As part of Testudo Times' 2013 football coverage, staffer Alex Kirshner is corresponding with opposing teams' beat writers and SB Nation bloggers for each week on the Terrapins' schedule. This week, we check in with WVUIE97 of The Smoking Musket, SB Nation's West Virginia Mountaineers site. Alex answered some questions about the Terps, too.
TT: West Virginia has generally had tremendous quarterback play over the last half decade or so. I'm thinking mostly of Pat White and Geno Smith, obviously, but I do wonder about the current QB situation. Is freshman Ford Childress now the guy? What can Maryland expect from the position on Saturday?
SM: The job seems to be his to lose at this point. You could tell he was jittery a bit during the first half last week, but seemed more and more comfortable as the game went on. Childress doesn't have the accuracy (yet) that Geno displayed, but Coach said he's not going to limit the playbook. Holgorsen has also reiterated that Childress needs to pick up his pace and sense of urgency. Pressure on him by the Maryland D would likely be the best measure against him to force him to make his decisions quicker and likely less confidently.
TT: Coach Dana Holgorsen's hiring was messy. Is his firing on the horizon, or is he fairly safe?
SM: He's fairly safe, especially as long as AD Luck and President Clements are around. The program is really starting to finally become his entirely. The first year he had a defensive staff that didn't agree with him. Last year, some mistakes were made in the asst. hiring process that seem to have been corrected. He's also been dealing with a severe shortage of depth across the roster due to some recruiting shortcomings (total numbers brought in, not necessarily quality) of the previous staff. This year is definitely a transition year due to the personnel losses on offense, but things are looking positive overall.
TT: Does this version of the Mountaineers have the talent to make Holgorsen's fast-paced, high-powered offense work? What kind of adjustments has the coaching staff made this season without a firmly entrenched stud QB -- and with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey not around anymore?
SM: Constant competition and shuffling of personnel. We have a large quantity of WR's on the roster and they all have talent and playmaking ability. Their confidence and consistency is what has been lacking so far. Holgorsen has used the word "potential" more than once and watching them...they're close, but just a bit off, so far. No one is comfortable in their starting role, which is forcing them to push each other every day. We also finally have a healthy stable of running backs (a luxury that was sorely missing during last season's losing streak) who all bring slightly different things to the table. The offense was actually limited by this last season a great deal. Holgorsen is unlike his other Air Raid peers in that he does like to and isn't afraid to run the ball.
TT: Maryland's biggest strength is Stefon Diggs. Can West Virginia's secondary keep him under control?
SM: Under control is a relative term. He's going to get his catches and yards. It's a matter of limiting his RAC. Our defense is clearly improved over a year ago, in technique, talent and results. But they haven't faced a talent like Diggs yet this season (or Long...or Brown...Ross, maybe). I don't see him being shut down by any stretch. I think it will be more of a matter of limiting his effectiveness than shutting him down. Is this defense capable? We'll find out Saturday. This will be a true barometer to see how far our defense has come since last season.
TT: On the other hand, Maryland's cornerback situation might be on the verge of direness with both starters injured. WVU's receiving corps seems to be pretty young (like Maryland's), but who's the biggest threat there to burn the Terps?
SM: Kevin White has the chance to be something special if he can get the drops under control. Daikiel Shorts is also a young talent with the ability to make some moves and make defenders miss (both are slot guys). Mario Alford is also a guy that the coaches have high hopes for, but he's been slowed by little injuries so far and is just now getting healthy. On the outside, the guy with the best chance to beat you downfield deep is Ronald Carswell. They've all shown flashes, but the consistency hasn't been there yet.
TT: How strong are the Mountaineers at the line of scrimmage -- both offensively and defensively?
SM: Offensively, they've been adequate. We have numbers and they do a lot of substitutions (which maybe has led to some chemistry issues?). Depth isn't an issue for the first time in quite a while, but again, here's that word again...consistency has been lacking. If I were to grade them, I'd give them a C+.
Defensively, Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell are the clear leaders and they've been playing extremely well thus far. We'd still like to see some more pass rush from this group, but as DC Patterson noted recently, they've face "max protect" almost exclusively this season so far. I'd grade these guys out at B so far.
TT: Maryland has played this game up as a serious rivalry match. "The Border Battle," the athletic department is calling it, with special tailgates and organized bussing for students and thousands of complimentary and discounted student tickets and everything. Do you guys view this game as particularly important, or is that just a College Park thing?
SM: It depends on which part of the state you're talking to. I live in the extreme Eastern Panhandle, right next to Maryland, and around here there's definitely a sense of rivalry as many folks who live here work in Maryland and obviously with Maryland supporters. The more central and southern part of the state probably don't care as much, except that Maryland is the last of our traditionally scheduled foes still on the slate. The athletic department and University aren't playing it up, but the players and coaches are definitely aware of the ramifications of this game and are excited to play it, especially in a special venue.
TT: Lastly, your score prediction for Saturday afternoon?
SM: I expect it to be close, but with the level of competition faced by both teams so far it's hard to judge. But I do think Oklahoma (even with a bad QB at the time) is a good deal better than UConn, so let's call it 31-28 for the Mountaineers, but it could easily go just the reverse. It should be a fun game to watch.