2005 Game Preview: #3 Virginia Tech at Maryland

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Thursday, October 20th, 2005,
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Preview: #3 VT (6-0, 3-0 ACC) vs. Maryland (4-2, 2-1)


by Chris Coleman

After beginning the season 6-0 for the sixth time
in the past seven years, the Virginia Tech Hokies will put their national
championship aspirations on the line in College Park, MD in a nationally
televised Thursday night showdown with the Maryland Terrapins on ESPN.

If ever there was a trap game for the Hokies,
this one is definitely it. Talk of Virginia Tech playing for the national
championship again has heated up since Tech�s victory at West Virginia.
College football analysts are pointing to future games against Boston College,
Miami and Virginia as key games to the Hokies� season. No one is even
mentioning Maryland, who is coming off a 5-6 season and was not expected to do
much this year.

The Terrapins started off as expected. They
escaped their season opener with a narrow victory over Navy, blew a ten point
second half lead against Clemson, then lost at home to West Virginia. This was
the Maryland team that everyone expected this year. However, head coach Ralph
Friedgen, who has taken some heat in the press for not being able to win when he
finally has nothing but his own recruits on the field, has gotten the Terrapins
back to their winning ways in the past three games. Victories over Wake Forest,
Virginia and Temple have pushed Maryland to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the ACC.

A victory over the third ranked team in the
nation would give Maryland a major jumpstart to the second half of the season.
It would also virtually guarantee a bowl bid. Not to mention that the Terps will
be gunning for some revenge after last season�s 55-6 beatdown in Blacksburg.

The Maryland Offense

The Maryland offense was a big question marking
coming into the season. The Terps were facing a tough ACC schedule with an
unproven quarterback, tailbacks with virtually no experience and an offensive
line that features a lot of young players. Things weren�t looking good for
Ralph Friedgen, who had his first losing record at Maryland in 2004 when he went
5-6.

Despite how things looked in the preseason,
Maryland has been playing pretty well of late. The offense has been averaging
414.2 yards per game. They have been fairly balanced, with 256.2 passing yards
and 158 rushing yards per game. And that young offensive line is giving
Hollenbach time to throw, allowing just ten sacks in six games.

Hollenbach was Maryland�s third string
quarterback in 2004. After Friedgen became sufficiently fed up with Joel
Statham, Hollenbach was given a chance against Wake Forest in the season
finale. He responded well, leading the Terps to a victory. Despite his relative
inexperience, he won the starting job fairly easily over the incumbent Stratham.

Hollenbach brings maturity and efficiency to the
Maryland offense, something that was lacking last season. He has completed over
65% of his passes this season and ranks first in the ACC, averaging 252.2
passing yards per game. He doesn�t possess a cannon for an arm, but he can
deliver the football where it needs to be. Perhaps Hollenbach�s biggest
shortcoming is his touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has thrown seven
interceptions in six games. His seven touchdown passes give him a one-to-one
ratio, which isn�t very good.

Josh Allen was expected to carry the load at
tailback for Maryland, but he is redshirting due to a torn ACL. With Allen out
of the lineup, the Terps have been using a three-man rotation at tailback, with
Mario Merrills, Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore sharing carries. Merrills is the
starter, and his 72 carries on the year is best on the team. However, he only
averages 3.8 yards per carry.

Lance Ball was the most effective runner in
Maryland�s 45-33 victory over Virginia. Ball finished the day with 163 yards
on just 17 carries. He also added two touchdown runs. He is short (5-9), but has
the size of a power back (225). Maryland�s biggest running back is sophomore
Keon Lattimore (6-0, 235). Lattimore hasn�t been very effective for the Terps
this year, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on 50 carries, however, he does
have three touchdowns and is a threat in short yardage situations. He is the
brother of Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.

Hollenbach is helped in the passing game by a
group of good receivers and perhaps the best tight end in America. Vernon Davis
is the most athletic tight end in the ACC, and he leads Maryland in receiving
with 24 catches for 490 yards and three touchdowns. He will be the best tight
end that the Tech defense will face this year, and that includes Jeff King in
practice. Davis is a dynamic player, as his 20.4 yards per catch indicates.

Danny Melendez has emerged as Hollenbach�s
favorite target at wide receiver. Like Davis, Melendez has 24 receptions on the
season. He averages 15 yards per catch and has one touchdown on the season. He
had a career day against UVA with nine receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown.

