One of the great things about belonging to the SB Nation Network is having a close community to interact with throughout the season. This week, we did a Q&A session with Ben from Testudo Times, a great Maryland blog that you should definitely check out for both football and basketball coverage, heck they even got a shout-out from Andy Staples this week. And the article Andy mentioned is required reading for any Tech fans curious about Maryland's QB situation. You can find my answers to Ben's question here.
From The Rumble Seat: I am sure you guys are tired of it but, the first question I have to ask is how much has the injury bug hurt Maryland this year? I think I saw that there were something like 27 players on the injury report last week? And what has the Maryland community done to upset the Angry Maryland Quaterback-Hating God so much?
Testudo Times:Your guess is as good as mine. Randy Edsall leaving UConn without telling his players is the first thought, but if that's the reason and Todd Graham hasn't been struck by lightning yet then there's no justice in this world. The Danny O'Brien transfer is the other big hypothesis, but with Danny struggling mightily at Wisconsin that saga was overhyped. I'm wondering if Byrd Stadium isn't built on top of a Native American burial ground and construction crews tore it up when it switched to turf. That's really the only reasonable explanation at this point.
On a serious note, the injuries have been killer. Some people have said that Maryland has the peripherals of a four-win team and this is the universe's way of balancing it out, but remember that despite the injuries they're literally three plays away from being 7-1 right now. With a healthy C.J. Brown at quarterback, there's a good chance Maryland does in fact beat N.C. State, BC, and UConn, and if they did the impact on the program would be immeasurable, even if only for recruiting purposes. It's a really painful exercise in what might of been.
FTRS: What were your expectations for this team before the season began and, considering your answer to the previous question, has the team met your expectations?
TT: Before C.J. Brown went down, I thought this was probably a four-win team, maybe five if they got lucky. A whole four quarterbacks later, am I happy with four wins? Hell yes. After Brown went down I thought there was a decent shot they'd do as poorly as or even worse than last year. Instead, like I said, they're about three plays away from being 7-1. It's tough on the program that they probably won't so much as make a bowl in a season that, when they were healthy, they could've made some actual noise in the conference. But when all the factors are considered, it's tough to be upset with a .500 record right now, even if they don't win another game.
FTRS: Do you think the players have finally embraced the current coaching staff or are there any lingering tensions?
TT: I'm sure there are some more lingering tensions, but the biggest problems have all departed the program, either through graduation or transfer. And now that some of those guys are out of the locker room, the issues have been minimized or pushed to the background. I'll never claim that Edsall didn't make this mess himself by having such wooden policies, but this team's proven that he's not incompatible with a locker room full of his own guys. The freshmen (who don't really know any different anyway) have bought in entirely, with Stefon Diggs being the shining example, and the vets seem to have adjusted, too. The difference is obvious on the field: last year's team lacked energy and fight almost to the point where they seemed disinterested; this year's team never gives up and scrapes and fights to get anything it can, which is a big reason they've gotten to four wins.
FTRS: Building on that, what are the fans opinion's of Edsall? From an outsiders point of view it seems to have gotten off to a rocky start. And after two years do you still think it was the right decision to pass on Mike Leach?
TT: I don't know how many fans would class themselves as Edsall supporters, but I think the vast majority have moved to more or less neutral ground and are willing to see how it plays out. I've said from day one that Edsall, while he lacks a lot of the intangibles you like to see in a BCS head coach, is a natural program CEO type: he works hard on the trail, has no problem making appearances and shilling for Under Armour, sets the tone of the program, and shouldn't get close to Xs and Os. He tried that in the first year and ran into two problems: a team that didn't want to bend to the tone he was trying to set, and having Bill and Ted as his coordinators. Gary Crowton and Todd Bradford were unimaginably inept, and were as big of factors to Maryland's demise as anything Edsall himself did. Those two are out of town, and they're replaced by the comparatively competent Mike Locksley and downright brilliant Brian Stewart. With Locksley's arrival and Edsall's persistence on the trail, they've started to see massive gains in recruiting, too.
The Leach question is an interesting one, because while he's probably a better coach I'm not sure he's a good fit here. With the benefit of hindsight, I think it's actually a good thing he wasn't hired. What Maryland's doing in recruiting is a concerted effort that's been at least three years in the making, well before Edsall was ever hired. They were trying to lock down the DC and Baltimore areas, using the Maryland Pride aspect as a launching point. For that, they needed someone willing to do legwork on the trail. Leach was notoriously ambivalent about recruiting, and while his nonchalant manner may work when he's cherry picking on a national scale, connection-focused local coaches would've chewed him up and spat him out. Likewise, you get the feeling that Leach doesn't much like being a figurehead in the way Edsall does. So passing on Leach was actually a fairly intelligent decision. The real big misses were Al Golden or Gus Malzahn. Would I trade either for Edsall right now? Probably. But Leach is a more difficult call.
