Breaking Down the Opponent: Virginia

Terps head to Charlottesville in border war. Maryland as lost the last three games to Virginia and look to end the streak Saturday.

For the 75th time in school history, the Maryland Terrapins will take the field against their border rivals. And while Virginia has taken three straight and eight of the last nine games versus Maryland, there little familiarity in this Cavs team.

After finishing 4-5 last season, Mike London took over the Cavs for Al Groh. The former Richmond Spiders head coach brought an 11-2 record, and has transformed the team into an offensive juggernaut.

The Cavaliers ranked 118th in the country in total offense in 2009 under Groh, and reached the end-zone 23 times and scored just 232 points. Both of those statistics, in addition to total offense, have already been surpassed under London.

Through nine games, Virginia owns the 27th best passing offense in the nation, scoring almost 30 points per contest. Led by first-year starter Marc Verica, who has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns, the Cavs generated their fourth-best offensive output all-time last week against Duke with 643 total yards.

“As each game, he is getting better and better, and making more plays for the offense,” linebacker Alex Wujciak said, adding that he is limiting mistakes. Verica has 13 interceptions in 284 passing attempts.

Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman are the Cavs leading wide receivers, combining for over 1,200 yards and eight scores, the first pair of receivers to have 600 yards for the school since 1989. Terps defensive coordinator labeled Burd as the speedy wideout, while Inman has the ability to go up and grab catches.

Their passing game, although dynamic, is predicated by their dangerous dual-back system. The featured back, Keith Payne, who has gained nearly 700 yards on the ground, has accounted for 15 Cavaliers touchdowns, which ranks him fifth in the nation. Only LaMichael James, Justin Blackmon, DeMarco Murray and Cameron Newton have more scores.

“He’s running downhill at you. He is not going to try to shift, shake-and-bake,” Wujciak explained, “[he will] try to get as many yards as possible.”

Payne is complemented by change-of-pace back Perry Jones, who over 550 yards himself, and is earning about five yards per attempt. The tandem of Payne and Jones is averaging over 150 yards per game, but will face a Maryland defense limiting opposing backs to a meager 2.6 yards per carry.

“They’ve got a big, stout offensive line. They know the run plays they want to run, and they got two different styles,” Brown said. And with the ability to run or pass, he believes the Cavs offense is a real challenge for his defense.

“They’ve got balance; I think that’s what makes them good,” suggesting that their fast-pace tempo makes teams hustles. “You have got to be able to take away one element to be successful.”

On the defensive side of the ball, London’s touch has not been nearly as impactful. The Cavs rank 10th in the ACC in total defense, and own the second worst defense against the run.

Defensive linemen Cam Johnson and Nick Johnson anchor what Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin calls a “big, rangy” line. Johnson has already racked up 12.5 tackles for losses and six sacks.

But it was unanimous around the Terrapins’ clubhouse that the veteran secondary is the strength of the Virginia defense. The team has 10 interceptions, seventh-most in the ACC, and has allowed just over 187 yards per game. Because of their coverage style, however, the Terps short passing game that has been so successful has a chance to materialize once again.

“They play cover four so their safeties can come up in run support, and their corners play a little soft to keep you from getting deep,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “They’re a pretty mixed team.”

Franklin described their safety play as real physical. Free safety Corey Mosley is third on the team in tackles, and in conjunction with Rodney McLeod, they have produced three tackles for losses.

It is, however, the play of Chase Minnifield at cornerback that has turned heads. Minnifield leads his team in interceptions, and ranks second in the country with sixth on the season.

While Franklin acknowledged Minnifield is among the best in the country, he made sure to assign credit where credit is due.

Ras-I Dowling, a three-year starting corner for the Cavs, has been sidelined for much of this season with a nagging knee injury. Despite having started only one game in 2010, there is a feeling Dowling will take the field on the Cavs’ senior day Saturday. In his career, he has totaled eight picks, including one against the Terps in 2008.

“Ras-I Downling has been a great player there for years,” Franklin said. And despite being limited to just four games thus far, “I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t play on senior day.”

Expect the Terps to try and clean up some of the mistakes they made last week against Miami. They will look to establish the run to keep the dangerous Virginia offense off the field. They will also have an extra eye on special teams fakes that the Cavs have executed well, which head coach Ralph Friedgen suggested could come on punt, field goal and even kickoffs.

News and Notes:

Out for the game: Desmond Kearse, Avery Graham

James Franklin will not shy away from the “Jamarr Robinson package” despite the critical fumbled snap against the Canes. “It gives us the ability to be able to run some plays where we got a hat on a hat, and they have to account for a quarterback in the running game.”

Twitter: @samspiegs

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