Terps Take Aim at Virginia Tech

COLLEGE PARK, Md.--Maryland head coach Randy Edsall talks about the Terps upcoming game against Virginia Tech, staying the course, and more.

If there is a panic button somewhere in Maryland football's Gossett Team House, rest assured that none of the Terrapins are going to press it.

"With where we are in the season, there's no reason to panic," said quarterback C.J. Brown. "We've got three games left. We just have to bump up the intensity and bump up the focus for the challenge at hand."

The challenge at hand is for the tumbling Terrapins to head into one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's toughest venues – Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium – and match up against a Hokies (7-3 overall, 4-2 ACC) team that looks to be hitting its stride again. Tech stopped a two game losing streak with a convincing 42-24 win at No. 14 Miami last Saturday, and they have to keep winning to keep pace with Georgia Tech atop the ACC's Coastal Division.

An impressive win over Maryland, a team Tech has taken the last five times they've met (four) since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004, and the Virginia Tech might pop back into the national rankings.

"Virginia Tech is outstanding, defensively and offensively and they have an outstanding quarterback in Logan Thomas," said Maryland coach Randy Edsall. "Defensively, they have (seven) seniors starting (five) fifth-year, so they're very experienced. The same thing offensively (10 seniors or redshirt juniors in two-deep)."

The Terrapins do not have that kind of experience, especially with several players out for the year with injuries. In fact, Maryland's plight is well documented. The Terrapins (5-4, 1-4) dropped their third straight game with Saturday's lackluster 20-3 home loss to Syracuse. Maryland, one victory shy of six wins and bowl eligibility, has been sitting on five since Oct. 12, but they're not looking for the panic button. Yet.

"I'm not going to panic," said Edsall. "Because if I panic the whole team will panic and then I'm not being the leader I need to be for our young team."

Edsall reiterated building Maryland football into a contender was a "process," and that he wasn't fooled by the fast 4-0 start. He felt his team, because of their youth, hasn't always handled things – good and bad – this year the way a more veteran squad might have.

In some ways, he intimated, the fast 5-1 start wasn't necessarily a good thing for many of the young players, who had never been through anything like that on this level. "We talked about it, don't believe anything," he said. "Because now all of a sudden when you lose a few, all of those people that were writing good stuff, now they're not writing any good stuff anymore. And that's part of the process."

His quarterback, Brown, said the team had become a little more anxious. "We're definitely antsy. We've been sitting at five wins for a long time now and we want to get that monkey off our back and there's no other way to do that but go down there and beat Virginia Tech at their place. Why not? Why not us? Other teams have done it, played Virginia Tech tough this year. They've been up and down, though they played really well last week. We plan on going down there and playing our hearts out."

Lane Stadium has left a lot of opponents brokenhearted. The Hokies are 131-34-1 in Lane in Beamer's 27 years there, and Beamer now has the most wins (265) among active FBS coaches. Tech is 31-8 in ACC home games, and that's led to four ACC titles and five ACC championship game appearances.

Tech is big and fast on defense and their front seven will cause the young Maryland offensive line trouble. The Tech secondary, led by cornerbacks Kyle Fuller of Baltimore, and Antone Exum, is one of the best in the country and has helped to account for 17 interceptions this year, the fourth most in the nation. (Free safety Detrick Bonner is the brother of Maryland cornerback Alvin Hill.)

The Tech defense is allowing just 263.1 yards per game, the third lowest figure in the FBS.

"They're a tough defense, they're very physical," said Brown. "They play a lot of man-to-man defense. When you play coverage like that you're confident you can lock down receivers with your talent. They load the box. They'll be a good test for us. They force a lot of turnovers. They're playing really well on that side of the ball."

On offense, Maryland linebacker Marcus Whitfield agreed that tackling 6-6, 254-pound quarterback Logan Thomas was like tackling another linebacker, only Thomas is taller and heavier than any of the Terrapin linebackers.

Thomas is also 130 total yards from becoming the first Virginia Tech player ever to produce 10,000 yards of offense in a career. He already holds a handful of Hokie records like career passing yards (8,518), passing touchdowns (50), completions (658) and total offense (9,871).

The Hokies love to get the running game going behind that big offensive line and then let Thomas do his thing off play-action. When the pocket collapses, he is skilled at creating yardage and big plays, as his school record 24 career rushing touchdowns as a quarterback attests.

"They have speed and a dual threat quarterback and runners and receivers that can really run," said Whitfield. "(Thomas) is a big guy and we'll have to work hard to take him down when we can."

So how can the Terrapins turn things around, head to Blacksburg and come away with a win?

"We have to come out early with that fire and intensity we had in the first part of the season and put some points up on the board," said Brown. "That's the biggest thing. Not being able to get into the end zone, I feel like we were shooting ourselves in the foot. We were moving the ball (against Syracuse) with six-, seven-, eight-play drives and we just kept turning the ball over."

