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Maryland football vs. Virginia Tech preview

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Maryland will play in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday, its first bowl game since 2016.

Maryland football will play in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium against Virginia Tech on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m. in its first bowl appearance since 2016.

Head coach Michael Locksley has talked about how this game is an opportunity to send the seniors off the right way, but it is also the start of its 2022 season. Well since Maryland’s regular season ended on Nov. 27 in a bowl-clinching win against Rutgers, a lot has changed for the future of the program.

Certain players, like freshman linebackers Terrence Lewis and Branden Jennings transferred out of the program, but Maryland also got welcomed additions through the transfer portal and early signing day.

The Terps brought in star receiver Jacob Copeland from Florida to add to its exceptional wide receiver room and linebacker VanDarius Cowan decided to transfer to Maryland from West Virginia, among others.

As for freshmen headed to College Park, Maryland got two four-star receivers to sign in Octavian Smith Jr. and Shaleak Knotts. Locksley also flipped four-star linebacker Jaishawn Barham. Maryland has the 29th best recruiting class in the country for 2022, according to 247sports.

While none of these guys will be eligible to play against the Hokies, they will be a big part of the 2022 team.

“For us to have success up in New York against a great opponent like Virginia Tech, we’re going to need to be very fundamentally sound as a program and so we’ve really done that,” head coach Mike Locksley said.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Maryland is the 3.5-point favorite as of Tuesday morning. (*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.) The game will air on ESPN at 2:15 p.m.

Now, let’s take a look at Virginia Tech, who has had a whirlwind of a season thus far.

Virginia Tech Hokies (6-6, 4-4 ACC)

2020 record: (5-6, 5-3 ACC)

Virginia Tech has had an up-and-down season that saw more twists and turns than typical college teams experience in a season. The Hokies started the 2021 season with a solid win over then-No. 10 North Carolina which led to a 3-1 start. Virginia Tech then lost three straight to Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse which tampered any hopes for a once-promising season. The Hokies went 3-2 the rest of the way to get to the six-win benchmark, making them bowl eligible for the 29th straight season.

On Nov. 16, the school announced a head coaching change in the middle of the season as Justin Fuente and Virginia Tech mutually agreed to part ways after six years together. J.C. Price took over as interim head coach for the rest of the season and will serve in that role against Maryland on Wednesday.

Since Virginia Tech played its last game, its quarterback situation has been a mess. Both starting quarterback Braxton Burmeister and backup Knox Kadum entered the transfer portal and will not be available against Maryland. That leaves the job to third-stringer Connor Blumrick.

“It’s more about us, not about them,” Locksley said. “They’ve played multiple quarterbacks throughout the year, and so they still have two guys that are threats at the quarterback position.”

Players to know

Connor Blumrick, junior quarterback, 6-foot-5, No. 4 — As stated earlier, Blumrick was the third-string quarterback for much of the season but has been thrown into a much bigger role for the Pinstripe bowl as he will start the game under center. He did, however, get a number of reps in throughout the regular season. Blumrick appeared in five games and was 7-for-16 for 42 yards and two touchdowns.

Raheem Blackshear, redshirt junior running back, 5-foot-9, No. 5 — Blackshear has spearheaded the Hokies running attack all season and is an effective coming out of the backfield. He has 121 attempts for 736 yards gained and six touchdowns on the year. Blackshear is also a weapon as a receiver with 23 receptions for 244 yards and a touchdown. Virginia Tech will try to get their top offensive weapon involved as often as they can against the Terps.

Dax Hollifield, junior linebacker, 6-foot-1, No. 4 — Hollifield is the heart and soul of the Hokies defense and a playmaker all over the field. He leads the team in total tackles with 88, which is good for ninth in the ACC in tackles per game. He also leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks. Hollifield is certainly at the top of the Terps scouting report.

Strength

Defense. While its offense has been shaky all season, Virginia Tech has a formidable defense. They allow opponents to score just 22 points per game and have proven to get after the quarterback and stop the ground game at a high level. The Hokies' opponents converted just 34% of their third down chances this season.

Weakness

Experience and depth. With the influx of transfers and injuries Virginia Tech has experienced since the regular season ended, including its top two quarterbacks leaving and two of its starting three wide receivers either opting out or transferring with the third starter, Da’Wain Lofton, status for the game in question, the Hokies will be shorthanded against Maryland. That leaves little depth for Virginia Tech and forces them to rely on players that did not have a big role during the season.

Three things to watch

1. How will some of the younger guys perform? Locksley has been preaching about the great opportunity a bowl game can be for the underclassmen to have extra practices to develop, but also maybe get a chance to get some action with certain players transferring out following the season. The Terps will obviously not sacrifice production on the field that can help them win, but they might try to get some guys involved against Virginia Tech who did not have as much of an opportunity during the regular season as they attempt to build for next year.

“The best part for us has been being able to evaluate, look at and see some of the younger players that maybe haven't gotten as many opportunities,” Locksley said. “If we need to utilize some of these young players in this game, we will.”

2. What will Taulia Tagovailoa look like in his first postseason start? Mike Locksley and Maryland football hope, and expect, playing in late December becomes a norm for this team, an unfamiliar place for this program who is playing in its first bowl game since 2016. But a big part of that is giving Taulia Tagovailoa the experience in big postseason games. The junior quarterback has never started in a bowl game before and all eyes will be on the gifted Hawaiian native. Tagovailoa had a terrific season in 2021, throwing for over 3500 yards and 24 touchdowns. But against better competition, he, and the entire offense, often struggled. The Hokies are by no means an elite team, especially considering their absences, but it will be interesting to see how Tagovailoa performs in the final performance of his record-breaking 2021 campaign.

3. Can Chigoziem Okonkwo help his draft stock? Senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo became Tagovailoa’s top target toward the latter part of the season, in large part due to injuries to receivers. But with increased pass-catching responsibilities, Okonkwo showed off his talents. Since the final regular season game, Okonkwo announced he will be entering the NFL Draft, but will still play in the Pinstripe bowl tomorrow. It will be another opportunity for Okonkwo to prove to NFL teams he is a worthy pass-catcher and blocker as the April draft approaches.

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