What: Maryland looks to retain their hard-earned momentum against West Virginia in a rivalry game with big implications for the program
When and Where: 12:00 on Saturday; Byrd Stadium, College Park, MD
Where to Watch: ESPNU; streams will be posted in the GameThread comments
Gameday Weather: 63 and mostly cloudy
Spread: Maryland -1.5
- Can Maryland stop the streak? Maryland and West Virginia have played 42 times, and the 'Eers lead the series 24-21-2. The Terrapins, though, have lost the last five meetings, ever since The Curse of Slaton took effect back in 2004. Randy Edsall accomplished last year what the Terrapins are trying to do now: he's 1-6 against WVU, and his sole win came last season.
- Battle of the spreads. I have no idea as to the relative quality of both defenses ... or both offenses, for that matter. I do know, though, that both teams' offensive schemes were designed to put up a lot of points and a lot of yards. If everything goes according to plan, there should be plenty of both on gameday.
- The return of Tavon Austin. This is the former Baltimore prep star's first trip back to Maryland since he picked the Mountaineers over the Terrapins several years ago. And guess what? He really wants to beat his home-state school ... the one that wanted him and recruited him really hard. Yeah, that makes about as much sense as his grandma telling him he can't lose to Maryland (same link). Seriously, what'd we ever do to you, Ms. Green?
- Momentum. Again. Maryland has it, and needs to keep it. The Cyrus Jones quote from last week is telling: recruits are coming around to Maryland, but want to see what happens the rest of the season. Getting a ton of buzz and then losing does the program no good.
- Late suspensions. Oi. Guess it's all up to you, Kevin Dorsey. Kerry Boykins will almost certainly start across from him, but past that ... well, hey, the silver lining is that we may get to see Adrian Coxson play his first game tomorrow! There's a ton of inexperience in the receiving corps now, with guys like Coxson and Tyreke Cheesboro leading the 3rd WR charge. Even Tony Logan, the senior of the bunch, has only a single career catch and has taken only a few dozen snaps. The other option: move Matt Furstenburg out wide more, and utilize Devonte Campbell in his place. Lots of stuff to try.
- All black everything. The combination for this week.
In a Turtleshell
Maryland Offense vs. West Virginia Defense: The 'Eers are still rocking that 3-3-5 from the glorious RichRod days. They return five starters from last season, most notably the sack machine that is senior defensive end Bruce Irvin; you might remember him from last year's game, when he dropped three sacks on the Terrapins.
And through three games, everything appears to be going more or less according to plan. No one has scored a touchdown against the defense yet (Marshall had a punt return for their only TD of the day), they're 16th in the country in total defense, and are in the top 25 nationally in both rushing and passing defense. Then again, a bottom-of-the-C-USA Marshall team replacing their starting QB and a didn't-make-the-FCS-playoffs Norfolk State team aren't really the world's best competition.
Norfolk St., in fact, ran a scheme not entirely dissimilar to the one Maryland runs: they used a lot of screens and short passes, which opened up down field for some longer passes. Few of the screens found success, but Xavier Boyce had several longer receptions, especially early on. WVU's secondary is likely it's most vulnerable unit, returning only two of five starters. But with the recent suspension of two of Maryland's top three wide receivers, how comfortable is Gary Crowton with airing the ball out?
Just so we all understand how much Maryland will miss their top two wide receivers: between Tony Logan, Adrian Coxson, Tyreke Cheeseboro, Devin Burns, and Marcus Leak, there's been a single collegiate reception and probably around 25 snaps - all coming from Logan. There's a lot of talent, particularly Coxson, but when Crowton brings in three or four wide receivers, things are gonna be interesting.
For the record, both of WVU's opponents had some minor success running the ball with their primary backs. And given WVU's lack of experience up front - only two of their front six are back from last year - I suppose that makes sense, as well. But neither team seemed to rely upon their ground game. Maryland may attempt to go at WVU's ground game more in the absence of the more experienced WRs, but given that Danny O'Brien almost put up 60 or so attempts against Miami, it'd be a pretty big departure.
