First things first; it's pronounced "Mer-lin." Say it with me: Mer-lin. None of this mare-a-lynd business. And if you're ever in Baltimore, it's Bal-duh-more. ::Editor's note -- the Merlin pronunciation is being contested. We will settle this with a Bluecrab shuck-off. Baldumore stands as argued:
Onto football matters, there are pockets along the Mid-Atlantic that are just brimming with athletic talent, both in basketball and football. Virginia Tech for years has pilfered SE Virginia for excellent - if not elite - recruits. Ronald Curry, Michael and Marcus Vick, the Adibi brothers, Wayne & Terry Kirby, Bruce Smith; just to name a few. The state of Maryland has produced NFL products like Darnell Dockett and Vernon Davis (thanks, newdynastynole) from its D.C. / Baltimore exchange program, as well as enjoying being in the backyard of the recruiting beds of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New Jersey. Having said that, Maryland's 4-year recruiting ranking is 37th (FSU is 5th). Perhaps high-energy and in-your-face coach Randy Edsall can move them up a spot or two.
Danny O'Brien received ACC ROY and Freshman All-American honors last year, putting up a 134.53 QB rating (45th nationally, just ahead of Christian Ponder) against the 11th hardest set of defenses faced at a 22:8 TDs-to-INTs clip.
Well, whatever he did well last year; he's either not doing well, or opposing defenses have figured him out. And now he'll ride the pine.
Enter C.J. Brown, a 4.42-forty spread QB who contributed 4 TDs (3 passing, 1 rushing) in a home-game loss to Clemson last week. He passed for 177 yards in addition to running for 162 yards. But he finished the day with a 48.5% completion rate. Clemson's D is terrible (60th in Defensive S&P+ -- and is starting to smell like Auburn '10) while FSU's is 10th. I'm not really worried about his ability to thread the needle, and as Bud pointed out, Clemson started to shut down Brown & Co. once they switched to more zone looks. The worst-case scenario for FSU on Saturday is a repeat of the '09 USF game, where a mobile QB with a big arm and a tiny head was able to win an awful, awful game.
So how might FSU scheme this guy? Aside from forcing Brown to throw through passing windows enforced by a zone philosophy, I think it comes down to our defensive line needing to play smart football. This plays to FSU's strength (not sure if I've ever witnessed a smart DL from FSU). Their mentality this week should be: Maintain gap discipline runs and passes (i.e., control the space between linemen in case Brown tries to scoot out), and achieve QB pressure by collapsing the pocket in on him (as opposed to speed rushes or stunts that often forsake gap discipline). The latter is often termed a coverage-sack, where good coverage coupled with a collapsing pocket causes the QB to run out of real estate.
Maryland currently sports the 48th ranked defense (S&P+). In passing and rushing defensive components, they're 15th and 65th, respectively. That is a pretty out-of-whack breakdown. Maryland (has been trying) to make use of a 4-3 where one of the DEs is a Jack LB and the SLB is more of a SS. Sounds nice. But I'm sure they'd rather have their 2010 production back (28th rushing, 29th passing; 31st overall defense).
Hopefully, this means that FSU can still look to get their running game going -- granted, we have the numbers/alignment advantage presnap (note that I consider even numbers as an advantage). While the play of the offensive line started the season well below what I consider acceptable, specific players have improved. And the talent level is there. Cohesion is built game-by-game with consistent starters.
Manuel does a good job looking deep even under pressure; but some of his best plays come from escaping the pocket and hitting a back/receiver in the vacated interior of a defense. To go along with Maryland's 15th ranked passing defense, they are ranked 19th in passing down situations. According to Bill Connelly, this indicates effective blitzing.