Maryland had two interceptions and two fumbles and lost the ball on three straight possessions against Syracuse at one point late in the first half when it was anyone's game. Turnovers have been Tech's issue, too, when the Hokies have had trouble.

"You take a look at their most recent losses, Boston College and Duke, and it's pretty much the same thing for us – turnovers," said Edsall. "They've had a lot of turnovers, four interceptions against Duke and four turnovers against Boston College. Turnovers change a lot in a ballgame. We know ourselves. We give ourselves a much better chance to win if we don't turn the ball over."

Maryland is minus-five turnovers this year and Tech is plus-seven. Nine of Tech's 15 turnovers have come in the three losses, and they also got beat badly on special teams in the season-opening setback to Alabama. That doesn't happen often to the Hokies – Beamer coaches the special teams himself – and they take a lot of pride in making big plays in that phase.

The Terrapins' specialty units may be the most improved part of the team this year, this side of keeping a functional quarterback behind center. Despite injuries to key cogs on return and coverage units, Maryland has maintained solid play in that area and held their own though they miss Stefon Diggs' game-breaking returns.

Those units will have to hold their own, maybe turn in a big play or two, for Maryland to pull the upset. Edsall and the Terps weren't talking even that big a picture yet, though. The team was as dejected as they've been all year following the disappointing result against a beatable Orange team.

"We were a little more disappointed," admitted Brown. "We felt confident going into the game so to not execute, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, including myself, we were down."

Brown said the team practiced well on Sunday, and Edsall, who was more upbeat than usual at his Tuesday press briefing, talked more about trying to get his "process" of building this team back on track than usual.

He met with the team longer on Sunday, querying them about what had changed from earlier this season when they were playing so much better to the last three games, each double-digit losses.

Brown said, he for at least one, had been putting extra pressure on himself to make plays as things have gone badly and key players – Diggs and fellow wide receiver Deon Long have been lost to injuries.

"I try not to think that way, just go out there and play," he said. "The coaches tell me to go out there and execute and do the best I can. When guys go down (to injuries) you try to step up, and maybe sometimes I try to step up and do more than I should. With that being said, you can't make silly mistakes and you can't put the team in jeopardy by turning the ball over."

Brown took the Syracuse loss particularly hard after throwing two interceptions and fumbling the ball away once.

"It's hard not to dwell on it," Brown said. "My mistakes could have been the difference in the outcome of the game. I took it personally. I took it hard and I'm going to make sure it isn't going to happen again."

As per usual, Edsall talked about simplifying that practice-to-game process that's part of the bigger process of building a strong, lasting program. On Monday, Edsall called together the team's leadership council to "explain to them what their role needs to be."

"Mainly, he wanted to make sure we're all on the same page, the mentality of the team is straight and we still understand we have a lot on the table," said Brown. "There's no reason to panic. That's the biggest thing. And to just make sure that the leadership group needs to step up even more now, make sure everyone is practicing hard every day and that the intensity is up, and that we're still having fun."

Whitfield said team leaders like De'Onte Arnett, Dexter McDougle, Brown, Jeremiah Johnson, Darius Kilgo, Matt Robinson and L.A. Goree were more vocal recently. "You can keep going down the list," he said. "It's the experienced guys who have played a lot."

Whitfield, who still leads the team with 7.5 sacks, thinks the little- things-mean-a-lot approach is on target. "We just didn't execute (against Syracuse). We didn't make the plays. It starts with practice (Tuesday). Everybody is up and looking forward to the next game, looking forward to practice."

And back to Edsall's process, well, it's a work in progress as the Terrapins go back to work in earnest with an eye toward a big game in Blacksburg. Maryland is 1-9 on the road the last three seasons.

"That's one of the things I reiterated to them," he said. "Do what you can control, and what you can control is your effort, your attitude, how hard you play. You can control your preparation, and those are the things you have to focus on. We have to get back to the basics."

Edsall admitted the injuries have again shown the Terrapins aren't where they need to be from a depth-standpoint. "We're improved, we're better, we don't like some of the results we've just had but we're not going to use excuses. We have talent here. We're bringing in more talent in terms of what we're recruiting, and the excitement that they have and the understanding they have of what we're doing here."

Edsall pointed the finger at the entire program, coaches and players for the sad Syracuse showing. He also talked about how the offense moved the ball into Orange territory on eight of 13 possessions, and held his fingers an inch apart to emphasize how close the Terrapins were to maybe making a play to turn that game around.

He was optimistic and upbeat, obviously trying to set the tone for the team this week as they face a big challenge in Blacksburg.

"We're frustrated but we have to remember we're making strides," he said. "The thing that's frustrating is we didn't get the kind of effort we expect out of ourselves last weekend."

The Terrapins will have to show up this week against a terrific Tech team or all those worries and all the pressure will ratchet up just a little bit more next week. That's part of the process, too.

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