In their final tune-up prior to playing their first Big 12 Conference game, the eighth-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers will entertain the Maryland Terrapins this Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.
Maryland opened the season with a pair of wins, slipping FCS foe William & Mary (7-6) prior to outlasting Temple (36-27), but suffered its first defeat last week against Connecticut (24-21). The loss was particularly tough for head coach Randy Edsall, who prior to coming to College Park last year held the same position at UConn where he is the school's all-time winningest coach.
The Terps are idle next week, returning to the field on Oct. 6 for their ACC opener against visiting Wake Forest.
West Virginia enters this contest 2-0 following blowout wins over Marshall (69-34) and FCS opponent James Madison (42-12). The Mountaineers, who are one of only three teams nationally to post nine wins or more in each of the past seven seasons, are in their first year as a member of the Big 12, and they will kick off conference play at home against Baylor next Saturday.
WVU is coached by Dana Holgorsen, who in just over one year at the helm has already won a Big East Conference crown and a BCS game as his team dismantled Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl, 70-33.
This bout marks the 49th meeting between Maryland and West Virginia on the football field, with the latter laying claim to a narrow 25-21-2 series advantage. The Mountaineers have won each of the last six encounters, including last year's 37-31 decision in College Park, and Edsall's record against his former Big East rival currently sits at 1-7.
Maryland's success this season is in no way related to the team's offensive effort, as the team averages just 21.3 points and 258.3 total yards per contest. With Wes Brown serving as the club's leading rusher with only 124 yards, the Terrapins have found it extremely difficult to establish much in the way of a ground attack (110.3 ypg, 2.7 ypc). As for the passing game, led by QB Perry Hills, it generates only 148.0 ypg, and the freshman signal-caller has completed just 37-of-69 passes for three TDs and four INTs. No player has caught more than nine passes, and the unit as a whole has already allowed 10 sacks and committed 10 turnovers.
Hills had a rough day in last week's loss to UConn, hitting on only 10-of-24 passes for 109 yards, one TD and one INT, and he was sacked six times. Stefon Diggs led all receivers with 57 yards and a score, while the UM run game featured Brown's 74 yards and a TD on 14 totes. Hills was credited with 18 carries, but he tallied just 10 net yards. He did score on a 10-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter to get the Terps to within striking distance.
Edsall knows that if his team is going to compete in the ACC this year, the offense needs to pick it up.
"It's just a matter of everybody doing their job", He continued, "We are going to keep working to become a very sound football team and get our guys to be better. We are a really young team on offense, but we are going to keep plugging away."
On the flip side, the UM defense has actually done a nice job this year in yielding 19.0 points and 227.3 total yards per game. Opponents have found it particularly difficult to throw the football, doing so for a mere 124.3 ypg. The effort against the run yields a scant 103.0 ypg, and the unit as a whole has come up with eight sacks and six takeaways. Demetrius Hartsfield has made 26 tackles thus far, and he has added a sack, an INT and two fumble recoveries to his impressive stat line. Cole Farrand is next with 21 tackles, 15 of which have been solo efforts, and his 4.0 TFL is among the team leaders as well.
UConn generated just 70 yards via the pass last week, relying instead on the run which accounted for 153 yards and two TDs. Farrand and Hartsfield both tallied nine stops in the game, but the Maryland defense as a whole made very few impact plays (one sack, one turnover).
So far so good for the West Virginia offense, which under the direction of the offensive-minded Holgorsen and the field leadership of QB Geno Smith averages 55.5 points and 612.2 yards per game -- both of which rank in the top-four nationally. Smith has just nine misfires in 75 pass attempts (.880), and he averages 367 ypg. He has nine TD tosses and has yet to be intercepted. His top two targets down the field are Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, the two combining 43 grabs, 443 yards and seven TDs. As for the WVU rushing attack, it produces 226 ypg, with Shawne Alston averaging 6.2 ypc in tallying 185 yards and three scores.
The Mountaineers scored on their first four possessions last week against James Madison, putting the game out of reach early. Smith went an ultra- efficient 34-of-39 for 411 yards and five TDs. As a result, Smith became WVU's all-time passing leader with 8,191 career yards. Bailey finished the JMU game with 13 receptions for 173 and three TDs, while Austin added 11 grabs for 113 yards and a score, and Andrew Buie contributed five catches for 90 yards.
Holgorsen praised his record-setting quarterback after the game, "It was the second week in a row that Geno played really good. He got us out of some bad situations," He then commented on his team as a whole, "I'm proud of our guys. I think we got better on all three sides of the ball."
The WVU defense is allowing 23.0 ppg, with foes generating 160 ypg on the ground and 262.5 ypg though the air. The Mountaineers, who have yet to give up a point in the first quarter this year, have seven players is double figures with regard to total tackles, with Isaiah Bruce logging 25 stops, which includes three TFL. He also has the team's only fumble recovery, the defense as a whole having come up with only three turnovers thus far.
The Mountaineers stood tall against their overmatched opponent last week, limiting the Dukes to a field goal through the first 59 minutes and change. JMU got a safety in the third quarter and a meaningless TD with 49 seconds left in regulation. Bruce paced the unit with nine tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage, and the Mountaineers were credited with four sacks on the day.