FTRS: Surely the Terps can't have much of a passing game at this point, but our pass defense is very poor. Can you tell me about the Maryland offense, specifically with how they plan to attack our defense. I am not gonna lie, all I have heard about from Maryland this year have been the QB struggles and Stefon Diggs. Is Diggs already making an impact on the offense? What other weapons does Maryland have?
TT: Yes, Diggs is making an impact; he's everything you've heard about, and maybe a little more. Through the year he's been good for at least one big play every ten touches or so, and see no reason to believe that trend won't continue. He has good top-end speed, but what really matters is his explosiveness: I'd bet money that he's the quickest player in the country from a standing start, and if a defender slows down to contain or read him, Diggs has already won. Expect "Get the ball to Stefon" to become the new gameplan, because I don't know of anything else that will work anymore. He should get at least ten touches, maybe even more. The other big weapon offensively is Wes Brown, a true freshman running back and Diggs' high school teammate; he's a punishing between-the-tackles runner, and he was hugely effective in the one game Maryland actually got to run their zone-read scheme.
Perhaps the biggest problem Maryland's offense has faced this year has been a lack of identity. The constant changes at quarterback have forced changes from a zone-read spread to a traditional running game, then back to the ZR, then to almost an Air Raid of sorts. So now what's Mike Locksley going to do with a linebacker taking the snaps? Beats me. Shawn Petty's only a few months removed from playing quarterback in high school, and he absolutely tore up some 7-on-7 tournaments, so don't think he can't pass at all. But still, there's a reason he was recruited at linebacker, not QB. I expect the scheme to focus on zone-read options, with some horizontal passing thrown in as well. But the only thing we really know is that Petty will operate out of some sort of spread; past that, your guess is as good as ours.
FTRS: Maryland's defense has been playing well and seems a bit underrated to me. What are the strengths of this defense? Have the coaches talked about doing anything different to prepare for the option, or well it come down to playing smart football?
TT: The unquestionable strength is in the front seven: five of the front seven are seniors, four of those fifth-year seniors, and they've been dominant at times this season. Maryland's adapted to Brian Stewart's 3-4 scheme very well and Stewart himself has had a positive impact, but the personnel up front is as good as any in the ACC, bar maybe FSU. Joe Vellano in particular is one of the country's most underrated defensive linemen, and he's really exploded in the past few weeks as he gets more used to the 3-4 front. There are some major questions in the secondary, but they've improved as the season's gone on and the pass rush the front seven generates has helped them out tremendously.
They haven't dropped any hints about doing anything too different to prepare, and I wouldn't expect them to. These guys faced Navy two years ago and then GT in Atlanta last year, and most of them were starters for both games. They know this offense pretty well and know how to approach it. This group is nothing if not intelligent and disciplined, so I'd expect a fairly interesting battle come Saturday.
FTRS: For the GT fans traveling to College Park where are the places to eat, sights to see, and traditions to watch for the football game?
TT: I haven't been able to get to CP in the past couple years, so I'm not the most current guide, but I can hopefully do a decent job of giving an overview. First off, "tradition" and "Maryland football" don't necessarily go together. As far as sights to see, with D.C. just minutes to the south there's plenty to do if you want to make a trip of it. Traveling back and forth between DC and CP can be a bit hectic if you're pressed for time, but DC's a premium city and the sheer number of monuments, museums, restaurants and the like mean it's always worth an excursion when you're in the area. As for eating, if you want the local, college-town feel Looney's Pub or Bentley's - of Scott Van Pelt fame - are near campus and probably your best bets. Otherwise, there are the traditional college-town chain staples of places like DP Dough or Potbelly for more familiar options.
FTRS: Finally, what is your prediction for the game?
TT: I think Maryland will score some points despite playing Petty at QB, but I don't see any way they get any more than three scores, so it'll all be about how Maryland's defense can limit the triple-option. I'm given some heart after how BYU played, but at some point the constant injury barrage has to take a mental toll. I'm optimistic it'll be closer than most GT fans would like, but expecting a victory is probably a step too far. Georgia Tech 21, Maryland 13, but it's a game right up to the final whistle.
Again, big thanks to Ben for answering our questions. You can find my answers to their questions here.