game was over early, so this will be a short review. Plus, everyone (myself
included) has mentally moved on to the big rivalry game coming up against UVa.
That is going to be war, but Iíll have more on that in a few days.
As far as the Maryland game, it seemed to me that the
Terps left their game back in College Park. They looked flat, unemotional, and
mentally unprepared to take the field, especially on the road for a Thursday
night, nationally televised game in Lane Stadium. One has to wonder if Ralph
Friedgen has lost this team. They came in having to win to remain bowl eligible,
but there was little fire from the players on either side of the ball. Friedgen
might have been pushing the right buttons, but there seemed to be little or no
response. Perhaps they were too emotionally charged and used too much energy in
their first-ever win against Florida State, because since that game, they have
played uninspired football.
Or maybe they just ran into a buzz saw of a Tech team that
put it all together for their grieving coach. It was a very emotional day and,
unfortunately for Maryland, it was a very bad time for them to have to play a
football game against the Hokies.
Tech Defense vs. Maryland Offense
This was a mismatch from the start. Marylandís offense
has been inconsistent all season and they started this game with turnovers on
their first two possessions. That led to 14 quick points for the Hokies and the
game was basically over.
The Tech defense executed their game plan almost to
perfection, stuffing the run and confusing both of the Maryland quarterbacks.
However, the thing that was most impressive about their performance was how they
stayed focused, executed their assignments, and maintained good football
discipline after the team had built such a big early lead. That is one of those
subtle signs that are indicative of how well the defense is playing as a group.
They need to keep it going, with the potent offenses of UVa and Miami coming up.
#1: Rattle QB Early
From the way this game started, the Maryland QBís must
have been rattled during warm-ups. Joel Stathamís first two passes down the
field were right into the teeth of the Tech coverage, with the first one getting
a generous deflection off two Tech defenders for a completion. He wasnít as
lucky on the second one as he misread the Hokies zone blitz and threw the pass
directly to James Griffin for the easy pick. For the Terp QBs, it just went
downhill from there. Jordan Steffy replaced Statham in the 2nd quarter, but was
unable to finish the game after sustaining a concussion on a vicious hit during
a James Anderson interception return.
The Tech defense did a great job disguising fronts and
coverages, giving the Maryland QBs a lot of pre-snap looks to consider. On the
first snap of the game, James Griffin walked up and then backed out, giving
Statham a 2-deep look on his pre-snap read. The play was a bootleg pass, but
Statham was surprised by Griffin, who had come back up as a 4th linebacker,
defended the flat and easily knocked the pass away.
Both Maryland QBs struggled reading the Tech safeties,
often sending their backs directly into a run blitz and passing into coverage.
Once the game got out of hand, the Tech defense kept to the plan, effectively
mixing two and three deep zones with safety and corner blitzes.
Key #2: Defending Vernon Davis
Davis was a non-factor, catching his first pass late in
the game against the Tech backups. Because of the 8-man fronts and various
pressure packages, Davis had to stay in to block on a lot of plays, and Maryland
was unable to get him into any type of flow in their passing game.
When he released, he often found himself bracketed side to
side or doubled front and back. Xavier Adibiís interception is a good example
of the bracket coverage. Davis released and had the option to turn in or out
based on the coverage. The Hokies had dropped James Griffin down in between
Adibi and corner Eric Green. Statham read the outside coverage by Griffin and
expected Green to turn in; however, Davis read the inside coverage by Adibi and
turned out. Stathamís pass went inside directly to Adibi for the pick.
The one time the Terps tried to go deep to Davis, the
Hokies had the perfect coverage called -- 3-deep, man-under with Xavier Adibi
running stride for stride with Davis and Jimmy Williams providing the deep help
over the top. As it was most of the night, the coverage was tight and the pass
Key #3: Aggression, Emotion and Discipline
There was a near perfect display off all three by the Tech
defense in this game. It was a demonstration of the aggressive, swarming style
of defense that defined Virginia Tech defense for so long, but had been missing
the last couple of years. They played fast, but they also played good assignment
football. The defensive line and linebackers secured their gaps, the backside
was contained, and the secondary played tight coverage. I had a hard time coming
up with examples of breakdowns in this area. The only thing I could find was the
one unsportsmanlike penalty for taunting early in the game.
