For many years, the litmus test for successful football seasons at West Virginia University almost always seemed to involve games with the Maryland Terrapins.
Beat the Terps in late September and it was already a safe bet for Mountaineer fans to begin planning their holiday bowl trips. Lose it and it was time to check in on the WVU basketball team to see what they were up to.
West Virginia and Maryland have played 49 times since 1919, including a 28-year stretch from 1980 until 2007 when Maryland asked for a two-year break in the series so they could get on an airplane and fly across the country to play California. But the two schools resumed annual border combat three years ago in 2010, and this year they will take the show on the road to Baltimore to play at M&T Bank Stadium.
Maryland is 3-0 for the first time since 2001 when the Fridge was presiding over the Terp training table, and this year’s team appears to have another star in the making in sophomore wide receiver Stefon Diggs. West Virginia defenders got a chance to see the back of Diggs’ jersey a little bit at Milan Puskar Stadium last year, and a handful of Maryland fans have already taken to twitter this week to inform me how good Mr. Diggs is.
Tell me something I don’t already know.
Actually, Diggs is just the latest in a long line of tremendous football players to put on the Red and Black. Reciting some of the names can give you a stomachache … Torrey Smith, Darrius Heyward-Bey, D’Qwell Jackson, Vernon Davis
, Domonique Foxworth, Shawne Merriman, Madieu Williams, EJ Henderson, LaMont Jordan, Chad Scott, Jermaine Lewis, Frank Wycheck … The list continues during the Bobby Ross years in the 1980s with Boomer Esiason, Ferrell Edmunds, Rick Badanjek and Alvin Blount and then on back into the Jerry Claiborne Era of the mid-1970s with guys like Randy White, Louis Carter, Joe Campbell and Charlie Wysocki. I'm too young to remember Big Jim Tatum's players, but I hear they were even better.
I can clearly remember a couple of years ago listening to some of West Virginia's assistant coaches rave about all of the top-shelf talent the Terrapins always seem to have each year – even their bad teams. The WVU coaches would say, with more than just a twinge of jealousy, that all the Terp coaches had to do was hop in their cars and 10 minutes later they were right in the middle of a horde of really good football players.
In fact, there are so many of them near Maryland’s campus that they can’t take them all – or get all of them to come. Tavon Austin was clearly a pretty good one who got away. And although Stevie Slaton wasn’t from the Old Line State, Maryland all but had the Fairless Hills, Pa., speedster locked up until coach Ralph Friedgen decided to pull his scholarship offer in favor of Morgan Green – yes, that Morgan Green. There were times, too, when we took 'em but couldn't keep 'em (see Scott McBrien
DC’s Owen Schmitt also wanted to play for the hometown Terps but Maryland didn’t give him the time of day when he began touring local D-I schools with a box full of Wisconsin River-Falls game tapes sitting in the backseat of his car.
West Virginia wasn’t all that interested in him either, but as fate would have it former recruiting coordinator Donnie Young had some spare time on his hands and he decided to pop one of Owen’s games into the VCR. Young saw how big Schmitt was and how fast he ran, and then he walked down the hallway to the offensive wing and told the coaching staff that they needed to start using a fullback.
Of all the great West Virginia-Maryland games and outstanding individual performances that I’ve watched through the years – and there have been a bunch of them - Owen Schmitt’s performance at Maryland in 2005 ranks right up there among my favorites. He had only three carries for seven yards in West Virginia’s first two games against Syracuse and Wofford to begin the year, making him option No. 10 when Rich Rod started feeding him the football in the fourth quarter of a tight football game.
After one of Schmitty’s Csonka jaunts – a 34-yard, F5 twister that left helmets, mouthpieces and ear pads strewn about Byrd Stadium, Washington Post columnist Mike Wise (who is always worth a read, by the way
) captured the essence of Big Owen Schmitt, writing in the Sunday Post that he “rumbles like a beer truck with a broken parking brake.”
West Virginia, behind Schmitt’s 80 yards rushing, pulled out a satisfying 31-19 victory that afternoon in College Park on the way to a pretty decent bowl game – the Sugar Bowl.
A couple years later, in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl (following another WVU victory over Maryland) when Schmitt got loose once again for a 57-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma
, FOX announcer Matt Vasgersian reprised Wise’s description of Schmitt, calling him a “runaway beer truck” as he tore down the field toward the goal line.
Wise had unknowingly helped create another Mountaineer football legend that sunny Saturday afternoon in College Park, Md. – the runaway beer truck that got away from the Terps.
Perhaps next February Randy Edsall will be kind enough to let a couple more of those guys head on over I-68 toward Morgantown, W.Va.
We’ll gladly take ‘em.
Enjoy Saturday’s game and be sure to stop back afterward to check us out on WVUsports.com.Check out Antonik's book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores and online at your favorite retailers. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.