Other good targets for Hollenbach include Jo Jo
Walker (5-9, 169) and Derrick Fenner (6-0, 193). None of the Maryland�s top
receivers are physically imposing, though there is nothing wrong with Fenner�s
size. Melendez stands 6-2, but weighs only 172. It should be quite interesting
when Jo Jo Walker is lined up across from Jimmy Williams. With their big
secondary, the Hokies should match up well with the Maryland wideouts.

The Maryland offensive line starts one senior,
three sophomores and a true freshman. The lone senior is center Ryan McDonald,
who is a little undersized at 6-2, 275. He had a great game against the Virginia
defense, so just because he is undersized doesn�t mean he should be
discounted. He did not miss a single blocking assignment against he Cavaliers,
and he was able to block Virginia�s bigger nose tackles without the help of a
guard.

He is flanked by sophomores Donnie Woods and
Andrew Crummey at both guard positions. At right tackle is Brandon Nixon, yet
another sophomore. The most impressive physical specimen on the offensive line
is mammoth true freshman offensive tackle Jared Gaither, who measures 6-9, 330.
Gaither has been solid as a freshman, and did an outstanding job on UVA
defensive end Chris Long. He is the perfect tackle prospect and was a Tech
recruiting target last year. He will likely develop into one of the top tackles
in the ACC.

Ralph Friedgen is an offensive mastermind, as he
proved in his days as Georgia Tech�s offensive coordinator. It should not be
surprising that he has gotten Maryland�s offense back on the right track. The
Terp offense doesn�t look pretty at times, but they do rack up the yardage and
generally score enough points to win.

Maryland will have to be balanced to beat the
Hokies, and with their inexperienced offensive line and a group of tailbacks
that doesn�t exactly set the world on fire, I don�t see them running the
ball against a front four that features seniors Darryl Tapp, Jonathan Lewis and
Tim Sandidge. The young line will also have a hard time picking up Bud Foster�s
blitz schemes.

The Maryland Defense

Maryland�s defense has had trouble stopping the
run so far this season. The Terp defense is allowing 169.7 yards per game on the
ground this season, which ranks 85
th in
the nation and next-to-last in the ACC. Maryland�s passing defense is very
good, ranking fifth in the country, allowing just 146.7 yards per game. The
defense as a whole is 30th nationally, giving up 316.3 yards per game.

It is not surprising that Maryland has struggled
against the run this season. They start an inexperienced and somewhat undersized
group along the defensive line. Defensive tackle Conrad Bolston is the biggest
(6-3, 285) and most experienced player on the DL for the Terps. Bolston started
ten games in 2004, and has three tackles for loss and three sacks this year.

Another productive player up front for Maryland
is r-freshman defensive end Trey Covington. He leads Maryland in tackles for
loss with four, and is tied for the team lead in sacks with three. Covington is
still a young player, but he appears to have a very good upside.

The other starting linemen for Maryland,
defensive end Jeremy Navarre and defensive tackle Jack Griffin, haven�t been
very productive from a statistical standpoint. They have combined for just 21
tackles on the season, with zero tackles for loss. They are young players,
Griffin a true sophomore and Navarre a true freshman. The experienced Tech
offensive line, which starts three or four seniors depending on the opponent,
should be able to block the Maryland front four.

Maryland�s defensive strength is their back
seven. Their linebacker corps is very experienced and includes four very good
players. Middle linebacker D�Qwell Jackson is regarded as Maryland�s best
defensive player, and some regard him as the best linebacker in the ACC. He will
make his 31st consecutive start against the Hokies. He leads the ACC in tackles
so far this season with 72. He also has 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Watch Jackson, who wears #52, on Thursday night. Whenever a Tech player is
tackled, he will likely be in on the play.

Maryland�s talent at linebacker doesn�t stop
with Jackson. William Kershaw, Wesley Jefferson and David Holloway are very good
as well. Kershaw and Holloway are the other starters, and Jefferson is the
number one backup at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker. Despite his
backup status, Jefferson ranks third on the team in tackles with 41. He is one
of the best, if not the best, backup linebackers in the ACC. A highly touted
player out of high school, Jefferson is a future star in College Park.

Linebacker is the most experienced position for
on the entire Maryland team. Jackson, Kershaw and Holloway are all returning
starters, and Jefferson made over 20 tackles as a backup in 2004.

The Maryland secondary has played very well this
season. Cornerback Gerrick McPhearson is the most talented player in this group.
McPhearson has been timed at 4.21 in the 40 yard dash, which makes him the
fastest player in Maryland football history. He also has a 42 inch vertical
jump, bench presses 365 and squats 515. In other words, he is a tremendous
athlete. Despite his tremendous athletic ability, he has never played up to his
potential. He has just one interception in his career, and that came in his
freshman season in 2002. He has zero interceptions this season and three passes
defended. Despite his lack of production, he will draw a serious look from NFL
scouts because of his athleticism.

