Virginia Football Week 9: Maryland Preview

A couple of weeks ago, the Hoos upset Georgia Tech, and things were looking up. Then the Hoos were outplayed by a not-really-all-that-good NCSt team, and things were looking bad. Then, last week, the Hoos beat Miami, and now things are looking up again.

It has most definitely been a roller coaster season, but I guess that was to be expected with so many young guys in big roles. This week, the roller coaster heads to College Park to face the Terrapins, who are 2-6, and 1-2 in the ACC. The Terps lone conference win was the season opener against Miami, and the Hurricanes were without a bunch of their starters who had been suspended. Their only other win came over Towson, an FCS team.

So, does the roller coaster continue? Does Maryland hold down the fort at home? Or can the Hoos get on a winning streak, and become bowl eligible in the process? Check back after the jump to find out...

Virginia on Offense

Last week was kind of a strange week for the Virginia offense. We rushed for 207 yards, and threw for 263 yards. But, we had twice as many rushes as passes. This is because of big plays in the passing game. The Hoos scored 3 TDs, all of them in the air, and all at least 37 yards. This from a team that came in with nearly twice as many rush TDs as pass TDs.

The Hoos offense has become a big play offense. It is the kind of thing that we haven't seen here in over a decade. We have scored on a play of over 20 yards in 7 of the team's 8 games. WR Tim Smith has a TD catch of at least 37 yards in each of the past 3 games, and all 3 passes were thrown by different players.

All told, the Hoos are the 47th ranked offense in the nation. They are 37th in rushing and 62nd in passing. Turnovers and penalties have been the only thing really stopping them, and that is the reason behind their 80th ranking in scoring offense. (All ranks are courtesy of ncaa.org.)

Comparing those numbers to Maryland's defensive ratings is promising for the Hoos. Maryland has the 118th ranked rush defense, 64th ranked pass efficiency defense and 103rd ranked total defense. They are 87th in scoring defense. The one scary figure is that Maryland is 8th in the country in turnover margin.

As evidenced by the rank of their rush defense, Maryland's defensive line isn't all that good. Junior DT Joe Vellano was honorable mention All-ACC a year ago and he's pretty good, although undersized. Vellano is actually 2nd on the team in tackles, although that's largely due to injuries. Next to him is senior Maurice Hampton, who is bigger, but not better. I don't expect either of them to provide much trouble for the interior of the UVA offensive line.

On the edges, the Terps start a freshman and a converted LB. Keith Bowers is the freshman and sophomore David Mackall is the converted LB. Mackall is a pretty good pass rusher. He has excellent speed for a DE, and we've seen the Hoos struggle to contain some of the quicker DEs they've faced, so that is something to watch this week. Bowers has yet to really impress. (Ed note: On Wednesday, Randy Edsell suspended Mackall indefinitely for violation of team rules. He is not expected to play this week, so sophomore Cody Blue will probably start.)

The LBs were supposed to be the strength of this team, but the unit has struggled without STAR Kenny Tate. Maryland calls their strong side LB the STAR, and I don't know why. Anyway, Kenny Tate was a very good player, so the moniker fit. Darin Drakeford is the STAR now, but he's nothing special, so they should change the name back to SAM. Drakeford is a little bit undersized, but does possess good speed. The MLB is junior Demetrius Hartsfield, who was the team's third leading tackler last year, and is the team's third leading tackler this year. Hartsfield is a good steady MLB who knows his reads and makes sure tackles. On the weak side, Maryland has true freshman Alex Twine starting. Twine has a lot of potential, but he has looked overmatched at times.

By the process of elimination, the strength of this defense is the secondary. The CBs in particular have been solid. Senior Cameron Chism has 5 turnovers on his own (3 INTs and 2 FR) as well as being the 5th leading tackler. On the other side, sophomore Dexter McDougle has also been outstanding, and he has 3 INTs also. We will also see a fair amount of senior Trenton Hughes at CB. All 3 CBs are 5'10 or 5'11, so this may be a game where we miss a guy like Matt Snyder.

The safeties aren't quite as good, and they haven't performed well. Junior Eric Franklin is the team's leading tackler, but really a lot of those tackles are on RBs who are 10 yards downfield. Freshman Titus Till starts on the other side, and he has been solid. Again, we will also see some of A.J. Hendy at S. Franklin and Till are bigger than the CBs, but still are on the small side. This could be the game where we finally see a breakout by TEs Colter Phillips or Paul Freedman. Assuming they can actually catch the ball.

