If the Terps' loss to Bowling Green two weekends ago felt like sickness, their win Saturday against South Florida was the medicine that tasted terrible but put you on the road to recovery. The Terps' trip to Morgantown next weekend, where a challenging West Virginia team awaits them, is like your first day back at work when your immune system isn't quite itself but work still has to get done. The Mountaineers could expose a lot of Maryland's deficiencies and make you forget this weekend's game ever happened, or Maryland could play mistake-free and be competitive. We'll see.
More on what we're looking for in a moment. For now, here's some of what we just saw.
Maryland vs. South Florida – What we saw
1. Up-and-down QB play. In his first start of the season, Caleb Rowe threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Good! In his first start of the season, Caleb Rowe threw three interceptions. Bad! Rowe was highly uneven. If Maryland is to have a chance against West Virginia, it will need a lot of the good and almost none of the bad. Against South Florida's nothing passing game, Maryland had a margin for error on both sides of the ball it won't have going forward.
2. More pass-blocking savvy. That's three-straight sack-less games pitched by Maryland's offensive line. That hasn't ever happened under Randy Edsall, and I petered out quickly while trying to find the last time this happened. Maryland's running game has been pretty bad, and the line deserves some blame for that. But, wow, the pass protection: It's been absolutely terrific. Maryland quarterbacks have barely even been pressured.
3. A lid on the defense, usually. Sean Davis and Anthony Nixon blew one coverage in Maryland's secondary on Saturday. USF receiver Rodney Adams got behind Davis, and Nixon wasn't there to prevent a long touchdown. Fortunately for them, Adams did that himself when he dropped the ball. With that in mind, Maryland didn't give up any long passes all day. Davis actually skied to intercept a different deep shot from Quinton Flowers to Adams, and Maryland didn't concede anything longer than 28 yards. For a defense that's had big-play problems for a year now, that was a welcomed sight.
Maryland vs. West Virginia – What we're looking for
1. A menacing defense. When you think "West Virginia," you probably don't think about defense. But these aren't your father's Mountaineers. Despite his offensive background, head coach Dana Holgorsen has put together the collegiate version of the Seattle Seahawks' defense, punctuated by a secondary analogous to Seattle's Legion of Boom. Safety Karl Joseph (pictured above) plays the part of Kam Chancellor. He's a devastating hitter with great football instincts, and he's been a standout in games against Maryland before. The front seven is nasty, too. Defensive end Noble Nwachukwu, who terrorized Maryland's offensive linemen a season ago in a three-point win, is still around. This was a top-25 defense last year and should be again this year.
2. A slower-paced offense – maybe. Perhaps you remember last fall, when Randy Edsall proclaimed there was a "problem in college football" when West Virginia crammed 108 plays into its game against Maryland? The Mountaineers haven't looked like that so far. West Virginia only ran 77 plays in a 41-17 win over Liberty in its last game. Before that, 66 plays against Liberty. I'm not exactly sure what the deal is here, or if West Virginia might consider speeding up again after Maryland was set aflame by Bowling Green's breakneck pace. Last year's WVU offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson, has since moved on to Kentucky, and star receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are gone, too.
3. Critical special teams. No matter its pace, WVU is objectively more talented on offense and defense than Maryland. If the Terps want to win, starting off from better field position than the Mountaineers will be helpful. Maryland's done very well in this regard so far, both on punts and kickoffs going both ways, but has struggled with turnovers. On Saturday, the Terps have to be at their sharpest in this phase to give their defense some space and give Rowe less of it to cover.