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Maryland vs. West Virginia preview: Terps try to turn tide against 'Eers

The Terps get a big test against a rival team in Baltimore.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Rivalries are a bit more simple for Maryland in basketball than they are in football. Duke and North Carolina. Those are the two, with things about to get decidedly more complicated in the B1G.

But football? It's really just Virginia and West Virginia, as the Terps don't play the only other FBS school in the state (Navy) nearly enough to constitute any sort of animosity either way. I think it's fair to say NC State, Boston College and possibly Virginia Tech slot in for a "second tier" sort of rivalry, but none of those five schools inspire anywhere near the vitriol that the very mention of Duke basketball does.

This year, it does feel a bit different. In past seasons, West Virginia has been the clearly dominant program, and it has shown in the results, as the Mountaineers have won seven in a row. In 2013, not only is Maryland actually favored in the game, but there is a general excitement around the team not seen in years that has translated to anticipation of what should be a big game in Baltimore.

West Virginia, for their part, has not looked terribly impressive. After a 24-17 home victory over FCS program William & Mary, they lost 16-7 to Oklahoma in a sloppy game on both sides (that caused each program to make changes at quarterback), and then defeated Georgia State (perhaps the worst team in the FBS) 41-7.

Let's run the matchup down, unit by unit.

Maryland offensive line vs. West Virginia defensive line:

The numbers support what we've seen on the field -- Maryland's offensive line has been better than expected, with solid passing coverage making up for what has been disappointing-at-times run blocking. The Terps rank 76th in the nation in tackles for losses allowed (with 17), but C.J. Brown has done a good job avoiding sacks, as Maryland has surrendered just three.

West Virginia has 19 tackles for a loss and six sacks for the year, and is led on the defensive line by senior Will Clarke, whose 25 career starts ranks second on the team. At 6'7" and 273 pounds, he's an imposing presence in their 3-4 and already has three-and-a-half tackles for a loss this season.

Senior Shaq Rowell is the nose tackle, and has 12 tackles on the season. Kyle Rose also starts, and has three-and-a-half tackles for a loss off the edge.

Advantage: West Virginia.

Maryland defensive line vs. West Virginia offensive line:

Maryland leads the nation in sacks with 14, and while most of those come from the linebackers, the defensive line unit has done a very good job opening space, led by Andre Monroe and Quinton Jefferson (three tackles for a loss each).

West Virginia starts two fifth-year seniors, two fourth-year juniors and one third-year sophomore on their line, and have allowed five sacks and 17 tackles for a loss through three games.

Advantage: Maryland.

Maryland rushing offense vs. West Virginia front seven:

The Terrapins' top six rushers all average at least five yards per carry. They are (organized by yards):

  • Brandon Ross (5.76)
  • C.J. Brown (8.29)
  • Albert Reid (5.33)
  • Jacquille Veii (5.33)
  • Stefon Diggs (12.67)
  • Kenneth Goins Jr. (6.67)

At linebacker, West Virginia starts Isaiah Bruce (eight tackles), Jared Barber (14 tackles), Nick, Kwiatkowski (a team-high 27 tackles) and Brandon Goson (ten tackles, two sacks). Kwiatkowski and Golson are obviously the two to look out for, but Maryland has too many weapons for the Mountaineers to contain.

Advantage: Maryland.

Maryland front seven vs. West Virginia rushing offense

Maryland outside linebacker Marcus Whitfield leads the nation with four-and-a-half sacks, but leads his back-up Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil by just a sack-and-a-half. The Terps have managed to design packages with both of them on the field, and don't be surprised to see a linebacking unit of Whitfield, Cudjoe-Virgil, Matt Robinson (17 tackles) and Cole Farrand (21 tackles).

Like Maryland, the Mountaineers have a goodly amount of playmakers in the backfield, with Charles Sims (5.63 yards per rush), Dreamius Smith (6.56 yards per rush) and Wendell Smallwood (6.41 yards per rush) providing a potent rushing attack. Sims, in particular, should see a lot of the ball -- he is averaging 97.7 total yards per game this season.

Whitfield and Cudjoe-Virgil give Maryland one great pass rush, but Sims may cause problems for Farrand, who will likely be assigned to him at various points throughout the game.

Advantage: Toss-up.

Maryland receivers vs. West Virginia secondary

Stefon Diggs leads the team in receptions and is averaging 24.2 yards per catch. It's insane.

On the West Virginia side of things, they're led by Darwin Cook, who has a team-high 26 career starts. The senior has two interceptions and 20 tackles on the year. Joining Cook at safety is sophomore Karl Joseph, who has an interception and 11 tackles this season.

At corner, the Mountaineers start Travis Bell (nine tackles) and Ishmael Banks (eight tackles). West Virginia has the eighth-ranked passing defense in the nation, making this by far the biggest test Maryland's receivers have faced yet.

Advantage: Maryland.

Maryland secondary vs. West Virginia receivers

Maryland has a bit of secondary trouble without starters Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson, but Will Likely and Isaac Goins have both proved to be excellent replacements on the outside. Sean Davis has had a great year at safety and Anthony Nixon is solid, and Alvin Hill, Jarrett Ross and A.J. Hendy will be relied on for depth.

For West Virginia, they are led by Ronald Carswell, who has caught eight passes for 184 yards. They also start Kevin White (nine receptions for 97 yards) and Mario Alford (six catches for 44 yards), but have seven receivers who have received significant targets on the year. Perhaps most notable is freshman Daikiel Shorts, who has 12 catches for 151 yards.

Advantage: West Virginia.

Maryland quarterback vs. West Virginia quarterback

C.J. Brown has been excellent this year -- 11.4 yards per attempt, 8.29 yards per rush, 11 total touchdowns -- it's hard to envision a better start for the quarterback.

West Virginia has had issues at the position, benching Paul Milliard after he completed 60% of his passes for under seven yards per attempt and starting freshman Ford Childress, who went 25/41 for 359 yards and three touchdowns (with one interception) against Georgia State.

Advantage: Maryland.

Maryland special teams vs. West Virginia special teams

West Virginia kicker Josh Lambert has made three of five field goals and all nine of his extra point attempts. Brad Craddock has made seven of eight and 13 of 14 extra point attempts.

Punter Nick O'Toole is averaging 44.27 yards per kick. Nate Renfro is at 41.18 yards per attempt.

Wide receiver Mario Alford is averaging 15 yards per kick return, while Carswell is averaging 15.3 yards per punt return. Maryland has Will Likely and Stefon Diggs.

Advantage: Maryland.

Overall impressions and final tally

Maryland 5-2-1, but those two are significant concerns. West Virginia has one of the best secondaries Maryland will play all year, as well, but it's impossible to pick against Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

Our prediction: Maryland 31, West Virginia 28.