Thursday, October 15, 2009

game preview: Maryland

Date/Time: October 17, 4:00


Last matchup: UVA 31, Maryland 0. Highlights here! Also, 2007 highlights.

Last week: UVA 47, IU 7; WF 42, Md. 32

Line: UVA by 3.5

Opposing blogs: Testudo Times of the ACC Roundtable, Turtle Waxing

Injury report:

(coming soon)

There's never a good time to lose to Maryland. There are bad times to lose, and worse times. This would be one of the worst. If indeed we harbor any postseason hopes, this is not the kind of game we can afford to lose. And it's Maryland. The turtle must die a long and excruciating death. Just look at that damn thing: it's flashing you.


- Maryland has exactly one weapon on offense: Torrey Smith. We have a secondary of doom. If the secondary of doom shuts down Smith, good things will happen. Smith is but 6'1" - decent but not great size for a receiver - and our corners are 6'2". When the corners are as big as the receivers they're covering, that's advantage: defense. Unlike last week where it wasn't worth it to give up yards at the line of scrimmage against the opposing receivers, playing a little bit soft works to our advantage this time by allowing our corners to better use their size on the deep balls that Maryland probably will look for. If we limit Smith's effectiveness - he doesn't even have to be shut completely down, just limited - Maryland doesn't have the playmakers to make up for what we took away from Smith.

- The weak point of the Maryland offense is their inexperienced line that can neither pass-block nor run-block especially well. I'm all for generous use of the blitz here. Take their weakness and exploit it to no end - there's no reason to fear what Chris Turner might do on the run. He can move around a little in the pocket, but he can't break a big one and his decision-making outside the pocket is spotty at best and disastrous at worst. Dial up various confusing blitz packages just as we did against UNC and apply liberally.

- Pound the ball. By and large, you can run on Maryland. They've shown flashes of respectability, but amidst long stretches of incompetence. I would like to have Mikell Simpson back, but our O-line has the decided edge against their D-line in the run game and it won't matter if we have to lean on Rashawn Jackson and Torrey Mack instead. I'm not sold on any aspect of Maryland's defense, actually, but they're usually weaker against the run than the pass, and we're usually better at running the ball than passing it, so the matchup is obvious.


- Turnovers, again. Being turnover-free has been a major, major reason why we're all of a sudden on a winning streak. On paper, this is a mismatch in our favor; the way you equalize mismatches is through turnovers. Don't do that.

- Fail to take advantage of opportunities. Another equalizer of mismatches. Upsets happen when the favored team turns the ball over and kicks field goals when they should be scoring touchdowns. And there will be opportunities: bad teams always give them to you. It might be a key turnover deep in their own territory. Might be a play we run intending to pick up 5 yards and we pick up 50. A killer instinct is huge on the road. Maryland is lousy, but if we let them hang around, they're good enough to take advantage of their own crowd; ask Clemson, who forced two turnovers (one on downs, one fumble) late in the fourth quarter, started those drives deep in Maryland territory, and came away completely empty-handed with two missed field goals. That's the blueprint for losing at Maryland.

- Give in to the ghosts of our past. This is what makes me nervous. Way more nervous than anything Torrey Smith can do to me. First, it's a road game. We all know our road game history. No need to go down that path. But these are rare circumstances for UVA. A situtation we don't often see: coming off a big, big win and going into a game against a team we're clearly better than. Not that it hasn't happened, but it's rare, and furthermore, we've responded poorly when it has. What do I mean? 2007: we came off a thrilling 18-17 win over these same Terrapins and went to Raleigh to visit 2-5 NC State. And lost. 2005: after a huge win over Florida State, we hocked up a 7-5 clunker of a loss to 2-3 UNC in Chapel Hill. How about 2002 when we were 6-2 thanks to that comeback from down three touchdowns against UNC, and laid an egg against 4-3 Georgia Tech in Atlanta the next game?

Way back in 2000, after our first season, a good friend of mine who I also went to high school with commented that we were the Detroit Lions of the ACC. This was before the Millen years, mind you: the Lions were a playoff team more or less every other year, and in the '90s, had a habit of winning big games, like against the Cowboys on Monday Night, and following up with a pathetic loss to teams like the Cardinals. How prescient that turned out to be. Through this decade we've made a living on winning games we weren't supposed to, and then, just when we were getting the respect that comes with that kind of success, we flub an easy one. I see every sign of that, right here and now. We've erased much of the bad press that goes with losing to W&M. We have a chance to jump into the ACC driver's seat. All we have to do is get past one of the worst teams in the conference. We need to do what good teams do, and that's treat bad teams like bad teams. We did that last week. Our past says, here's where we drop the ball. We can't let the ghosts into Byrd Stadium on Saturday.


Well, Heather says we win, but she foresees a close one. And despite the dire storm warnings of the above paragraph, I think we win too, and I don't think it'll be a close one. I'm really tempting the football gods here. I acknowledge this. But it shakes down like this: Their offense is bad. Our offense is bad. Their defense is bad. Our defense is studly. We rank near the top of the country in every meaningful defensive category. Maryland ranks near the bottom; in fact, second-worst only to Florida State (!) in the conference in just about every measurable. They have one really good receiver, one marginal one, a couple of marginal running backs, a terrible offensive line, and a terrible quarterback. There's no reason Maryland should score as many as the 17 points Heather offers up; in fact, there's no way they should be able to notch two scores of any kind, barring egregious mistakes by our own offense and special teams. On paper, we own this matchup. But the intangibles? Our history? Not on our side. If we lose, it means we came out flat. This team is not flat, or it shouldn't be - how do you get jacked up like crazy to beat Indiana and not the Twerps? This is Virginia. You can't. And they won't. I will play with fire here, and expect another big win out of our boys on Saturday.


Wake Forest at Clemson, 12:00
NC State at Boston College, 3:30
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, 6:00
Miami at Central Florida, 7:30

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