Because WVU's defense has faced only a few unimpressive offenses, it's a little difficult to figure them out. Irvin being a pass-rushing menace is probably the only thing we know for sure.
West Virginia Offense vs. Maryland Defense: WVU, thanks to Holgorsen's offseason arrival, will be running the same pass-happy scheme you've seen at Oklahoma State over the past several years. So far, we've seen its early-season effectiveness oscillate between not-quite-primetime-ready and total defensive demolition, sometimes in the same game.
No one is really doubting that the Mountaineers will get it down, at least through the air. The passing attack is full of talent, most notably quarterback Geno Smith, who's proven himself as a legitimate pocket passing threat. He has plenty of talent out wide, too, including Wake Forest transfer Devon Brown and the big, talented sophomore Ivan McCartney. I have some serious concerns regarding Maryland's secondary's ability to cope against them; they were easily handled by Stephen Morris and Miami's passing attack, and they'll be even more tested on Saturday.
The running game, however, is a different story. The Mountaineers have had easily one of the worst ground games in the country through the first two weeks, checking in at 109th overall and 110th in rushing average. Their 1.6 ypc average against Marshall was downright terrible. They have plenty of experience on the offensive line - four returning starters, in fact - but lack talent, while they have plenty of talent of the backfield, but lack experience. That's made it a pretty big issue, and unless they can improve it'll hamstring the Mountainners severely the rest of the year.
Norfolk State attempted to make things tough on the WVU passing game by only rushing three and dropping eight into coverage. For a half, that worked. The running game was stifled despite going up against three-man fronts, while Smith struggled to find an open man through all the defensive backs. NSU lacked the talent to maintain, however, and we saw it backfire once WVU was able to execute their offense and Smith had all day to throw.
Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see Maryland try something similar. Their defensive line is talented enough, particularly in the middle between Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis, and Andre Monroe, to stand their own against a weak offensive line without much support. The defensive backs are where the questions will remain. They're an experienced bunch, but they're going up against a well-oiled Air Raid-esque attack featuring a large amount of talent. If WVU wins on Saturday, it'll likely be because their passing game got the better of Maryland's back seven.
Keys in Cliches:
- Contain Austin. If there's any player who can unlock a defense, it's Austin. He's elusive, quick, and makes stuff happen. Maryland will have to keep an eye out for him on defense, but on special teams as well.
- Get pressure with the front four. Smith was almost never pressured against NSU, and in the second half that afforded him a ton of time to dissect the coverage. WVU's passing game is too good for Maryland to commit many blitzers, but a front line with David Mackall and Joe Vellano has to be able to beat a below-average OL at least a few times.
- Convert in the red zone. Sounds basic, but we know the troubles they've had here. WVU's opponents have made three trips inside the 20 through the first two games; they've come away with 3 field goals. The 'Eers' offense will likely be too good for Maryland to answer 7 with 3 or, worse, 0.
Players to Watch:
- Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia: From the horse's mouth on this one.
- Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia: A bit of a no-brainer; Irvin came away with three sacks last year against Maryland, and was 2nd in the country in sacks last year. He's very good.
- Kevin Dorsey, WR, Maryland: Dorsey emerged last Monday as Maryland's big receiving threat. But that came against a depleted secondary, and now with Maryland's other big WRs out, even more pressure will be on him. How will he fair against a more experienced, complete bunch?
- Kenny Tate, LB, Maryland: I'm not a big fan of Tate's conversion either, but think back to last year's game: remember how many times Austin or Noel Devine got matched up against a Maryland linebacker and promptly burnt him? Hopefully Tate can help make that sort of mismatch that the wide-open offense is meant to create a bit less of a problem.
Prediction: I guess I should feel more confident in the Terrapins than I do. Oddsmakers are favoring them, they're at home, the confidence around the program is infectious, and so on and so forth. But WV seems very good in their own right. I haven't seen near enough of either team to have any idea which way this'll go, so I'll just be a homer and say Terrapins by 4.