Florida State at Maryland preview and prediction

US PRESSWIRE

Florida State hopes to avoid a misfire by AMQBHG as it travels to Maryland to face the Terps.

12:00 | ESPNU | Line: 31

What They Did Last Week: Maryland

Maryland lost to Clemson and lost early. Clemson jumped all over Maryland early on, behind a short field touchdown and fumble returned for a touchdown. Clemson gained possession of the ball just once inside their own 40 (the 39) in the first quarter and put up 21 points. Clemson effectively shut down their offense at that point and started playing backups late in the third quarter.


Does FSU have a punting problem?


What They Did Last Week: Florida State

Florida State escaped Blacksburg with a win. Virginia Tech blitz a crazy amount and created a lot of negative plays, but also allowed big plays. While FSU led for most of the game, the Hokies took the lead late. However, E.J. Manuel and co. were stone cold killers and calmly drove the field for the winning score. Logan Thomas would put a scare into FSU late with a long pass, but Logan Thomas is Logan Thomas and proceeded to throw a pick on the next play to end the game.

v. Maryland's Defense

Despite what many may think Maryland actually has a good defense that could give Florida State trouble. FSU has been very hit or miss on blitz pickup this year (inexperienced offensive line) and Maryland likes to blitz a bunch out of a 3-4 look with a cover-4 behind it. If the line and backs pick up the blitz well, EJ can certainly hurt Maryland as he did at Virginia Tech. However, if EJ is forced to pick up the blitz by getting the ball out early, FSU could struggle a bit. EJ struggled against Virginia Tech, constantly trying to run/spin out of a pass rush instead of throwing the ball away. Perhaps the only time EJ did throw the ball away was late in the game on the winning touchdown drive.

FSU has consistently used slants to beat blitzing linebackers, but against Virginia Tech the throws were either behind where they should have been or the receivers did not attempt to catch the ball away from their body. Neither are acceptable. As a result the Hokies were able to play their defensive backs off the ball but still defend the slant by reaching around the FSU receiver. FSU can really gash blitzing defenses with this play and they need to execute it better.

Will FSU look to slow down the Maryland rush by hitting long plays like they did against Virginia Tech or draws and screens as is more typically seen? If Florida State does decide to run the ball do they run it out of the shotgun or from under center? With a back like James Wilder Jr., one would think FSU would be content with pounding the ball up the middle to wear out the defense. However, Wilder suffered a shoulder injury a few games back and without him the Noles' depth chart is thin. The catch-22 is that while the run game from under center is likely better, Manuel's passing from under center, particularly when not doing play action, is poor.

The raw numbers are great for this Maryland defense but they have not exactly played a murders row of offenses (West Virginia and Clemson are great but the drop off is severe after that). The defense has to be at least a little bit worn down as the Terps' offense has struggled even with functioning quarterbacks. Injuries are already starting to mount as Maryland has lost leading tackler and fifth-year senior middle linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield. If nothing else, FSU should be able to wear down the Maryland defense and pull away late. What the Noles offense cannot do is turn the ball over, something they have struggled with on the road. Even better, though would be if the defense can force turnovers and set up short fields.

Goals:

- more than 6 yards a play before garbage time (420 yards on 70 plays)
- No more than 1 turnover
- 50% or greater TDs in the red zone

v. Maryland's Offense

Ugh! This is painful to watch. Poor Maryland has incurred the wrath of Angry Maryland QB-hating God and to an extreme nobody could imagine. The Terps have lost five quarterbacks this year through either transfer (Danny O'Brien) or injury (CJ Brown, Devin Burns and Perry Hills). Not content with just injuring QBs (always diversify!) AMQBHG has set his/her sites on any player that could help Maryland win. As referenced above, Hartsfield has been lost for the year but so has freshman running back Wes Brown. Star receiver Stefon Diggs could return for the game against the Seminoles, but what shape he will be in and how much he can help are major questions.

Maryland is going to run the ball plain and simple. AMQBHG has left Maryland with little choice but to start freshmen linebacker Shawn Petty at quarterback. Yes, linebacker. On the plus side Petty did play quarterback in an option offense in high school. On the downside he was recruited to play linebacker. In the past two games (against Georgia Tech and Clemson) Petty was 15/30 for 156 yards, with three TDs and two picks. While those numbers are not good, the biggest problem with Maryland is negative plays. Against Clemson (the 57th ranked defense) Maryland ran a play that went for zero or negative yards 44% of the time. They did fair better against Georgia Tech but Tech is the 87th best defense. FSU is the seventh best defense.

Like Georgia Tech and Clemson, FSU will stack the box and force Petty to try and beat them with his arm. Maryland will counter by trying to run freshmen Brandon Ross and a host of other running backs. Unfortunately, none have been consistently successful although Ross is leading the way averaging six yards per carry the last two games. That might be a bit deceiving as the sample size is small and Ross pulled off a 44 yard run against Clemson.

The bottom line is that this offense is bad. It was not good before Maryland started losing quarterbacks and it has gotten worse since they have. FSU is likely to play more 4-3 this game with a cover-1 or cover-0 behind it. Maryland cannot stretch the field and FSU should not worry too much about play action. Expect the DBs to be aggressive and look for picks on the few times Maryland throws.

Goals:

- less than 3 yards/play before garbage time (150 on 50 plays, 180 on 60)
- Force 2 turnovers
- 33% or less TDs in the red zone

Special Teams

Maryland kicker Nathan Renfro can get a hold of a ball every now and again but is not consistently impressive. Maryland's punt return team centers around Diggs and will struggle if he is not able to play or 100%. Diggs is a good returner but Maryland has no experience behind him this year. Diggs is also Maryland's primary kick returner and the team will struggle if he cannot go.

Adding to Maryland's fans frustrations is the fact that they struggle to hit field goals. Brad Craddock is 9-15 on the year with a long of 52. That shows plenty of leg but he has also missed two kicks under 30 yards and two more under 40 yards.

Florida State will have ample opportunities to return punts but probably not many kicks. Maryland is not a very good coverage team but that has not mattered much against FSU. The Noles continue to struggle to hold onto punts and this is inexcusable. There has to be one player on the team that can catch a punt. Whether he can run with the ball after is mostly irrelevant.

Miscellaneous

How interested will Maryland be in this game? Certainly Maryland has something to play for as they still have an opportunity to become bowl eligible and everybody seems to bring their best against FSU. However, what happens if FSU gets up big early like Clemson did? Does Maryland fold?

The Noles have not put together a convincing game on the road to date. While they have won all but one road game, all have been marred by sloppy offensive and special teams play. The Noles lucked out with a noon kick as they will be able to get home earlier and rest up for Florida, but they can do themselves an even bigger favor by getting the backups in early in a blow out. While the offense will need to execute a blowout might be determined more by the defense and special teams to give the offense a short field. The Maryland defense is a solid unit and has held at least one good offense (West Virginia) in relative check.

Prediction: FSU 38 - Maryland 6

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