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Maryland vs. West Virginia preview: Terps face potentially excellent WVU team

The Mountaineers are 2-0 and look like a possible Big 12 contender. Can Maryland spoil the party in Morgantown?

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Maryland enters Saturday 2-1 after last week's fairly convincing win over South Florida. The Terps turned the ball over three times and committed a dozen penalties against the Bulls, and will need to turn in a stronger performance in Morgantown if they are to compete with West Virginia. Kickoff is scheduled for for 3 p.m. ET on FoxSports1, with streaming available on FoxSportsGO.

The Mountaineers have played just two games this season, but have looked mighty impressive while doing so. They beat down Georgia Southern (a very good Sun Belt team that would later beat down good MAC team Western Michigan) 44-0, and top-10 FCS team 41-17. This'll be a step up in opposing talent for the Mountaineers as well, but early returns suggest a positive result this season.

Former Hal Mumme, Mike Leach, Kevin Sumlin and Mike Gundy assistant Dana Holgorsen has been West Virginia's head coach since the 2011 season, and oversaw the conference transition to the Big 12. In his first year (while the team was still in the Big East), the Mountaineers went 10-3 with an Orange Bowl win. Since then, the team is 20-20 with an 11-16 record in Big 12 play.

Usually, Dana Holgorsen teams are led by an explosive offensive attack. This year, West Virginia has a legitimate argument at both 1) the top rush defense in the country and 2) the top secondary in the country. It's a potentially frightful matchup for a Maryland offense still finding its footing.

West Virginia Mountaineers (2-0)

2014 record: 7-6 (5-4 Big 12)

Head coach: Dana Holgorsen (30-23)

All-time record vs. Maryland: 27-22-2

Returning starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)

F/+ ranking: 27 (Maryland is 81)

5-year recruiting ranking: 47

Players to know

Skyler Howard, QB, junior, 6'0/202, No. 3. Howard ended up at West Virginia by way of FCS Stephen F. Austin and Riverside City College, starting two games last season. Through two games this year, he's completed 72.5% of his passes for 10.9 yards per attempt, with five touchdowns against zero interceptions.

Wendell Smallwood, RB, junior, 5'11/201, No. 4. A threat as a runner and pass-catcher out of the backfield, Smallwood has had a very good start to he year. He's averaging 7.1 yards per carry, gaining at least 5 yards on 53.8% of his carries (tops on the team).

Shelton Gibson, WR, sophomore (RS), 5'11/188, No. 1. The Mountaineers' biggest deep threat, Gibson is averaging 35.2 yards per catch on six receptions this year. He's been targeted 11 times, so WVU hasn't been able to get the ball in his hands as much as they might like, but he'll be an important assignment for Maryland's secondary.

Nick Kwiatkowski, LB, senior (RS), 6'2/235, No. 35. A three-year starter, Kwiatkowski is West Virginia's most active tackler, recording 10.8% of the team's stops so far this year. He's also recorded 2.5 tackles for a loss.

Karl Joseph, S, senior, 5'11/197, No. 8. Joseph has started all 40 games since he arrived in Morgantown and has emerged as one of the top defensive backs in the nation (and a likely NFL pick after this season). This year he has 10.5 tackles and three interceptions, despite half of the team's games coming against a triple option offense.


Rush defense. West Virginia's first game this year was against Georgia Southern, a team that led the nation with 379.9 rushing yards per game in 2014. The Mountaineers held the Eagles to 195 yards on 57 carries (3.4 per rush), before two straight games of at least 7.8 yards per rush for GSU.

Field position. The Mountaineers rank first in average defensive field position and second in average offensive field position in the nation. The only team with a better offensive field position? You guessed it, the Fightin' Will Likelys.


Explosive rushing plays. West Virginia ranks No. 102 in Rushing IsoPPP, which measures explosiveness, and the biggest plays for the Mountaineers in the ground game have come from quarterbacks Skyler Howard and William Crest Jr.. Smallwood's a potentially dangerous weapon, but he hasn't broken out for long runs very often this season.

Sacks. West Virginia doesn't have any this year! Most of that is probably attributable to playing a triple-option offense in the only game against FBS opposition so far, but still --- Maryland hasn't given up any, either.


S&P+ prediction: West Virginia, 39.7-16.8. 90.7% chance West Virginia wins.

My prediction: West Virginia 48, Maryland 13. :(

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