Previewing WVU at Maryland
We have finally exhausted our pre-season coverage of the West Virginia Mountaineers. Now, we jump straight into the regular season by previewing WVU at Maryland. Saturday’s game represents the 53rd matchup between these old foes. West Virginia currently holds the advantage with 28 wins (and nine of the last ten). These teams last faced off in 2015, a lop-sided 45-6 win by the Mountaineers. After a six-year hiatus, how will the game unfold at College Park? Ultimately, you will have to tune in to ESPN at 3:30 to find out.
Maryland’s Recent History
Simply put, the Terrapins have had a few nice moments in the past few years, but they have been woefully inconsistent. Last season, they finished two and three sandwiching a comeback win over Minnesota and a win at Penn State between losses to Northwestern, Indiana, and Rutgers. In 2019, Maryland finished with just three wins. In 2018, they finished with five wins despite a season-opening win against a Texas team that finished with ten wins.
Surely, Head Coach Mike Locksley (who has just eight career wins as a head coach) hoped for a better start to his tenure at a position he considered his “dream job.” 5-12 is hardly an ideal start. Maryland struggled in various facets during those 17 games, including pass protection, running the ball, and winning the turnover battle. They will certainly look to improve in those areas this season.
Maryland certainly has some strengths around which to build a roster. Taulia Tagovailoa (Tua’s younger brother) has the pedigree to be a star. Whether he can reach that plateau remains to be seen. He remains raw, having started only four games in his young career. He needs to protect the ball better, finishing last season with seven interceptions in just those four games (while throwing for just seven touchdowns). Certainly, if he takes a step forward and protects the ball better, he could represent a big strength.
As a whole, the Terrapins offensive line play last season was not very good. They surrendered 18 sacks in just five games. The team managed less than 150 yards per game on the ground. But offensive tackle Jaelyn Duncan, Jr., is definitely NFL bound. If his stellar play can be infectious, maybe the line as a whole can step its game up. Duncan is certainly a bright spot.
Maryland also features a solid wide receiver corps. If Tagovailoa can improve rapidly, he certainly has plenty of surrounding weapons. Dontay Demus, Rakim Jarrett, and Brian Cobbs each finished 2020 with more than 15 yards per reception. The big-play threats are there.
Maryland’s pass rush was pretty good last season, as they managed 14 sacks. Mosiah Nasili-Kite led the unit with four of those sacks. He returns to anchor a solid defensive line.
Despite creating so much havoc in the backfield, Maryland couldn’t turn its pass rush into turnovers. Indeed, they managed just four of those in five games. Considering they coughed the ball up 11 times, they certainly did not do themselves any favors in turnover margin, averaging nearly one-and-a-half more turnovers than takeaways.
Also, for as good as the pass rush was, Maryland’s run defense struggled mightily last season. How bad was it? They gave up 230 yards per game in 2020. Perhaps it should be no surprise, then, that they lost the time-of-possession battle by almost ten minutes per game.
The Terps also played undisciplined football last season. To add insult to the injury caused by the time-of-possession and turnover gaps, Maryland finished the season with 44 penalties for 398 yards, averaging nine penalties for 80 yards per game. When your team already surrenders 30 more yards than it gains, the extra yardage by penalty certainly does not help.
Previewing WVU at Maryland: WVU’s Attack
It is no secret that Head Coach Neal Brown favors a balanced offensive attack, leaning on the run as much as the game script will allow. Against Maryland, the script should favor a run-heavy approach unless and until they can prove that the defense is not as porous against the run as it was last year.
Given a turnover-prone offense, we expect WVU to send a full attack against the offensive line to see if they can handle the pressure. An early turnover or two could send the Mountaineers into the half with a two- to three-score advantage, which would further cement a ground-and-pound clock-control approach.
We expect that Leddie Brown and Tony Mathis should both be able to eclipse 100 yards in the season opener, while Doege should play a consistent game completing most of his passes and hooking up for a few touchdowns through the air. A pick-six could add even more to that total. We also anticipate pressure early and often, with the Mountaineers piling up between 3 and 5 sacks and several more tackles for loss.
WVU at Maryland: the Prediction
Maryland has a recent history of putting on a show early in the season. In 2019, they demolished Howard to start the season and followed that with a 63-20 trouncing of a so-so Syracuse team. In 2018, they outlasted a 10-win Texas team 34-29 to open the season. In 2017, they won a shootout against a middling Texas team 51-41. They’ve proven that regardless of their final record, the Terps always seem to have something to prove early in the season before fizzling out.
That said, we do not expect them to repeat the early-season success this year against the Mountaineers. Our take? West Virginia cruises to a 34-14 victory to open their 2021 season.