MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - New uniforms, a new coach and a new winning attitude confront West Virginia when the Mountaineers take to the road for the first time this year to face a fired-up Maryland team that is coming off a season-opening 32-24 victory over Miami on Labor Day.
Against the Hurricanes, quarterback Danny O’Brien threw for 348 yards, running back Davin Meggett racked up 126 all-purpose yards and the Terrapin defense produced two scores – the second a game-sealing 54-yard interception return by Cameron Chism – to give the Randy Edsall era a big liftoff.
Now, Maryland will have 12 days to return to Earth and get ready for a Mountaineer team that is coming off an uneven performance against Norfolk State last weekend. West Virginia trailed the Spartans 12-10 at halftime before erupting for 28 third-quarter points and scoring on seven consecutive possessions in the second half in its 55-12 victory – Coach Dana Holgorsen’s second at West Virginia.
Holgorsen hopes last Saturday’s second-half performance against the Spartans will stick with his young football team this weekend.
“We need to show constant improvement,” Holgorsen noted. “The attitude is good, the effort is good, but obviously we need to get better in a lot of areas.”
West Virginia (2-0) is going to get a better read on just what type of football team it has against a Maryland squad that is returning several key players from last season's team that won nine games and defeated East Carolina in the Military Bowl.
The Mountaineers are very familiar with what Edsall did during his years at UConn, but Edsall has brought several different coaches with him to College Park and what the Terps showed against Miami was a departure from the possession, ball-control style he used up in Storrs.
New offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s no-huddle, hurry-up system accounted for 499 yards of offense against the Hurricanes – Maryland’s best offensive performance in nearly six years. Crowton’s offense ran 78 total plays from scrimmage, including 44 passes, averaging 6.4 yards per play.
“He does a great job and his background is flipping the ball around,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. “He’s been known to give people problems at BYU to wherever he’s been.”
O’Brien and tight end Matt Furstenberg were particularly effective, the pair hooking up four times for 68 yards (all plays for first-down yardage). Furstenberg is a 6-foot-4, 245-pound junior from Flemington, N.J., who has really caught the eye of West Virginia’s defensive staff.
“Heck, they opened the ballgame against Miami by throwing a bubble screen to him,” said WVU secondary coach Dave Lockwood. “That kind of explains it right there.”
Davin Meggett is also utilized in the passing game, catching four passes for 34 yards against Miami after hauling in just six passes last year in the previous offensive system. Meggett accounted for more than 700 yards on the ground last season as a junior, and is now 18th on Maryland’s all-time rushing list with 1,607 yards.
“They get him the ball a bunch of different ways and he’s a well-rounded player,” said Casteel.
However, the progression of O’Brien, the 2010 ACC rookie of the year, is what has got Terrapin fans really excited. Last year he passed for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns, averaging more than 300 yards per game through the air during his final five games. The Mountaineers only caught a glimpse of O’Brien in Morgantown in 2010, the freshman hobbled with an ankle injury before departing right before the end of the first half after taking a big blindside hit from Bruce Irvin.
“We didn’t see a great deal of him last year,” Casteel said. “But we’ve seen him on film and you can tell he’s a good player.
“He’s a big kid who throws the deep ball well,” Casteel added. “I think they had a 52-yarder with three minutes left in the game, and it was right on the money.”
Defensively, the Terps have gone to more of an aggressive, attacking style coordinator Todd Bradford was known for during his most recent stop at Southern Mississippi. Holgorsen is familiar with Bradford having gone up against his defenses when Holgorsen was at Houston.
“I’ve got a pretty good handle on what he’s all about and what he likes to do,” Holgorsen said.
What Bradford’s defense did against Miami was create turnovers, taking two of them to the house for key scores. The Terps gained four turnovers in all against the Hurricanes and have recorded 27 interceptions over their last 18 games, including picks in 11 out of their last 13 contests.
Edsall was all about causing turnovers when he was at Connecticut, WVU’s four miscues the deciding factor in Connecticut’s 16-13 overtime victory over the Mountaineers that put the Huskies on the path to the Fiesta Bowl. Holgorsen is well aware of Edsall’s propensity for creating turnovers and it is a topic he will continue to address with his team.
