Anytime I think about Saturday’s Maryland-Georgia Tech game, I recall some of those intriguing second-round NCAA tournament matchups we have seen over the years. Whenever your favorite team won a first-round game and drew a team like, say, Pete Carril’s Princeton team or Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse team or Paul Westhead’s Loyola-Marymount team in the second round, your favorite team was at a significant disadvantage. Why? After four or five days of preparing for a conventional opponent in the first round, you then had just one off day to prepare for a unique style, whether it be defending Princeton’s perpetual back-door movement or attacking Boeheim’s zone or keeping pace with Westhead’s go-go frenetic tempo.
This college football season, five teams have spent 20 hours in a week preparing for what they knew was coming: Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. They knew quarterback Tevin Washington would not throw much, but when he did it likely would be for long gains. They knew there’d be dive plays and pitches and cut blocks. They knew current triple-option guru Paul Johnson’s team was capable of both long drives to bleed the clock and quick, shock-and-awe strikes. And it didn’t matter. Georgia Tech is averaging more than 51 points per game and more than eight yards per play. It has eight one-play touchdown drives this season. The team is off to its best start since self-admitted Georgia Tech flag bearer Ralph Friedgen (who now says he was joking) was employed there more than two decades ago.
With all that in mind, consider Maryland’s predicament of having just 17.5 hours this week to prep for this atypical offense. The Terrapins had the entire 2010 preseason camp - really the whole offseason - to prepare for Navy’s triple-option attack in a season-opening victory in Baltimore. But in addition to the limited prep time this time around, the Terrapins will look to contain the Yellow Jackets with an injury-depleted defense that may start four freshmen in the first road game of the season. The Thursday surprise was the release of Maryland’s injury report. Linebacker Kenny Tate, a first-team all-ACC performer last season at safety, is listed as doubtful with an undisclosed injury. And the challenge comes just one week after allowing a backup Football Championship Subdivision quarterback to engineer two 16-play drives and help Towson rack up 225 yards of total offense in the first half alone.
Georgia Tech averages 378 rushing yards per game. Coach Randy Edsall said if Maryland holds the Yellow Jackets to less than 300 rushing yards, the Terps will have done a “pretty good job.” The best anyone can really do against this offense is to contain it. “You may only get two or three reps [in practice] against one thing and you may need six or seven reps against it,” Edsall said. “You only have so much time. . . . You are not going to stop them. No one has stopped this offense.”
For those reasons alone, you can easily make the case that Saturday’s game in Atlanta is the toughest of Maryland’s three consecutive games looming against nationally ranked opponents. (Of the three, Maryland probably has the best chance to ambush No. 8 Clemson in a prime-time home game Oct. 15.) If you are looking for reasons for optimism Saturday, look at Georgia Tech’s defense, which has allowed opponents to score in bunches this season. Look at the injuries; the Yellow Jackets may be without at least two starting linebackers. And look at last week’s performance by Washington, who completed less than half his passes and missed open receivers. Overall, Georgia Tech turned in a rather sloppy performance by its standards in a victory over N.C. State. There is hope for Maryland, but this will have to be a scoring-fest for the Terrapins to have a chance to win. And it’s hard to imagine Maryland keeping Georgia Tech’s offensive players from crossing the goal line more than a few times. Tech should at least score something of the vicinity of 40 points.
Because we’re only a few weeks away from a great national holiday, is the potential downside for Maryland scarier than a double viewing of “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Exorcist”? Or am I being too harsh and dismissive of Maryland’s defense? That’s always possible because I did have to sit through the entire cringe-worthy Temple debacle, a horror show of ghastly proportions.
Georgia Tech 45, Maryland 31
What are your thoughts and predictions? Anyone think Maryland will win?