For the moment, Maryland meets Virginia Tech in a battle of 6-6 teams Wednesday in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned this month it’s that just because a game is on the schedule when the day begins, that’s no guarantee it will be played. Witness last night’s San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl — a game whose plug was pulled hours before kickoff.
Like talking about a no-hitter before the game wraps up, one hopes the writing of this preview does not jinx the playing of this game in any way.
Each team will be dealing with a month’s layoff (both schools last played Nov. 27), and the challenge in bowl preparation is maintaining the urgency of the rhythm of 12 games in a 13-week span.
“Usually it’s tackling. What we’ve tried to do is stay pretty consistent within our practices and continue to ‘thud’,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said during a press conference on Tuesday.
“Even up to yesterday, we were in shells — shoulder pads and helmets — to allow us continue to do a great job fundamentally of tackling.”
The Terps defense ranked 12th in the Big Ten at stopping the run, passing efficiency, and overall yardage and was 13th in defending the pass and in points allowed. They’ll be facing a Virginia Tech offense that won’t have regular quarterback Braxton Burmeister, who entered the transfer portal after notching 255 of the 297 passing attempts by the team this fall.
Instead it’s junior Connor Blumrick, who had 132 yards rushing against Miami in interim coach J.C. Price’s first game at the helm but has attempted only 16 passes since transferring from Texas A&M. But the Hokies aren’t panicking.
“We’ve rotated Connor and Braxton throughout the year,” Price said. “With Connor taking the majority of the snaps here during the bowl prep, I don’t think the offense is going to look any different than it would if Braxton was there.”
While the Hokies are spinning the quarterback carousel, Maryland is the model of stability at that position for the first time in seven years. Taulia Tagovailoa is going to become the third quarterback in the program to start every game of the season since 2003 (Sam Hollenbach in 2006 and C.J. Brown in 2014 are the trivia answers). And while the junior piloted the third-best passing offense in the Big Ten by throwing for 3,595 yards, it’s his feet that give his foes concern as well.
“The best thing he does is he extends plays,” Price said. “When he extends them you have quarterbacks that look to run, well he does a great job-the first guy hardly ever gets him down. So we have to do a great job with our rush-lane integrity.”
Virginia Tech ranked fifth in the ACC in stopping the pass but was 10th in the conference with 25 sacks. Meanwhile, Maryland is looking for balance — that means jump-starting a running game that ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten.
“We have to run the ball to have success,” Locksley said. “I think going into this game it’s important that we establish ourselves at the line of scrimmage, and it always starts with running it and stopping the run. So those are the two things going into it that we need to accomplish.”
This version of Yankee Stadium is 12 years old, and for the first five years of the ballpark’s existence, Mariano Rivera would come out of the bullpen 141 times to post 84 saves over 119 games finished in the Bronx.
And the Hall of Fame reliever did so to the Metallica song “Enter Sandman,” a song that just happens to double as Virginia Tech football’s entrance music at Lane Stadium. We’d likely hear that song as the Bronx becomes a Blacksburg suburb this afternoon.
“I can’t tell you 100% with certainty,” Price said. “But I think every bowl game I’ve ever been to both teams do (orchestrate) their own entrance. So I would think that would be played.”