Terps hang on to priorities

Ball security of pressing concern against Va. Tech

College Football


College Park -- After watching hours of Virginia Tech game film, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen and his quarterback seem to have drawn the same conclusion about the No. 3-ranked Hokies:

"There's no weakness in their defense," said Sam Hollenbach.

"I haven't seen a weakness they have," Friedgen said.

That's because in four of the game tapes Friedgen has watched - including last year's nationally televised 55-6 drubbing of his Terps - Virginia Tech scored five defensive touchdowns and one on special teams. The Hokies have scored on a fumble recovery. They ran four interceptions back for touchdowns. And they've scored on a blocked field goal.

As if the No. 2 quarterback in the nation, Marcus Vick, weren't enough to concern Maryland, Virginia Tech has the nation's top scoring defense, is No. 2 in the country in total defense and undoubtedly will be the Terps' biggest test to date. The bye week has given Maryland additional time to prepare for Thursday's 7:45 p.m. ESPN-televised game against Virginia Tech, but the players and coaches have said Maryland is going to have to play a nearly flawless game to stay in it - something it hasn't been able to do yet.

"We know we have to be on top of our game in every single aspect," said Hollenbach, who leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense but has also thrown seven interceptions this season. "Watching them on film, they're such an athletic defense. They're complete. ... We have to know the game plan in and out."

Last year, Maryland's four first-half turnovers resulted in Virginia Tech's 41-3 halftime lead, which is why the first drill for Maryland's receivers yesterday was fundamental: holding on to the ball.

"Ball security, ball security!" yelled receivers coach Bryan Bossard, as his players tucked footballs under their arms tightly while a teammate tried to yank it out from behind by pulling on the blue strap tied to it.

Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Gary Blackney was trying to get his secondary to force turnovers.

"Secure the tackle and strip!" he yelled, his frustration visibly growing as he had to repeat it. "Secure the tackle and STRIP!"

Virginia Tech hasn't fumbled the ball once this season, and leads the ACC in turnover margin. The Hokies have forced six fumbles and made eight interceptions.

In Virginia Tech's 41-14 win over Marshall, Vince Hall recovered a fumble and ran it back 15 yards for a touchdown. Maryland has fumbled 15 times this season and lost four.

Xavier Adibi and Chris Ellis both returned interceptions for touchdowns, and D.J. Parker returned a blocked field goal 78 yards for a touchdown in the Hokies' 51-7 win over Georgia Tech. Against Duke, Roland Minor scored on a 23-yard interception return.

Cornerback Jimmy Williams, perhaps the top NFL draft prospect on the Hokies' roster, made the decision last year to return for his senior year instead of going pro. With 23 seconds left in the third quarter against Maryland last fall, he scored on a 34-yard interception return.

"If you turn the ball over, it's just death against these guys, and they just score with it," Friedgen said. "They don't even wait for the offense to get it."


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