Friday, September 4, 2009

Maryland Preview - Matchups and Keys to the Game

You think Best is ready?

Ok, let's talk pivotal matchups, and then some key things to watch for.

Cal OL and RBs vs. Maryland Blitz

This the one everyone is going to be watching for. I actually don't think blitzing itself is all that complicated to block. There's a reason most teams don't blitz 50 times a game -- it's not a sound defensive model, and good coaches will always find a way to beat it. It's just a question of knowing your rules and executing properly. The issue is this unit's experience playing together. If they all had a year together, I wouldn't even be writing about this as a key matchup.

I think the inexperience will cost Cal on some plays here and there. If you think Maryland is not going to blow some plays up, you're in for disappointment. They will. The key on those plays is for Riley to either elude, or throw it away. But at all costs, he has to protect the ball and not get greedy waiting for a guy to get open. Fumbles and INTs on blitzes are huge momentum changers, and they can really take the QBs mojo away and embolden a defense. As long as he avoids that, eventually the plays will be there.

But overall, I think Cal's coaching will be the difference in its favor in terms of blocking. Knowing Tedford, this line is going to be well coached, very disciplined and very athletic. And they will make good in game adjustments.

Edge: Cal. Maryland is going to do some damage, but in the long run, its gambling is going to cost it against a well coached unit.

Cal pass rush vs. Maryland OL

Lost in all the talk about Maryland's blitz is Cal's ability to be disruptive rushing the passer, both blitzing and just straight up. MD's line is pretty green, and unlike Cal's, a little thinner on talent, especially on the right side. In contrast, Cal's defensive line is probably top-15 unit. Throw in Mohamed's speed and knack for getting at the QB, and I think Cal is going to create some opportunities in passing downs.

The other factor is Cal's talented secondary. You can be a lot freer in bringing pressure if you trust your secondary. Especially when Cal goes nickel, there just aren't a lot of places to go with the ball.

Edge: Cal Cal sacked Turner 4 times last year, and its pressure batted or blew up a couple passes as well. And that was in a game where Maryland had a much more experienced line, and was in its comfort zone at home with a lead. Look for those numbers to increase this year.

Maryland's short passing game vs. Cal back 7

As I said in the preview of the MD offense, the key to stopping a precision passing game is speedy linebackers who can cover well. While I think Cal has the speed part down, I am not sure green guys like Kendricks and Holt are going to be tight cover guys this early. I think the back 4 will cover well, but Turner is going to make plays. Plus, Gregory's defenses have always struggled a bit with this type of offense.

The hope for Cal is they can contain it, take away deep balls, limit gains and YACs, and capitalize on every mistake - tipped balls, bad reads, etc. And if it gets to third and long or red zone, lock down (something they did not do last year). If they do this, the dink and dunk will win the battles, but not the war. If they don't, MD is going to move the ball some through the air.

Edge: Maryland I think Cal is going to have some lapses here.

Cal WRs vs. Maryland secondary

I could also call this "Cal WRs. vs. Themselves," because the WRs just need to get some confidence, trust their routes and their hands, and just play ball.

But they also need to shake free from Maryland's press. And if they catch a ball, they need to play fast and exploit the holes created by the blitz. The WRs have a chance to break this game wide open because they are going to get into the clear. They need to play like they know this.

Maryland's secondary has some bigger guys, notably safety Tate at 6-4 220 and safety Skinner at 6-3 215. They are going to want to lay the lumber and Cal's WRs need to out-quick them with the ball, and punch them in the mouth when they're blocking.

Edge: Cal Call this an instinct pick. MD has some new faces in the secondary, and I haven't seen how much Cal's receivers have improved (or how well Jones will play). But typically, when Tedford makes something a point of emphasis and personally calls out a group, they usually answer the call, especially in the first home game. And Cal's receivers are a bigger, more physical group anyway.

Key things to watch for

Special Teams. Cal always seems to come up with a big play on special teams in the home opener. This is the most athletic team I've seen at Cal in as long as I can remember. That usually shows up in special teams, especially for the jacked up home team, whether it's at gunner, downing the ball inside the 5, or running a punt back.

Turnovers Cal is ridiculously better under Tedford when they win the turnover battle. They were great at this last year. If they can get MD in third and long, they should cause turnovers.

Depth. Cal has a lot of good, hungry young players that will rotate a lot, more than they've ever had. That paid dividends against a tired Michigan State team last year, and this year's backups are even more talented. Maryland on the other hand is a young team, traveling a long way. If the game is tight in the second half, it will be interesting to see what effect this depth has.

Riley's poise. No one disputes the kid's talent. The question is whether he can summon the killer instinct. He seems wired to be able to, and now he doesn't have to worry about being yanked. If he shows that level of focus and confidence, this offense could be dangerous. If he gets rattled, it could be more of what we saw last year.

Prediction: I think Cal wins, but I'm not ready to call blowout. I think Maryland should score around 17-20 points. I think their rhythm passing is going to have success. The difference is going to be Cal's offense will be more explosive and confident playing at home, and the defense will not get down early the way they did last year. And I do think Cal will come up with a couple big plays, like big runs, blocked punts, INTs, and trickeration. These will be the differences.


Scott said...

Very nice and thorough write-up + analysis. I've really enjoyed all of your posts leading into this season. Keep up the great work. Go Bears!

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