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Maryland football: Terps defense faces stiff test in athletic West Virginia offense

Coordinator Brian Stewart and members of the Maryland defense talk about their preparation for the Clint Trickett-led offense of the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Clint Trickett leads a talented West Virginia offense.
Clint Trickett leads a talented West Virginia offense.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia's offense has fired on all cylinders in 2014's opening weeks. The Mountaineers scored a perfectly respectable 23 points against Alabama in Week 1, then hung a 54-spot on Towson in a dominating win last weekend.

Behind a spread passing attack led by senior quarterback Clint Trickett, the Mountaineers look threatening heading into a Saturday meeting with the Terps at Byrd Stadium.

"West Virginia’s spread offense, it's the air raid," Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said.

Through two games, Trickett is 64-85 for over 700 yards. He has completed passes to 11 different receivers. When Maryland shut West Virginia out a year ago, Ford Childress started for West Virginia and performed like an absolute mess. That won't happen with Trickett under center.

"The quarterback’s definitely playing at a much higher level," linebacker Matt Robinson said. "They have a lot of playmakers now."

None of West Virginia's top three receivers - Kevin White, Jordan Thompson or Mario Alford - was a factor in the game last year. Thompson wasn't even listed on the depth chart then, and White and Alford didn't catch any balls from a quarterback, Childress, who had a QBR of 3 that day. This year, those three receivers have combined for more than 400 yards through two games. All three now have an extra year in Dana Holgorsen's offense.

Also not present last around was running back Rushel Shell, who's averaging 4.5 yards per carry in the early going. Trickett, who took over for Childress the week after last year's blowout, has plenty of fun new toys at his disposal.

With some new personnel, West Virginia has adjusted to life without Tavon Austin, Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey, Stewart said.

"Everybody’s hitting on all cylinders," he said.

Stewart said Maryland would combat with Trickett's wide array of receiving options with pressure.

"We’ve got to make sure that we put pressure on the routes, put pressure on the QB and, no matter who he’s throwing it to, we’re there and we can contest the catch," Stewart said.

The Mountaineers' aren't a pass-only offense, however. The team has substantial depth at tailback. Behind Shell, the Pitt transfer who leads his new team in rushing, both Wendell Smallwood and Dreamious Smith figure to play roles on Saturday. Smith, a senior, averaged nearly 5 yards per carry and scored five times last year. Smallwood, a sophomore is a big part of the passing game, with 9 catches for 128 yards so far.

Linebacker L.A. Goree said the Mountaineers' rushing attack looks confident and decisive in game film.

"I see a lot of execution with their rushing game," linebacker L.A. Goree said. "They know what they’re doing, and they show what they’re doing. I don’t see too much hesitation about anything."

Given the Mountaineers' wide open passing game and ability to run effectively, Robinson could play a pivotal role on Saturday. A former defensive back, Robinson will likely spend much of his afternoon chasing around slot receivers, tight ends and running backs who connect with Trickett. And when Shell and Smallwood carry the ball to the edge, Robinson will need to be there, too.

Run or pass, Robinson knows he'll be busy.

"[I'm] going to be in space a lot more often than I have been in weeks past," Robinson said. "Getting throws on the perimeter, runs to the perimeter, so you’re going to be in a lot of one-on-one situations, whether it’s with the blocking receivers, getting off blocks to tackle running backs or in the open field with the receiver. I think that’s the biggest challenge that I’ve had to focus on this week, just making sure I’m preparing myself to have the right angles in the open field to make sure I can get him down."