Maryland's defense and special teams units made a handful of game-turning plays in the second half, but the Terrapins' offense couldn't sustain drives long enough to beat West Virginia at Byrd Stadium on Saturday.
Josh Lambert hit a 47-yard field goal as time expired, pushing the Mountaineers past the Terps to end a wild afternoon.
Yet any account of Saturday's game should begin with West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett. The former Florida State product completed 37 of 49 passes for 511 yards and 4 touchdowns. Three of those scores came on long passes to talented receivers Mario Alford and Kevin White in the first half. Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart referred to West Virginia's offense as an "air raid" earlier in the week, and the Mountaineers fully lived up to that billing. Alford and White combined for 24 receptions, 3 touchdowns and 347 yards receiving.
"I barely even did anything. I'm throwing it two yards to those guys and then they take it 90 yards and they make me look good. Just facilitating those guys that are the ones making the plays and deserve all the credit," a modest Trickett said.
The Mountaineers threatened on almost every one of their 18 drives. They scored six times and found themselves inside the Maryland 40-yard line six more times, remarkably coming up empty each time. Trickett's offense moved at a relentless pace, often taking fewer than 10 seconds between plays. They ultimately ran well over 100 plays from scrimmage, drawing the ire of Randy Edsall.
"I just feel like we could have made better plays, wrapping up better," Ngakoue said. "Everybody's going to be quick. This is college football, this is D-1 football." "I think there's a problem in college football, I really do, with that many plays," Edsall said, citing added strain on the players and longer game times. But linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, asked about the same topic, didn't give the same assessment:
"It really didn't feel like that. The way we practice, the way Coach Edsall has us set up, we always run a lot of plays," Ngakoue said. "It feels high-tempo every practice. I just feel like it was normal because we practice like that."
Ngakoue, for the second-straight week, notched three tackles for loss. Maryland needed him, as fellow linebackers L.A. Goree and Yanik Cudjoe-Virgil both missed the game. Cole Farrand appeared to be dinged at several points, and Matt Robinson left the game with an injury and never returned. The lack of starting linebackers certainly hurt Maryland's pass defense in the middle of the field, where West Virginia ran wild on in-routes for much of the day.
Given solely that West Virginia had 694 yards of total offense and scored 40 points, it wasn't a good day for Maryland's defense. But Brian Stewart's unit stood tall several times, bending but not breaking to the tune of forcing turnovers (or a special teams blocked field goal) on six different possessions inside the Maryland 40-yard line. The Terps gave up plenty of points, but they could have given up so many more.
"I think that's the philosophy we have, you play every play as hard as you can," Randy Edsall said. "Play every play like it's the last play you'll play. If you do that, you got a chance to be successful. Our guys believe in that and we made some plays down in the [red zone], some big plays, and some big stops and got some turnovers. "
But Maryland couldn't convert those turnovers into points. After Maryland's first fumble recovery, in the first quarter, the Terps punted. After Will Likely's second quarter interception, they punted. After a fumble recovery in the third quarter, they punted. After taking the ball on downs, they had a punt blocked through the end zone for a safety. And the beat went on, with either Brad Craddock field goals or no points at all after a number of Maryland's biggest defensive stands.
The game's tenor shifted often, but those shifts didn't always show up on the scoreboard.
"What a game," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward. "I don't know if I've ever been part of a game that had so many drastic momentum swings."
For Maryland, there were some positives buried in the loss. Stefon Diggs didn't touch the ball on offense in the first quarter, but he closed his day with 5 receptions for 127 yards, including a 77-yard catch-and-run from Brown, where Diggs had no one near him in any direction. He said the West Virginia secondary was among the three most athletic he'd encountered in his time in College Park. The touchdown was "just play-calling," Diggs said, on coordinator Mike Locksley's part.
Aside from the touchdown pass to Diggs, Brown's day through the air was, again, not pretty. Brown completed 19 of 35 passes for 241 yards, 1 touchdown and an interception on a deflection at the line. Not great numbers, but not bad ones. Beneath the stat line, though, Brown looked shaky. By rights, he could have been intercepted four or five times, but deflections and a bit of luck spared him several more turnovers. He either bounced balls or badly overthrew receivers on a handful of other throws. His protection wasn't outstanding, either, as right tackle Ryan Doyle struggled for much of the early going to handle Mountaineers defensive end Noble Nwachukwu along the edge.
Running back Wes Brown did not participate, which Edsall said was a coach's decision. In his absence, the only Terrapin to succeed on the ground was C.J. Brown, who scampered for a 75-yard touchdown to start the second half and wound up with 161 yards on 18 carries.
"Coming out of the half, we knew that we were going to get the ball and we wanted to make a statement especially with the momentum we had coming in. To come out and half that play and that run really uplifted the stadium and [the team]," Brown said.
Brandon Ross and Albert Reid carried 7 times between them for a ghastly 4 yards. Maryland consistently failed to pick up short yardages on third downs.
"In terms of what [West Virginia] was doing, we felt doing more of the zone-read would be more effective for us against their scheme as opposed to some of the other things we might have run in previous games," Edsall said. "I think we did have some success with running the ball. I wish we would have had a little bit more success in some of those third-and-short situations."
After Brown took a hit to the head at the end of the second quarter, Caleb Rowe entered the game and threw a beautiful touchdown ball to newly-minted receiver Jacquille Veii. Brown returned for the second half after just three passing attempts for Rowe. Also of note, Maryland's punt return unit was involved in one of the oddest sequences the program has encountered in years. In the end, the Terps fell a hair short.
"Give West Virginia credit because I told you all week long that it is a very good football team that is athletic with a lot of speed," Edsall said. "With all of the things that we did today, we still had the opportunity to try and win the game at the end and came up short."
Check back on Sunday and Monday for more.