Opponent Blogger Q&A: Testudo Times

Justin K. Aller

We are very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of blogs to chat with during game weeks. This week's Q&A features an excellent exchange with Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner on Twitter) of Testudo Times, SBN's high-quality Maryland site. We talk Randy Edsall, Stefon Diggs, and the keys to a Maryland upset of Florida State.

Let's get to it.

TN: Let's go ahead and get this out of the way, because I know plenty of FSU fans are wondering. How are Maryland fans feeling about the impending move to the B1G during this farewell season in the ACC?

TT: Like so many things, it depends on who you ask. If you're younger or newer to the university, like I am, odds are that you're excited to take a competitive step forward in football without losing much in basketball, try something new and make tons of money (though how much, exactly, isn't fully clear). But among those who have been part of the university for decades, I sense real trepidation to leave behind a conference that has been, all things considered, pretty good to Maryland. I don't know many people who genuinely like the recent culture of realignment in college sports, but older Terps fans generally are vociferously against it. There is a very obvious general divide in the fan base's opinion.

Personally, I'm excited for the change even though I have nothing against the ACC. (I've always wanted to see games in Ann Arbor and Columbus, and now I'll get the chance. The big-time ACC programs are annoying long drives from College Park.)

TN: After an incredible bout of injury misfortune in 2012 and a wave of transfers, what is the state of the Maryland program under Randy Edsall?

TT: I suppose the mood around the program is subject to swing dramatically in either direction pending Saturday's outcome, but right now, I'll call it "cautiously thrilled." The 4-0 start and the newly minted top 25 ranking mean a great deal to a lot of people, but there is some positionally concentrated injury trouble again that really tempers the excitement. Maryland had a tremendous No. 1 cornerback in Dexter McDougle, but his career ended with a dislocated his shoulder a few weeks ago. Compounding his loss, No. 2 cornerback Jeremiah Johnson has been out since the second game of the year, so the Terps have a bit of a patchwork going on in their secondary. I don't think I'm the only person worried that they're another cornerback injury away from complete disaster, which would be awful on so many levels. Still: Results are results, and the Terps are undefeated and ranked. They're also young.

TN: The Terps have gotten off to an excellent start in 2013 at 4-0. Not unlike FSU, though, the competition faced has been suspect. Are the Terps for real? What are your expectations for the rest of the season?

TT: The first four games have come against two cupcakes (Florida International, Old Dominion), a flaming wreck with a little talent (Connecticut) and a clearly-unknown quantity (West Virginia). I considered the first three wins to be of the "taking care of business" variety, but the 37-0 obliteration of Dana Holgorsen's team two weekends ago was very promising and only became more promising this past weekend.

Are they for real? That hinges on what you're looking for. The Terrapins are going to be in pretty much every game they play, but I'd be delusional to suggest they'll actually win every game -- which is quite close to what they'd need to do in order to make a run at the conference championship and BCS. If a few particular players stay healthy, though, I could see a 5-3 or 6-2 finish to end the year with nine or 10 wins, with an unlikely ceiling of 11. That would be good for a respectable bowl berth and would constitute a healthy turnaround season.

My prediction is that they wrap the year at 9-3. But who knows?

TN: The nation didn't really get to see what the Maryland offense was supposed to be under Mike Locksley last season with all of the aforementioned injuries. What style of attack does he bring to the Terrapins and how will he look to exploit a talented FSU defense undergoing a schematic transition?

TT: With quarterback C.J. Brown healthy, the Terps play a quick-paced system that focuses on using their best weapons. There's not much huddling and not many under-center snaps. Locksley likes to have Brown keep the ball and run toward the sidelines, where he can keep it for a casual 30-yard run or pitch to running back Brandon Ross or all-world wideout Stefon Diggs. With Diggs and No. 2 receiver Deon Long at their disposal, Locksley and Brown haven't shied away from a vertical passing game, but that's certainly not what the offense is predicated on.

Florida State's pass defense is obviously tremendous, which means the simplest strategy ("Diggs runs past everyone and Brown throws him the ball") probably isn't the focal point of Locksley's game plan. I could see Ross playing a bigger role on Saturday, but they'll still need to get Diggs and Long touches. Or they'll get beat badly.

