What: Maryland hosts Florida State in a blackout game with ACC Atlantic title race repercussions
Where: Byrd Stadium, College Park, MD
Gameday Weather: 47 degrees, 3 mph winds
In a Turtleshell
Florida State Offense vs. Maryland Defense: The Noles have an interesting situation offensively. Statistically, they're pretty good. Christian Ponder is 44th in the nation in passing efficiency and the Noles are a very respectable 66th in passing yards. They rely a little more on their ground game, though, which checks in at 30th in the country and 3rd in the ACC. Much like Miami, FSU uses a lot of backs to get to where they are: Jermaine Thomas leads the group in attempts and could be considered the de facto starter; Chris Thompson leads the group in yards thanks mostly to a 90 yard TD run earlier in the year; Ty Jones is third-most-used back and averages 7.2 yards per carry. They can generally count on some yardage from their quarterback, too.
Again, statistically speaking, there's nothing wrong with this offense. In fact, it's pretty intimidating. But there are a lot of injuries.
I don't know if you're heard, but Ponder has an injured elbow that affected him against N.C. State and UNC. The Noles decided to let him rest last week and put E.J. Manuel out there against Clemson; Manuel was fine through the air and awesome when scrambling, and FSU pulled out a win. Ponder is expected to be back today, though presumably with that huge cast-y thing on his arm and again somewhat limited. Manuel has gotten some talk of playing again, but I'll believe it when I see it.
Oh, and FSU's top wide receiver, Willie Haulstead, is out. Oh, and their de facto starting RB, Thomas, is also out. Oh, and they're starting a fourth-string RG, Henry Orelus. That's a pretty banged-up group, talented or not.
That probably means a lot of blitzing for Maryland. The presence of a running QB scares me a little, as does FSU's ground game success in general. Even without Thomas, I'm expecting a moderately heavy does of running. How Maryland can take advantage of Orelus and the other injuries will be key, because this a very statistical good group for a reason.
Maryland Offense vs. Florida State Defense: FSU is pretty good defense, too (shocker). They're first in the county in sacks (gulp), led by sophomore lineman Brandon Jenkins, who has ten on the year. They're 19th in scoring defense. They're 10th in rushing offense, which probably means you can throw the run out of this game except in goal-line situations.
If there's a flaw on this defense (and there is) it's the same one there was last year: passing defense. The Noles are 80th in the country there and gave up almost 440 yards on just 35 attempts to T.J. Yates and UNC. They are, quite frankly, short on impact players in the secondary, kind of like Maryland minus Kenny Tate. They lost both safeties from last year and it's hurt them on deep balls in the past.
That's why they're likely to repeat what they did against Clemson: sit back and force Maryland to beat them short. If they go Cover-2, Matt Furstenburg or Will Yeatman will become key. Maryland's struggled with long, sustained drives all year long, so this will be a serious test.
I will say that Maryland shouldn't come out and abandon the run from the start. That same Cover-2 that they utilized against Clemson allowed the Tigers to run just fine on FSU's defense. N.C. State did the same. Granted, both of those lines have much better run blocking than Maryland's and N.C. State had Russell Wilson, but success has been had against this defense on the ground the past few weeks.
Regardless, with Maryland's natural proclivity to throw the ball anyway and the good chance that they could find themselves down early, a lot of this game will fall on Danny O'Brien's shoulders. DOB is a smart QB that normally doesn't force throws, so hopefully he'll take what the defense is likely to give him.
Keys in Cliches:
- Win the turnover battle. If there's one area in which Maryland's clearly ahead of FSU, it's turnover margin. The Noles are -4 on the season. Turnovers are always key, and if Maryland can, say, win that battle by 2, I'll feel a lot better about their chances.
- Get into the backfield. Did I not make it clear enough that FSU's starting a fourth-stringer at RG? Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis are two of Maryland's best players on defense, so whichever one's lining up in front of Orelus should have a big day. Here's hoping they do.
- Come out firing. Maryland was in this exact same position two years ago and came out completely flat. Florida State took advantage and the game was never close. The same can't happen again.
- Taiwan Easterling, WR, Florida State: Without Haulstead, Easterling is the Noles' top receiver and a big-play threat. Again, Maryland's corners will have to step up.
- Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State: 10 sacks on the year, including 5 in his last 4. Yikes.
- Matt Furstenburg, TE, Maryland: He's been inconsistent this year, but if FSU drops its safeties deep, there should be holes in the coverage for Furst. We'll see if DOB can find him and if Furst can hold on.
- Joe Vellano, DT, Maryland: Vellano's been quieter the past few weeks, but this is one of the easier opponents he'll face this year.