Revisiting the Keys: Maryland
by Raleigh Hokie, 11/22/04

This 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 I’ll 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. Maryland’s 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.

Key #1: Rattle QB Early

From the way this game started, the Maryland QB’s must have been rattled during warm-ups. Joel Statham’s 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 wasn’t 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 Adibi’s 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. Statham’s 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 was incomplete.

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

Maryland’s offense couldn’t get anything going, so it’s 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 mode.

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 Tech’s second line is in the game. I’ll get into that a little more with the “Keys” 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. Tech’s tight ends did a great job controlling him and he was never able to get into the flow of the game. Tech’s 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, Maryland’s defense had shown vulnerability in the middle of the field between the linebackers and safeties. It’s 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 against coverage.

Some things have “clicked” 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 quarterback position.

Key #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. Imoh’s quickness is the “X” 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 isn’t 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 – 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 – the big one against UVa.

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