision and the ability to break arm tackles.
Meggett will often follow the blocks of fullback Cory Jackson (#38, 6-1, 245,
4.76, Sr.). Jackson is a throw-back, hard-nosed blocking fullback, who could be
the best at his position in the country. Jackson will lead the vast majority of
running plays for Maryland, and he is effective inside or outside, often leading
the back around the corner. Tech’s linebackers cannot allow Jackson to seal them
inside on running plays. Keep an eye on #38 because most running plays will
follow him.

True freshman Caleb Porzel (#40, 5-7, 180, 4.45) provides a change-of-pace at
running back, and he is a big-play threat on the outside. However, the biggest
threat outside for the Terps is wide receiver Torrey Smith (#82, 6-0.5, 200,
4.46, r-So.).

3. Contain Torrey Smith

Torrey Smith is clearly Maryland’s biggest playmaker on offense, ranking
third in the nation in all-purpose yards per game (200.7). Smith has developed
into a dangerous receiver, who is especially effective gaining yards after the
catch. He is elusive in space and strong enough to break arm tackles. Smith has
developed into a good route runner with the ability to beat man-to-man coverage
deep. Tech will need to keep a safety over the top to limit the big-play
potential of Smith. Obviously, containing Smith will be a major key in limiting
the Maryland offense.

Maryland’s other receivers have been effective as well. Ronnie Tyler (#24,
5-10.5, 190, 4.48, r-So.) is a quick slot receiver with good running ability,
and Adrian Cannon (#7, 6-2.5, 204, 4.68, r-Jr.) is a quality possession receiver
with very good hands. The Terps have good depth as well in injury-prone LeQuan
Williams (#3, 6-1, 195, 4.64, r-Jr.), Oscar Smith product Kerry Boykins (#13,
6-0.5, 200, 4.55, r-Fr.), exciting playmaker Tony Logan (#85, 5-10.5, 180, 4.45,
r-So.), and speed merchants Quinton McCree (#17, 6-1.5, 190, 4.40, r-So.) and
Emani Lee-Odai (#83, 6-2.5, 200, 4.41, r-Jr.).

The Terps also have good receivers at tight end in Lansford Watson (#80,
6-3.5, 260, 4.77, r-So.) and Devonte Campbell (#34, 6-2, 250, 4.69, r-Fr.). Both
tight ends have the ability to get deep and stretch a defense, so Tech’s
secondary needs to stay alert.

Maryland will try to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers outside as
much as possible. Watch for reverses, quick screens, and option passes to keep
the Hokie defense off-balance. Torrey Smith was a quarterback at Stafford High
School (actually attended Tech’s camp as a QB), so he could be used on reverse
passes as well. With Maryland having nothing to lose in this game, look for
James Franklin to reach into his “bag of tricks” against Virginia
Tech.

When Virginia Tech has the Ball:

1. Establish the Power Running Game

Last year Virginia Tech dominated Maryland with the power running game,
effectively using the inside and outside zone running plays. The Hokies’ ability
to control the line-of-scrimmage last year against the Terps forced Maryland to
insert their two largest defensive tackles, Dion Armstrong and Travis Ivey (#90,
6-4, 325, 5.21, r-Sr.), and move their best d-lineman, Jeremy Navarre, to
defensive end after the Tech game. Maryland’s run defense improved dramatically
after the Tech game last year, and the Terps appear to have taken a similar
strategy this year.

Ivey returns and teams with A.J. Francis (#96, 6-4.5, 315, 5.57, r-Fr.) to
form one of the largest defensive tackle tandems in the nation. Neither player
gets much penetration, but they are very hard to move. True freshman Zach Kerr
(#98, 6-2.5, 330, 5.00) provides another large presence as depth.

The defensive ends, Jared Harrell (#57, 6-5, 265, 4.87, r-Sr.) and Deege Galt
(#56, 6-4, 264, 4.91, r-Sr.), are also primarily run stoppers. Massengo Kabongo
(#55, 6-1.5, 275, 5.09, r-Fr.) moves from defensive tackle to provide depth
along with converted linebacker Derek Drummond (#44, 6-3.5, 250, 4.86, r-So.).

The biggest weapon against the run for the Terps is tackling machine Alex
Wujciak (#33, 6-3, 255, 4.80, r-Jr.) at middle linebacker. Wujciak was
second-team all-conference last year, and he is fourth nationally in tackles per
game (11.3) this year. Wujciak could be the most physical middle linebacker in
the college game this year. Running up the middle can be very difficult against
Wujciak and the massive defensive tackles.

Maryland has obviously emphasized stopping the run, and the Terps actually
lead the ACC in allowing the fewest yards rushing per game in conference games
(92.4 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry). However, California gained 246
yards on the ground behind Jahvid Best, James Madison gained 268 yards via an
option attack, and Rutgers ran for 207 yards. The weakness for Maryland has been
tackling at the second level.

2. Pick Up the Zone Blitz

To counter the inability of the defensive line to produce a consistent pass
rush, defensive coordinator Don Brown relies on the zone blitz. Maryland’s best
pass rushers are the outside linebackers, Adrian Moten (#54, 6-1.5, 230, 4.60,
r-Jr.) and Ben Pooler (#59, 6-1.5, 235, 4.74, r-So.). Moten has battled injuries
in his career, but he has been healthy and very effective attacking from the
strong-side. Pooler has taken over for injured Demetrius Hartsfield and provided
aggressive play from the weak-side. The linebackers are clearly the strength of
this defense.