“Just because we haven’t turned the ball over in two weeks doesn’t mean we can relax,” Holgorsen said. “It’s part of our everyday coaching efforts. Our style and how we practice is to make sure we focus on those things.”
Senior outside linebacker Kenny Tate and junior middle linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield headline a Terp defense that scored four times last season and ranked 38th nationally in points allowed (22.2 ppg.).
Maryland has its top two corners, Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes, returning from last year and a defensive line, led by junior A.J. Francis, with some size and athleticism up front. WVU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is impressed with what he’s seen on tape of Maryland’s front four.
“I think they play extremely hard,” he said. “They’re athletic guys. They are physical guys and they play hard every snap, and that’s what we’ve got to match.”
Maryland also has an explosive punt returner in Tony Logan, who earned all-ACC honors in 2010 after averaging 18.1 yards per return and taking two for scores. Logan’s 85-yard return against Florida International and 84-yard return against Duke last year represent two of the three longest punt returns in Maryland history.
Junior Nick Ferrara handles all of the kicking chores, averaging 48 yards per punt and converting four of five field goals against Miami.
“They are very sound in the kicking game and they are not a very penalized football team,” said Holgorsen.
West Virginia comes into this weekend averaging 44.5 points and 412 yards per game, but there are still questions about the Mountaineers’ running game that is averaging just 2.4 yards per carry and failed to score from the 1 against Norfolk State in six chances.
Holgorsen said his run offense doesn’t have to lead the nation in yardage, but it does have to become more of a threat than it has been in its first two games against Marshall and Norfolk State.
“Marshall did a nice job of scheming the run and taking it away, but the thing that discouraged me so much in the last game was what they were doing defensively in trying to take away the pass,” Holgorsen said. “We didn’t do a very good job of packing and running it. I don’t care if we’re 120th in the country in the run game, if we’re able to run when we need to and not let them dictate what we do we’re going to be fine.”
West Virginia’s run game is averaging just 72 yards per game with the longest run from scrimmage by its four running backs being only 13 yards. Also, WVU is averaging just 1.9 yards per carry on first and second down, placing an added burden on the passing game.
Junior quarterback Geno Smith has responded by completing 66.7 percent of his throws for 620 yards and six touchdowns, and he is on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 35 touchdown passes this season. Against Norfolk State, Smith passed for a career-high 371 yards and matched his career-high with four touchdown passes performed last year against Maryland. The Mountaineers have four receivers with more than 100 yards receiving and six different guys have already caught TD passes.
West Virginia will have a full week to prepare for Maryland, but the Terps have an extra five days to get ready for the Mountaineers, making this game almost like another season opener for the coaching staff in terms of preparation.
“I am sure they are going to add things,” said Casteel. “They had an open week, so I am sure they geared their camp toward Miami knowing they were going to have two weeks after the first game to get ready for the second one.”
Kickoff is set for noon. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU (Rob Stone and Danny Kannell).
Pregame Notebook: Maryland had five offensive plays of more than 20 yards from scrimmage, including Kevin Dorsey’s fourth quarter 52-yard reception that led to Nick Ferrara’s game-winning FG against Miami … Eight of Maryland’s 12 home games are in the state of Maryland and it is the first time since 1911 that the Terps are playing their first four games at home … Maryland has won six of its last seven homes games and is averaging 39 points in those eight games … Maryland snapped a four-game losing streak to Top 25 teams with last year’s win against 21st-ranked NC State and is in search of its first win over a Top 20 team since downing 17th-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 15, 2008 … Sophomore Danny O’Brien is already 16th on Maryland’s all-time passing list with 2,786 yards … Maryland is 10th among all NCAA schools in developing pro players with 28 former Terps on NFL rosters as of Sept. 8 … Maryland defensive line coach Greg Gattuso spent the last six seasons on Dave Wannstedt’s staff at Pitt … Geno Smith’s 372 yards of total offense against Norfolk State was the eighth-best performance in school history … Smith is now 12th on West Virginia’s career passing list with 3,692 yards and he needs 570 more to pass Jeff Hostetler for 10th place.
West Virginia University Mountaineers, WVU, Maryland Terrapins, NCAA college football
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