TN: The Maryland offensive line struggled last season (understandably so) and lost three starters. How has the 2013 group fared and what do you expect from them against the ‘Noles?

TT: They've done well so far; at least they've done much better than I expected they'd do. Can I cop out here and say I have no earthly idea how they'll perform against your team? They've gone up against some impressive individual linemen this year (Shaq Rowell of West Virginia comes to mind) and neutralized them, but the 'Noles' line is in a wholly different stratosphere than any group they have faced. "Measuring stick" is a horrible, horrible sports cliche, but that's exactly what this will be for Maryland's offensive line. I would be surprised if they let Brown get annihilated snap after snap, but there's a wide range of possible outcomes here.

TN: The Terps lost several talented players off of its much-improved 2012 defense under Brian Stewart. How have the new players fared this season? Has this group been as aggressive as it was last season in the 3-4?

TT: There haven't been any bad stories so far. Terps-turned-New England Patriots Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis aren't easily replaceable, but Maryland's defensive front seven has been superb. Headlined by new starters and sudden pass-rushing monsters Marcus Whitfield and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, that group has harassed quarterbacks to the tune of 4.25 team sacks per game. That's second in the nation, impressive even against suspect competition. If you believe, as I do, that dominant pass-rushing and aggressiveness go hand in hand, the Terps' defense has been very aggressive.

The secondary has done well, too, the cornerback health concerns notwithstanding. But we'll see how long that house of cards holds up.

TN: What is the strength of the Maryland defense? Which match-up with Florida State's offense worries you most?

TT: The linebackers are excellent. Whitfield and Cudjoe-Virgil have formed a quality outside backer mix with former safety Matt Robinson, and Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree, two juniors, have been sturdy down the middle. The Terps had a wonderful linebacking corps last season when they still had Demetrius Hartsfield, Darrin Drakeford and Kenneth Tate, but these guys have been just as good.

Matchups-wise, we'd all be arrogant to not be worried about Jameis Winston torching Maryland's backup-turned-starting cornerbacks. They fared well against the inept Ford Childress and West Virginia, but Winston is another story.

TN: Tell us a bit about Maryland's special teams, and feel free to gloat about Stefon Diggs being an absolute superstar. We would.

TT: Diggs is an absolute gem, indeed. He's difficult not to gush about, but I sense your readers have a decent handle on him already. The Terps have used freshman cornerback Will Likely on some punt returns (make puns at your own peril), but he's not nearly as explosive as Diggs and has had some early punt-muffing problems. There's an interesting debate to be had on whether it's smart to put your program cornerstone in harm's way to squeeze out some extra return yardage. For now, it seems like Maryland will do that, so watch for Diggs to make a lot of men miss on Saturday.

The kicker, an Australian sophomore named Brad Craddock, was a roller coaster ride last season. (The low point, undoubtedly, came here.) This season, though, he's been sturdy, and he even drilled a 50-yarder in the rain against West Virginia. Maryland's coverage units have been above the line so far, though they haven't faced the most explosive athletes on the other side of the ball.

TN: How do you see Saturday's game playing out? Which players or match-ups will be particularly key if Maryland is to pull the upset in Tallahassee?

TT: The two-touchdown-plus spread seems way too wide to me, because the Terrapins' defense just isn't likely to get run out of the building Pitt-style (even by the fantastic Jameis Winston). It wouldn't shock me if that happened, but it's not totally out of the question that Maryland gets a program-changing win.

For that to happen, Diggs will have to make a few out-of-this-world, game-turning plays, and the cornerbacks will have to work their tails off to keep Winston and his receiving group in check. Ross will need to run the ball especially effectively, because I gather Florida State won't give up a ton through the air. These things could all happen, but even if they do, it's tough to beat elite teams in their own buildings. I'm picking Florida State, 31-21, and hoping my team proves me wrong.

Enjoy the game.

Thanks so much to Alex for his great insight! Be sure to head over to Testudo Times for all things Terrapins. Our answers to their questions are HERE.

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