If you haven’t been paying attention to anything I’ve written lately, you won’t have noticed that I am notably more bullish on Virginia than I am in previous years. A team I thought could potentially enact some damages on the ACC this year (with all the talent they’re bringing in) has instead been something of a pock mark for the conference as a whole. Blowout losses to Oregon and *gulp* Ball State have done nothing to dissolve that opinion.
Then again, Maryland now holds the worst ACC conference loss in history, so who am I to judge? While it may be true that both teams have been quite embarrassing of late, the two teams are not equal. Virginia is a team disjointed, one that is rife with players who don’t necessarily believe in their coach and youth that is learning early on to lose the wrong way. In Maryland, you have a legitimate team, one that follows their coach to the ends of the earth and players who have learned from major losses in the past. The two are actually on opposite ends of the spectrum at this point in the season.
But no team is without talent, and Virginia holds a few key players that can turn the tides of a game in which the Terrapins could be mentally drained and sans their starting quarterback. We’ll discuss one named Kevin Parks, the redshirt junior running back for the Cavaliers, and the guy who could drastically alter this game’s outcome. Parks has already racked up 530 yards from scrimmage through Virginia’s first four games, and accounts for 30% of their offense already. As Kevin Parks goes, so go the Cavaliers.
Parks may only stand at 5’8, but big things come in small packages, as they say. Parks is a tough runner, a guy who doesn’t go down right away but is capable of exacting some serious damage if left unwatched. He’s definitively a guy who does his best when given a lot of room to run on the outsides, but that doesn’t mean he can’t grind out a couple yards as well. Parks makes tough cuts, and seems to hold up well no matter who he plays. That includes the Terps.
Last year, Parks beat up Maryland every which way to Sunday, and were it not for a Stefon Diggs returned kick, could have easily been deemed Homecoming Hero. Parks is only one of three runners to rush for 129 yards or more against Maryland in the last 17 games, so yeah, he can beat Maryland. The issue in stopping him is that he, theoretically, needs to be swarmed at his point of attack on the line of scrimmage. He can juke one tackler, but four?
Virginia’s offense masks the fact that their quarterback is more or less incapable of throwing by using the zone-read. All Maryland fans are now familiar with that, so expect a bunch of misdirection by David Watford in an attempt to draw attention from Parks. But Maryland has seen most of this before. They’ve seen it in practice, they know how to defend against it, and Watford isn’t such a threat with his legs that they should bite on any of these fakes.
Maryland can all but shut down Virginia’s attack by blitzing heavily and living up to their proud accomplishment of being the fourth-best team nationally in sacks. That should be a little easier given that Virginia is starting numerous freshman on the offensive line, one of whom has never started a game. As long as the defensive line maintains some gap integrity, Parks should be afforded no running lanes, and Watford will be forced to either A) do it on his own and get stopped up or B) use that arm, which is what we want.
It’s a pretty simple strategy, really. Watford is a guy you want throwing that ball around. He averages 4.7 yards per attempt through the air, and is a check down machine. His deep ball is inaccurate (he’s thrown 7 interceptions so far) and his intermediate throwing leaves a lot to be desired. While Watford does have the ability to make you pay with his legs (he had a very impressive 27 yard run against Ball State), he doesn’t use them effectively.
This is why Kevin Parks is the man worth stopping. Stop him, and you shut down the Cavaliers offense.