No one gave the Maryland Terrapins much of a chance against the #8 West Virginia Mountaineers in Morgantown on Saturday. They couldn’t quite pull off the upset, losing 31-21, but the Terps were only a few turnovers and a talented Baltimore-born Mountaineer away from winning.
The teams were neck and neck nearly the entire game, and it showed on the stat sheet. West Virginia narrowly out-gained the Terps, with 363 yards of total offense to Maryland’s 351. Neither team had much success running the ball, and Maryland’s pass and run plays averaged more yards per play than WVU’s. The Terps also had the edge in time of possession, 31:14 to 28:46.
The Mountaineers’ senior quarterback Geno Smith, a Heisman favorite, and Maryland’s true freshman starter Perry Hills even had very similar stat lines, which has to be a good sign for the Terps. Smith completed 69.8% of his passes; Hills completed 69%. Hills had 305 passing yards; Smith threw for 338. Each had three touchdown passes, but Hills also had one interception.
Hills’ fourth-quarter interception didn’t have an impact on the game – it was a fourth down pass that ended up being, quite literally, an arm punt – but the Terps’ other turnovers did.
Maryland lost two fumbles, both of which led to West Virginia touchdowns. The Mountaineers got their first score after Hills was sacked on the Terps’ first possession and lost the ball. WVU linebacker Doug Rigg picked up the loose ball and ran it 51 yards for the TD.
With the Terps down by ten early in the fourth quarter, Maryland receiver Marcus Leak fumbled following a 25-yard reception and the Mountaineers capitalized with another score.
The Terps only lost by ten points; if they hadn’t lost two fumbles that resulted in touchdowns, the game might’ve ended differently.
Turnovers weren’t the only thing that got to Maryland on Saturday. WVU senior receiver Tavon Austin, a Maryland native, caught all three of the Mountaineers’ touchdowns, finishing with 13 catches for 179 yards.
One would think the Terps might have tried to cover Austin more closely after his 11-catch, 122-yard performance in College Park last season, but Maryland’s defense gave him too much room all day, and he responded by scoring 21 points.
The Terps’ defense was among the top ten in the nation coming into the game; they sacked Smith twice, the first times he’d gone down this year, but Maryland couldn’t seem to stop Austin.
If they’d been able to take him out of the game, Maryland just might have shocked the Mountaineers in Morgantown.
It’s one thing to “upset” Temple and to play UConn close, but keeping pace with one of the nation’s tops teams, and top quarterbacks, is a different story.
Maryland, coming off a 2-10 season with a true freshman starting quarterback, was not supposed to be able to compete with teams like West Virginia, but the coaching staff, particularly offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, is doing an excellent job of getting the team ready to play.
Now they just have to win, and if the Terps’ performance this weekend is any indication, that day isn’t too far off.