Key #4: Keep the Short Stuff Short
In the passing game, Maryland had the most success with
the quick game on slants to WR Steve Suter and outs to WR Derrick Fenner. The
production from those plays was limited because of the crisp tackling by the
Tech defense. There were no big plays from the Maryland offense, either from a
long pass or from yardage after the catch.
Key #5: Dominate First Down
Marylandís offense couldnít get anything going, so itís
no surprise that they had little success on first downs. They self destructed on
three of their first four series and after the first play of the second quarter,
they were behind 28-3 and the offensive game plan was forced into emergency
One thing to note as Tech heads into the UVa game is the
play of the second team defensive line. Maryland found most of their run game
success running straight at the second line of Jason Lallis, Kevin Lewis,
Carlton Powell and Chris Ellis. It will be interesting to see if UVa shows a few
wrinkles in their running attack when Techís second line is in the game. Iíll
get into that a little more with the ďKeysĒ article for UVa this week.
Tech Offense vs. Maryland Defense
This was a battle that never materialized. The Maryland
defense had not given up two touchdowns in one game all season. With a little
help from two early turnovers, the Tech offense ended that streak early, putting
up two of their six total touchdowns in the first four minutes of the game.
Key #1: Find and Block Shawne Merriman
Like Davis on offense, Shawne Merriman was a non-factor in
this game. Techís tight ends did a great job controlling him and he was never
able to get into the flow of the game. Techís 2-TE formations forced Maryland
into a balanced 4-3 defensive front and kept Merriman locked as a defensive end.
Merriman wound up getting in on only four tackles, with his biggest play being a
shoe string tackle of Bryan Randall on a scramble.
Key #2: Big Game from the Tight Ends
On film, Marylandís defense had shown vulnerability in
the middle of the field between the linebackers and safeties. Itís an area
that can be exploited by teams with good receiving tight ends. It was my opinion
that the Tech tight ends were a mismatch against the middle of the Maryland
defense. Both Jeff King and Jared Mazzetta came up big in the passing game with
each catching a TD pass in the same game for the first time this year.
Key #3: Randall Takes Control
As a complete quarterback, Bryan Randall probably had the
best game of his career against what had been a very good Maryland defense. He
was on his game, both running and passing. He was quick and fast, leaving
Maryland defenders grabbing at air as he ran by. He also showed the qualities
that have made him more of a complete quarterback this year -- pocket awareness,
quick feet, a quicker release and most importantly confidence in his receivers
Some things have ďclickedĒ for him this season and he
is playing with a lot of confidence now. He is much better at looking off the
defense, going through progressions and keeping his head up when he breaks from
the pocket. Add all that to his intelligence, experience, toughness and
leadership, and the Hokies find themselves with quite a player at the
#4: Build on Run Game Success against UNC
Mission accomplished. Earlier in the year, the Tech
offensive line was a big question mark. They were very inconsistent and they
struggled against the more athletic defensive fronts. Bryan Stinespring deserves
a lot of credit for finding a formula that takes advantage of the specific
strengths of this particular group of players, while minimizing their
weaknesses. Instead of relying on the guards to always pull across and get out
in space, Stinespring has incorporated more of the H-back formations, utilizing
the quicker, more athletic Jeff King in combination with the same side guard or
center Will Montgomery pulling out to lead the blocking. In fullback formations
or when two tight ends are aligned on the same side, Tech is bringing a WR in
motion to cut down the pursuit by the backside defensive end or linebacker.
The beneficiaries of the play up front are the three
tailbacks. Mike Imoh was on his way to a big game until the hamstring injury
forced him to the sideline. Justin Hamilton stepped in nicely and Cedric Humes
looks to be back. Imohís quickness is the ďXĒ factor for the Tech offense,
but Hamilton and Humes both played well against Maryland.
Key #5: Remember Imoh as a Receiver
Imoh went out early with the injury, so there isnít much
to say here. Plus, Tech built the big early lead, never needing to get the
tailbacks involved in the passing game.
This was the game where Tech put it all together Ė
offense, defense, and special teams. It was over by halftime, forcing the ESPN
TV crew to spend way too much time debating the merits of the late first half
field goal Frank Beamer decided to kick against his good friend, Ralph Friedgen.
The blowout also provided a unique opportunity for many of
the Tech backups to play in games on back to back days, with many getting a lot
of snaps in the 2nd half against Maryland and then again on Friday in the JV
game against FUMA. Someday, they can all tell their kids about how they
contributed to two Tech victories on consecutive days.
Next up Ė the big one against UVa.