The other Terp cornerback is Josh Wilson. Wilson
is a junior who started four games last season. Like McPhearson, Wilson is very
fast, having been timed at 4.35 in the 40 in the past. He ranks fourth on the
team in tackles and leads the team with six passes defended.

The Maryland safeties are senior Milton Harris
and sophomore Christian Varner. Varner made the ACC All-Freshman team last year
as a true freshman. He has two interceptions from his free safety spot this
year. Interestingly enough, his interceptions are the only pickoffs made by the
Maryland defense the entire season.

The Terp defense has some very good players,
particularly at linebacker, but I expect the Hokies to move the ball fairly well
in this game. Mike Imoh had tremendous success on the ground against Maryland
last season before he left the game with an injury. Cedric Humes is highly
unlikely to play, which means Imoh and Branden Ore will get all of the carries.
Both should have some success.

Despite the Maryland secondary�s high rating,
Marcus Vick should still have success through the air. The Terps are unlikely to
generate much pressure from their young defensive line, meaning they will have
to blitz. The Maryland defensive backs are good, but the Tech wide receivers and
Jeff King should be able to beat them in one-on-one coverage.

Predictions

The Hokies hold a lot of advantages in this game,
from a talent standpoint, a matchup standpoint and an experience standpoint. For
the third consecutive game, the Hokies should put up some good rushing numbers.
Virginia Tech ranks second in the ACC in rushing offense, while Maryland is
next-to-last in rushing defense. Maryland has a lot of inexperience up front on
both sides of the ball, while the Hokies have a high number of battle tested
players in the trenches. From top to bottom, Tech has better players and better
depth.

However, this is a major trap game for the
Hokies. If they don�t show up ready to play, they will lose. Just ask Florida
State, who strolled into College Park last season thinking they would steamroll
a struggling Maryland team who didn�t have a good quarterback. They went back
to Tallahassee with a loss. This year�s Maryland team is better, and they have
found a capable quarterback. They will be ready for the third ranked Hokies, who
may be looking ahead to big home games against two top 15 teams in Boston
College and Miami.

I think Tech will come out a little sloppy in
this one, and may even turn the ball over a couple of times (gasp!). However,
they�ll get better as the game goes on, and the Tech rushing attack will
eventually overpower a young and smallish Maryland defensive line.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Maryland 17

Will Stewart’s Take:
The closer this game gets, the more I think it’s a classic trap game, as well.
The Terps went 5-6 last year and looked absolutely pathetic against the Hokies
in Blacksburg. When MD opened 1-2 in 2005, boom, everyone wrote them off,
counting them as a W on the schedule.

This game reminds me of the WVU game in 1999. The
Mountaineers were 3-5 going into that game, with wins over Miami (OH), Rutgers,
and Temple. Their losses included a 33-0 pounding by a mediocre Maryland team
and a home loss to Navy � Navy! No one figured WVU to give the mighty
7-0, #3-ranked Hokies a battle.

What happened was quite the opposite. The Hokies
played uninspired football, executed poorly, and then had all the bounces and
calls go against them. Remember the WVU kickoff returner throwing the ball
straight to Tech’s Lamar Cobb, who ran it in for a TD, only to have the refs
rule it an illegal forward pass, giving WVU the ball at their own one yard line?
Remember Andre Davis dropping a wide open touchdown pass? Remember WVU fumbling
a kickoff on their 15, recovering it, and returning it to the Tech 40 yard line?
Remember the normally-reliable Shyrone Stith fumbling the ball on a late running
play, allowing WVU to recover it and score the go-ahead TD?

Ultimately, it took a great play from Michael
Vick on his famous sideline scamper, plus a beautiful kick by Shayne Graham as
time expired to win it.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see this game go that
way. Every undefeated team eventually faces their moment of crisis, either
through their own poor execution, dumb luck, an inspired opponent, or some
combination. It’s the moment in which you have to produce, or your undefeated
season falls by the wayside.

Something tells me Thursday night could be that
game for the Hokies, the gut-check game, the game where you find out if Fortune
is smiling upon you. I think the Terps might give the Hokies all they can
handle, but at this point, I’m obligated to remind you that I’m picking VT to
win every game this season.

Will’s Prediction: VT 24, Maryland 21

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