The Virginia Tech Hokies are coming off their most impressive victory of the season with last week's 42-14 win at No. 14 Miami. Too bad it took until Week 11 to have a breakout offensive performance.
All isn't lost for the Hokies, though, as they are still sitting atop the ACC's Coastal Division with Georgia Tech, Duke and Miami. All four schools have two conference losses apiece. If the Hokies win out and get a little bit of help, they will be back in the ACC title game.
Next up for Tech are the Maryland Terrapins. Before Hokie fans get too excited, remember Duke?
Yes, Maryland is struggling, having lost three games in a row, but the Terps did win four in a row to start the season. The turning point in Maryland's season came during the Wake Forest game when the Terps' top-two receivers, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, were both lost for the season with leg injuries.
The Hokies and Terps have met a total of 30 times, with each school winning 15 games. The two teams last met in 2009 when the Hokies won 36-9 in College Park. Virginia Tech has won the last five meetings, including all four ACC meetings by a combined score of 142-37.
Attack Hokies' Defense
Yes, Virginia Tech is one of the best defensive teams in the nation. They dominate against the pass and the run. However, their two leaders in the secondary, cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum, may miss this week's game.
That would put a pair of true freshmen, Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, in the starting lineup. Fuller and Facyson aren't your typical true freshmen; they have combined for nine interceptions. Maryland won't be able to run the ball, so attacking the Hokies' young defensive backs should be their strategy.
Shut Down the Run
Miami allowed the Hokies to run for 183 yards last week. That is the primary reason the Hokies dominated the game. Logan Thomas has been able to find passing lanes all season, but he was doing it without a running game. If Maryland allows Tech to run the ball against them, it will be in for a long day.
Virginia Tech's defense has always thrived on turnovers. Put pressure on the quarterback, force him into bad decisions and give the ball back to the offense. Turnovers led to 21 points against Miami last week. If the Terps turn the ball over once this week, they're chances of pulling the upset dramatically decrease.
Logan Thomas and Trey Edmunds
Run the Ball
Up until last week, developing a running game seemed futile for Virginia Tech. Quarterback Logan Thomas was often their leading rusher. Against Miami, that changed. Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman, the Hokies' top-two backs, combined to carry the ball 36 times for 142 yards and four touchdowns. Not only did the Hokies stay with the run, they were successful. This team will be hard to beat if it runs the ball like that consistently.
Make Maryland One-Dimensional
The Terrapins struggle to run the ball. They are No. 90 in rushing offense. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is No. 4 against the run. That doesn't bode well for Maryland. VT's defense should give Maryland a lot of run looks, like staying in the nickel, to force the Terps to run the ball. It will play to the Hokies' strengths. If Maryland is forced to drop back and throw the ball 40 times, the Hokies will tee off on C.J. Brown.
Put Last Week Behind Them
Yes, it was an impressive performance, but it was just one game. The Hokies didn't put the Duke game behind them, and it cost them a victory against Boston College a week later. If they look past Maryland this week, the Hokies will allow the Terps to stay close. If it is close late, anything can happen.
Quarterback C.J. Brown
Brown, a senior, is having a solid season. He is completing 61 percent of his passes and has only five interceptions on the season. He lost his top-two receivers three weeks ago, and the passing offense hasn't been the same. He must take care of the ball this week and avoid mistakes. If he can get rid of the ball quickly, it will slow down Virginia Tech's fierce pass rush.
Running Brandon Ross
Ross is the Terps' leading rusher. He has just 512 yards on the season but is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. When he gets the ball, he has success. It's important that Maryland gives Ross the ball at least 20 times this week. The Terrapins cannot afford to throw the ball for 60 minutes. The best way to minimize a good pass rush is to run the football right at the defense.
Linebacker Marcus Whitfield
Whitfield is quietly having an outstanding senior season. He has 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks on the season. He is Maryland's best pass-rusher. The Terps should scheme ways to get Whitfield in Virginia Tech's backfield early and often.
You can find Maryland's complete roster here.
Quarterback Logan Thomas
Judging how Thomas is going to play is truly a week-to-week proposition. If he doesn't turn the ball over, the Hokies are usually in pretty good shape on offense. Thomas is coming off the first back-to-back 300-yard passing games in the Frank Beamer era. All the turnovers notwithstanding, Thomas is having a pretty good senior season. Last week was the first time all year that Thomas had a true running game from start to finish. If he continues to get that, it will allow him to take more chances down the field, therefore, opening up even more possibilities for the Hokies on offense.
Running back J.C. Coleman
J.C. Coleman looked completely healthy last week for the first time all season. Coleman, who sprained both ankles in fall camp, has missed several games and been limited for much of the season. Against Miami, Coleman carried the ball 22 times and caught two passes. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler must find a way to keep Coleman involved in the offense. He is an asset in the passing game and should be used out of the backfield more often.
Cornerback Brandon Facyson
The outstanding freshman had perhaps his worst game last week. On Allen Hurns' 84-yard touchdown reception, it was Facyson who misread the play that allowed the touchdown. He was beaten on a few other occasions as well. He did break up a touchdown in the end zone. Overall, it was an uneven performance for Facyson, and with Kyle Fuller's and Exum's statuses in doubt this week, he must bounce back and play well.
You can find Virginia Tech's complete roster here.
Maryland head coach Randy Edsall was extremely complimentary of Logan Thomas, according to Maryland's official website:
He’s their leader in a lot of statistics for a quarterback, big, strong, athletic, really good arm strength, can see over top of the line. So again, he’s a guy that has been very, very productive for them and understands what they want to do offensively and where to go with the football so he presents a tremendous challenge for you.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer seemed a bit concerned about the injuries in his secondary and if his freshmen could function at a high level despite limited practice reps recently, per Norm Wood of the Daily Press:
They haven’t practiced like they practiced when they were starters. They don’t get as many reps. With a freshman, it kind of shows up on Saturdays when you don’t work as much during the week, and I think that was part of it. They’re going to get a lot of work this week. I’ve got a lot of confidence in those two.
It seems these two teams are going in opposite directions. Maryland is coming off an embarrassing 20-3 loss at home to Syracuse. Meanwhile, the Hokies are coming off their biggest victory of the season.
Don't expect last week's results to factor into what happens this week, though. The Hokies are simply more talented than the Terrapins at every position. Also, this is the last home game for several Hokies, including Thomas, Kyle Fuller, Exum and James Gayle, among others.
Virginia Tech may not score 42 points again, but this game won't be close when it's all said and done.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Maryland 10