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Pinstripe Bowl Prediction and Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Maryland

New Era Pinstripe Bowl Prediction and Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Maryland Terrapins

Former conference rivals renew acquaintances in Yankee Stadium with Hokies, Terrapins looking to finish the 2021 season with a winning record

Old rivals will square off for the first time in eight years when Virginia Tech and Maryland hook up in the Pinstripe Bowl. The two programs have gone to battle 31 times with Maryland holding a 16-15 edge. For 10 seasons, they were both ACC members, but the bulk of their meetings came when the two were partners in the Southern Conference from 1921 until 1950.

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In 2021, Virginia Tech finished 6-6, which led to the departure of Justin Fuente as head coach. While former Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Fry will take over in 2022, associate head coach J.C. Price will lead the Hokies in the Pinstripe Bowl. Under Price's command, Virginia Tech achieved bowl eligibility by knocking off rival Virginia in their final regular-season game.

Maryland also earned its sixth win on Thanksgiving weekend, drubbing Rutgers 40-16 to secure a bowl bid. After starting the year 4-0, reaching the postseason didn't seem like it would be a problem. But five of the next seven games came against teams that were ranked at the time, and one of the others was now-8-4 Minnesota. The Terrapins beat only Indiana in that stretch, but qualifying for the postseason is unquestionably a success for head coach Mike Locksley considering this will be Maryland's first bowl appearance since 2016.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Maryland (6-6)

Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 29 at 2:15 p.m. ET
Where: Yankee Stadium (The Bronx, N.Y.)
Spread: Maryland -3.5

When Virginia Tech Has the Ball

Virginia Tech had the 90th-ranked total offense this fall, but the Hokies are going to look much different in this bowl game. Leading pass-catcher Tayvion Robinson is transferring to Kentucky, leading receiver by yardage Tré Turner is skipping the game to prepare for the NFL Draft, and starting quarterback Braxton Burmeister recently entered his name into the transfer portal. So the Hokie coaches will have to figure out a new way to move the ball offensively.

The good news is that running back Raheem Blackshear, despite declaring for the NFL Draft, is expected to play in the bowl game. Blackshear was the team's leading rusher and also caught more passes than any Hokie playing in the game. The running game will most assuredly be a key aspect of the Virginia Tech attack, especially with Connor Blumrick taking snaps in The Bronx. Blumrick played in five games this season and threw just 16 times while rushing on 41 occasions. At the end of the season, the ground game was certainly the strength of the offense, so that aspect will not change with Blumrick in the game.

Defensively, Maryland was not strong in any particular area, but its run defense was fairly consistent. In six games, the Terps allowed between 145 and 164 yards, and they held the opposition to under 100 in three others. Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan State gouged the Terps, but for the most part, you know what you're going to get. Opponents with good passing attacks have given the Terrapins a problem this year, but considering Virginia Tech's personnel losses in this area, that shouldn't be as much of a concern.

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The big matchup to watch will be the Hokies' offensive line against the Maryland front seven. Virginia Tech's late-season rushing surge was sparked not only by Blackshear and freshman running back Malachi Thomas but also by an offensive line that was creating better running lanes. Like at receiver, though, the Hokies will be shorthanded, as Lecitus Smith has declared for the draft and will not play. Those that are blocking for Tech will have to focus on Maryland's Sam Okuayinonu, a third-team All-Big Ten selection who led the team in tackles for a loss (6.5) and sacks (4.0).

When Maryland Has the Ball

As much as the Maryland defense will key in on the Virginia Tech running game, that's how much the Hokies' D will be focusing on the Terps' passing attack. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is without question the most important piece to the Maryland offense, as he completed 68 percent of his throws for 3,595 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season. He also has a whole host of pass catchers he's willing to target. Rakim Jarrett and Chigoziem Okonkwo are the leading receivers, but 10 different players have grabbed at least 18 passes on the season.

Though Virginia Tech has put up solid pass defense numbers for the year, with especially strong showings against North Carolina's Sam Howell and Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett earlier in the year, the last two games of the season were not pretty. Miami's Tyler Van Dyke threw for 357 yards in the Canes' 38-26 victory, and Brennan Armstrong of UVA passed for 400 yards in a loss. Complicating matters for Virginia Tech, star corner Jermaine Waller is another Hokie who opted out of the game in preparation for the NFL Draft.

The Hokies are also thin up front due to more departures. Linemen Jordan Williams and Amaré Barno, two very productive front-line players, have decided not to play, leaving Virginia Tech very thin along the line. The starting four have played a decent amount of snaps on the year, but there is not much experience behind them. And while Maryland has not had a whole lot of success running the ball this season, Tayon Fleet-Davis did have 71 yards against Michigan and 152 at Rutgers to close the regular season, so the Terps could be able to create some offensive balance.

Final Analysis

The team that wins a bowl game is usually the team that wants to be there more. It's clear that, in the Pinstripe Bowl, that team is Maryland. The Hokies have a slew of their best players opting out, and the new coaching staff is not fully in place. Offensively, the playmakers in the passing game are no longer with the team, and on defense they will be without their best cover man and one of their best pass rushers. On the other hand, a bowl victory would be a big deal for Maryland. After a 3-9 first season in 2019 and a 2-3 COVID-shortened 2020, getting above .500 would be a step in the right direction for Locksley and his program. Tagavailoa had problems with interceptions this fall, but if he can limit the mistakes, the Terps will be able to move the ball effectively on Tech. Maryland will come out fired up and claim the Pinstripe Bowl victory in a rather comfortable fashion.

Prediction: Maryland 34, Virginia Tech 17

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Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.