With the emphasis by Maryland on attacking the line-of-scrimmage, Tech will
need to keep the Terps honest by picking up the blitz and hitting the short to
intermediate passes. Maryland’s secondary is quick and effective in coverage,
but all of the defensive backs have had issues tackling.

Maryland starts Anthony Wiseman (#6, 5-9.5, 185, 4.49, r-Sr.) and Cameron
Chism (#22, 6-0.5, 185, 4.53, So.) at the corners. Wiseman is quick and
aggressive in coverage, but he can struggle with bigger receivers. Chism is a
promising youngster, but he lacks the experience of his predecessor, Nolan
Carroll.

The starting strong safety is Jamari McCollough (#4, 5-11, 200, 4.56, r-Sr.)
and the free safety is Terrell Skinner (#1, 6-2, 215, 4.57, r-Sr.). Both
fifth-year seniors are solid against the pass, but not overly physical against
the run. The backup safeties are Kenny Tate (#12, 6-4, 225, 4.54, So.) and
Antwine Perez (#2, 6-1.5, 200, 4.69, r-Jr.), who are talented athletes, but too
mistake prone.

Tech will need to use the quick passing game that was effective against East
Carolina again this week. Dyrell Roberts could be effective out of the slot, and
Marcus Davis could present problems for the Maryland secondary with his size and
ability to run after the catch. The tight ends for Tech, which have been
relatively missing in the passing game this year, could be a weapon to counter
the aggressive outside linebacker play of the Terps.

3. Win the Turnover Battle

Maryland struggled with turnovers early this season, but the Terps have
improved in their last couple of games. Maryland’s defense forced seven
turnovers in their last two games after only forcing seven turnovers in their
first seven games. Maryland is currently ranked 108th in the nation in turnover
margin (-1.0 per game), but +3.0 in the last two games. The Terps will need to
win the turnover battle against Virginia Tech to have a chance in this game, so
look for Maryland to be very aggressive on defense to force turnovers. Tyrod
Taylor, and the rest of the offense, will need make good reads and protect the
ball to prevent the upset.

Match-Ups to Watch

1. Stephan Virgil (#22) vs. Torrey Smith (#82)

Torrey Smith will generally line up on the wide side of the field, and he
will generally be matched up with Stephan Virgil. Look for Tech to use a variety
of zone coverage schemes on Smith, but Virgil will need to play man-to-man in
certain blitz packages. Virgil needs to tackle well in this game as Smith is
particularly dangerous running after the catch. Maryland likes to use Smith on a
variety of bubble screens and inside flanker screens, so the defense needs to
pursue quickly to prevent big plays.

Torrey Smith is also one of the premier kickoff return specialists in the
country. He has run two kickoffs back for touchdowns this year, and he currently
holds the single-season kickoff return record in the ACC. Maybe a more
appropriate match-up would be Dyrell Roberts, Tech’s stellar kickoff return
specialist, against Torrey Smith.

2. Michael Via (#67) vs. Alex Wujciak (#33)

Maryland’s defensive line primarily tries to keep blockers off the
linebackers, allowing middle linebacker Alex Wujciak to lead the team in tackles
by a fair margin. Wujciak is a tough, instinctive linebacker with good size, but
somewhat limited range. He plays almost exclusively between the tackles and his
responsibility is to shut down the running game up the middle, although he did
have an interception returned for a touchdown last week against N.C. State. With
Tech looking to establish the power running game, Wujciak will play a key role
in stuffing the run. Center Michael Via, who had an impressive debut last week
against East Carolina, will need to stay free from the defensive tackles and get
a hat on Wujciak for the running game to work up the middle.

3. Nekos Brown (#47) vs. Bruce Campbell (#74)

Bruce Campbell is easily Maryland’s best offensive lineman, and he should
have a future in the NFL in a couple of years. Campbell’s absence due to injury
in three games this year was felt by the Maryland offense, and the Terps need
for him to have a dominant game to get the running game going and to protect the
quarterback’s blind side. Nekos Brown has played exceptionally well of late,
providing an aggressive pass rush and attacking the running game. Brown will
need to show more variety in his pass rushing moves to defeat Campbell, which
should be the top match-up in the trenches in this game.

Prediction

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the team that wins the
physical battle in the trenches will likely win this game. I like the match-up
on both sides of the ball for the Hokies, and Tech should control the
line-of-scrimmage. On offense, Virginia Tech simply needs to stay poised, pick
up the blitzes, and execute. Ryan Williams should make some big plays once he
gets into the secondary. Defensively, the Hokies defensive front needs to get
consistent pressure on the new quarterback for Maryland to limit opportunities
for big plays and force turnovers.

Special teams will be critical in this game, with Maryland needing to make
some big plays in the return game to have a chance at the upset. Torrey Smith is
extremely dangerous on kickoff returns and Tony Logan is a dangerous punt
returner. Logan’s punt return against Clemson set up the winning touchdown.
Maryland also returns all-ACC punter Travis Baltz (#35), and the Terps have an
impressive freshman place kicker in Nick Ferrara (#43). Tech’s special teams
have played well this season, and the Hokies need to at least play even with the
Terrapins in this game.

With veteran quarterback Chris Turner at the helm, Maryland had the potential
of an upset, but an inexperienced QB facing Bud Foster’s aggressive defense
lessens the Terps’ chances dramatically. My biggest concern is Tech making
mistakes early and getting out of their game plan. If Tech executes and stays
composed, then the talent differential between the teams will show and the
Hokies will come out with a decisive victory.

Virginia Tech 38, Maryland 3

GO HOKIES!!!

(and GO DUKE!!)

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