Maryland - West Virginia First Look: In Which the Curse of Slaton is Gone

Maryland-West Virginia isn't West Virginia-Pitt, but it's a nice little secondary rivalry with plenty of dislike between the two teams and fanbases. Unfortunately, since Scott McBrien went out with the magical "destroying WVU twice in one year" season in 2003-04, the results haven't exactly been even.

In 2004, West Virginia took the game by three in Morgantown on a 19-16 overtime victory.

In 2005, it got worse: then-backup QB Pat White had his coming-out party, scoring three fourth-quarter TDs to lead West Virginia to a comeback win, 31-19.

In 2006, it was the Game of Slaton: the spurned Terp-to-be that ended up in Morgantown destroyed the Terps, rushing for 195 yards and beating Maryland 45-24.

In 2007, it was Slaton and then-freshman Noel Devine that did the destruction. Slaton had 137 yards and three TDs; Devine broke onto the national scene with 125 yards on his first three carries ever for West Virginia, and WVU won 31-14. That was the last time the two played.

It just so happened that West Virginia's up-swing happened to coincide with Maryland's down-swing, and we were treated to a series of lop-sided games as a result.

You might notice that the last three games occurred when Steve Slaton was in West Virginia; the first one occurred during the hullabaloo surrounding his "commitment" to Maryland. That's right: it's the curse of Slaton.

But with Slaton gone and two-year hiatus from the series now over, can Maryland finally get some redemption?

The 'Eers are coached by Bill Stewart, who took over for Rich Rodriguez and is yet to face Maryland. As far as coaching moves go, it's along the lines of the James Franklin HCIW deal: let's just say it wasn't the greatest decision. He's turned in two 9-win seasons, but West Virginia hasn't been "elite" since RichRod, despite having relatively the same amount of talent. The scheme, which is now famous thanks to RichRod's escapades at Michigan, is just about the same as before: a run-heavy spread offense.

Of course, WVU still amasses talent like it's nothing. Some of that talent came in the form of small, shifty running backs, which I like to call The Spawn of Slaton: Noel Devine and Tavon Austin (Austin happened to be too small and not shifty enough, so he was moved to WR, where he's still too small.)

Devine's the best player on the team and maybe in the Big East, and more than a little like Maryland's kryptonite last year, Jahvid Best. His accomplishments truly do speak for themselves, so I see no reason to do anything but list them: 1465 yards last year, 13 TDs, and an unreal average of 6.1 yards/carry. Yep, he's good. Very Slaton-esque. For someone who made his debut against Maryland, I'm guessing you know his talent.

Like I said above, it's still a primarily run-based offense, but it's worth mentioning that Austin does lead West Virginia in receptions this year with 14, and Jock Sanders, who's also the punt returner, is just below him. Sanders actually has significantly more experience than Austin and is probably more consistent, but Austin's absurdly dangerous and has been slightly more productive through two games. It's a dangerous duo who can make things happen with the ball, but they also happen to be very small: Austin is just 5-9, and Sanders is even smaller at 5-7. Some bump-n-run might be in order.

Geno Smith is playing the role of Pat White this year, taking over for Jarrett Brown, who started last year. Despite his name (Geno?), he's actually a very good QB, and even channeled Elway against Marshall last week: consecutive 98-yard TD drives to tie the game, before winning on a field goal in overtime.

In many way, he's the opposite of White: he's a statuesque 6-3, and everything I've read indicates that he lacks either White or Brown's running ability. The stats back that up, with just 18 carries for 19 yards so far. On the other hand, his arm and ability at reading coverage was more lauded out of high school and might be as good now as White's ever were: so far he's thrown for 532 yards over two games, three TDs, and a 72.4% completion percentage. He was at his best against Marshall, throwing for 316 yards on 32 completions with no TDs.

Like most offenses, though, West Virginia's spread is only as good as its offensive line, which on paper is pretty good. It had its rough spots against Marshall last Friday, which likely led to Devine not being quite as phenomenal as usual ("just" 4.9 yards/carry) and Marshall's impressive eight tackles for loss. The majority of the game, though, the line was serviceable, and it was even more than serviceable on those final two drives. Marshall took advantage of WVU when they were below-average, but it remains to be seen if Maryland can do that.

On the other side of the ball, the Mountaineers still use that odd-ball 3-3-5 scheme, which is a combination of a 3-4 and a nickel package. It hasn't done a very good job at all of applying pressure this year - seriously, zero sacks through two games - and was dominated for a few stretches by Marshall's front line. An inferior team racked up 135 yards rushing, and I don't remember a single time Marshall QB Brian Anderson was truly pressured.

In news that I can't say I'm entirely disappointed to hear, West Virginia's starting strong-side linebacker and defensive anchor Pat Lazear missed the first two games with a knee injury, and his status for the game is still unknown. (Bill Stewart said he was "getting better" but still wasn't "good.") I say I'm not disappointed because Lazear is actually from Wheaton and held up a Smoothie King in high school before copping a plea deal and skating (relatively) on the charges. His story was more than well-known by most Terp fans, mostly because Maryland pulled his scholarship offer after it happened. Ah, good ol' upstanding West Virginia, huh?

But it gets worse for the 'Eers' defense. Not only might Lazear be a no-go, but like I mentioned yesterday they'll probably be out their #1 corner, Brandon Hogan. That's a blow for WVU, obviously: it'd be like Maryland losing a slightly better version of Cameron Chism. Oh, and it happens right before they go up against one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the country. Yeah, there's some room there.

Keith Tandy is a junior CB and second-year starter, but there's still a very wide open spot where Hogan should be. Brodrick Jenkins is a promising redshirt freshman, but ultimately he's a redshirt freshman that used to be a three-star. Pat Miller came in with Jenkins but played sparingly last year, so he's a sophomore but not particularly more experienced. Adrian Cannon and Ronnie Tyler will definitely have some chances.

Again, this is a team that is yet to record a sack (despite playing Coastal Carolina in week one) and is missing two of their top three defensive players (middle linebacker J.T. Thomas is the third). If Maryland's defense hadn't actually been slightly better-than-expected up to this point, I'd say its a shoe-in to be a shoot-out. It probably will be anyway. Whichever defense can stand up more to the other's offense will probably win this one.

Either way, I actually agree with Bill Stewart on one point: this should be "a whale of a football game."

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