If our OL comes out and plays like they are capable of playing, there is no reason that Maryland should be able to stop us. Even if they put 8 or 9 in the box, we should be able to pick up yards on the ground. The strength of Maryland's defense is on the interior, so the perimeter runs that we have seen throughout the year should be successful. I, for one, can't wait to see Clifton Richardson running on the trap play. I also fully expect Perry Jones to have another big game. And considering how well Michael Rocco played last week, I would be confident letting him throw the ball a little bit over the top when Maryland is pushing defenders forward.

The most important thing is going to be not beating ourselves. Penalties and turnovers will stop us this week. Maryland will not.

Virginia on Defense

Maryland's offense isn't all that dissimilar from ours. They have been messing around with 2 QBs, like we have. They have a strong ground game, like we have. And they have had trouble converting yards into points, like we have. Maryland ranks 48th in the country in rushing offense, 78th in passing offense, and 69th overall. But, they rank 85th in scoring offense.

QB Danny O'Brien was ACC all-Freshman last year, but new head coach Randy Edsall has been experimenting with fellow sophomore C.J. Brown, a dual threat QB. (Sound familiar?) Brown started last week, but was terrible, so O'Brien came in and was also terrible. I think O'Brien starts this week, but we will definitely see Brown as well.

Maryland's running game isn't bad, and is led by senior Davin Meggett. Giants' fans, like myself, will remember Meggett's dad as one of the better scatback and punt returners from the early 90s. The younger Meggett is nothing like that. Much more of a bruising back, despite being only 5'9". His running style is similar to Kevin Parks. The elder Meggett is in prison. Behind Meggett is true freshman Justus Pickett, who is kind of a lightning bug at RB, small and quick in space, and with excellent top end speed. Neither of them are great receiving threats, but still they must be watched on screens.

Maryland will play a 2 back set a lot, with true freshman FB Tyler Cierski. Cierski is a big guy, and a good blocker, but has just 1 reception and 0 carries on the season.

One of the reasons the Maryland passing game has struggled of late is an injury to top WR Kevin Dorsey, who will be back for this week's game. Dorsey, a junior, is the team's leading receiver despite missing 2 games. Dorsey has 29 catches for 361 yards and 2 TDs. Partially due to the injuries, Maryland has  a lot of receivers with a similar number of catches. The other starting WR is senior Quintin McCree . We will also see junior Kerry Boykins and senior Ronnie Tyler. Boykins and McRee have 23 receptions each. Maryland's TE is Matt Furstenberg, who has 24 receptions. Furstenberg is 6'7" and creates huge matchup problems, especially in the red zone. He is one to keep an eye on.

The other reason that Maryland's passing game has struggled is that their OL isn't all that good. Much of that is due to injuries, as they expected to return 4 starters from last year's unit. As it turns out, there is really only 1 returning starter, because LG Andrew Gonnella and RG Justin Lewis are out with injuries.

The OL is reasonably big, especially sophomore LG Pete White, who checks in at 6'4" and 330 pounds. White is a pretty solid run blocker, but can be beaten by quicker pass rushers. Will Hill may enjoy that matchup. The other guard is another sophomore, Josh Cary, who isn't nearly as big, but is much more adept at pulling on outside run plays. The starting tackles are junior R.J. Dill and sophomore Max Garcia. Dill is the lone returning starter, although junior C Bennett Fulper also started last year, but not at center. I guess you could say there are 2 returning starters.

Our DL  has been playing well, and Maryland's OL isn't really good enough to stop that trend. If the DL continues to play well, and shuts down the run game, we should be successful. Maryland passing game will improve with the return of Kevin Dorsey, but they aren't good enough to consistently beat us. When C.J. Brown is in the game, we need to be wary of his running ability, because he will look to run at every opportunity. He actually has more carries this year than competed passes, which is aided by his 47% completion rate. He is a very good runner though, actually 2nd on the team in rushing.

Conclusion

As I said, Maryland's defense shouldn't be good enough to stop our running game. The only way we don't score consistently is if we beat ourselves. Maryland offense is decent enough, so our defense will have to play well. That means containing C.J. Brown and Davin Meggett, and forcing Maryland to try to beat us through the air. If that happens, we will win, because our pass rushers are good enough to get to O'Brien and our CBs are good enough to contain the WRs.

I am concerned about a letdown, because we have seen it so many times. On paper, we have the advantage and we should be able to come out on top. The crowd should be a non-factor because of the team's struggles this year. The weather will also be a non-factor as it is expected to be sunny and in the 50s.

We are 2 point favorites, and I think that is underselling us a bit. We are on the rise, and we are going bowling.

Prediction: Hoos 31, Maryland 21

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