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Maryland football: Behind enemy lines with the West Virginia Mountaineers

A Q&A with staff from The Smoking Musket, SB Nation's West Virginia Mountaineers destination.

Tailback Rushel Shell and West Virginia face Maryland at Byrd Stadium on Saturday.
Tailback Rushel Shell and West Virginia face Maryland at Byrd Stadium on Saturday.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven't heard, Maryland has a big game against West Virginia on Saturday afternoon. For an introduction, we looked to some of the people who know the Mountaineers best: the staff of The Smoking Musket, SB Nation's WVU hub. Thanks to Matt Kirchner for joining us; our end of the exchange is here.

TT: From afar, it seems like West Virginia has come a long way since the Terps saw them last. What's your outlook on the program right now?

MK: This team looks night-and-day from last year's squad. I know that Towson is Towson, but 2013 West Virginia had to rally in the fourth to put away a bad William and Mary squad. We were up against an opponent that we should have dominated, and we did just that against the Tigers. Besides a miracle win against the Crimson Tide, I'm not sure that Dana Holgorsen could have had a better first two weeks of the season in terms of how secure he should feel with his job. When you add this early season improvement with a stellar recruiting class that's in the works for 2015, the future looks very bright in Morgantown.

TT: Florida State transplant Clint Trickett is a hot commodity at quarterback right now. How does he compare to some of the excellent WVU quarterbacks of the recent past?

MK: If I had to pick a quarterback to compare Trickett's play as of right now, it would have to be Geno Smith. He's been amazingly accurate with the football and has kept the ball away from the opposing defense. He's also shown just enough athleticism to keep defenses honest with respect to his legs. I know that's lofty praise, but having a healthy Trickett with a year in the offense under his belt has been enormous for this team.

TT: Trickett has done a nice job spreading the ball around to different receivers (11 pass-catchers against Towson, 7 against Alabama). Just how many guys should Maryland's secondary be worried about?

MK: Obviously, the two big threats are the JUCO transfer seniors Kevin White and Mario Alford. White brings a huge outside presence, and Alford has shown shades of Tavon Austin from the slot and in the return game. Beyond them, I would say that we're about four to five deep with legitimately dangerous receiving threats. Daikiel Shorts is a sure-handed slot option and Jordan Thompson has come into his own early on after two years of being a spring game hero. Cody Clay and Eli Wellman provide big, tight endish targets that are good for about 5-8 yards a pop and our backs (whichever is in at any given time) are all very active in the passing game via dump-offs and screens.

TT: It seems like Rushel Shell, the onetime prized Pitt recruit, has been a big addition. What has he brought to Dana Holgorsen's offense?

MK: Shell has been a great addition early on. He's a powerful runner that has great bursts of speed and has also been great in the passing game. He finds the holes as well, which has been a bit of a problem with our recent running backs. He has definitely been as advertised and has shown exactly what he showed during his one year at Pitt -- potential to be an elite back at this level.

TT: A decent bit has been made of West Virginia's tendency to work out of a 3-3-5 defensive formation. Do you expect they'll do that often against Maryland, and that it will work?

MK: With the promotion of Tony Gibson to defensive coordinator, we've seen a big return to the 3-3-5 as our base defense from more of 3-4 look in the last two years of Holgo's regime. It's not a huge difference though, as the roles played by one of the linebackers in our previous 3-4 is basically played by the third safety in the 3-3-5. It's a hybrid position, and during the two years of the DeForest/Patterson stretch at coordinator, there really wasn't a visual difference in how the defenses line up (except all the fires when the play actually started)

TT: Maryland's offensive line has had some struggles against lesser opponents than the Mountaineers so far this year. How formidable is the Mountaineers' defensive  front seven -- or front six, I suppose, depending on the set?

MK: We've shown, in my opinion, a decent ability to get penetration against opposing offensive lines. Against Alabama, we were able to successfully get into the backfield, but never actually finish up against Blake Sims. Against Towson, we were able to capitalize on those opportunities. We've definitely got the horses to get to the QB. What remains to be seen is if our guys can finish against the more elusive QBs that we'll come up against this season, and that obviously includes C.J. Brown on Saturday.

TT: The Terps are playing at home and 2-0, but their start has generally been much dicier than their record. The Mountaineers are 1-1 but look like a team very much on the upswing. Something has to give on Saturday. Who wins?

MK: I'm not a huge predictions guy, but I'll bite on this one. West Virginia is coming in with all the confidence in the world and Maryland has struggled out of the gate despite the 2-0 start. I think West Virginia wins a close one that comes down to the final minutes. This has always been a barometer game for both teams, and I think that both teams are pretty damn good and the on-field product should show that. A West Virginia win would set up an enormous night game in Morgantown against top-five Oklahoma, so my one worry has been looking ahead to that game. However, I feel confident in Holgorsen's pre-game prep (for the first time in a while, honestly), as there was no evidence of a post-'Bama letdown or pre-Maryland look-ahead against Towson last week.