Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics
Ever since the game-winning field goal soared through the uprights for Rutgers to knock off Maryland to cap off their 2020 season, Sept. 4 has been circled on the calendar.
The Terrapins look to rebound this season as they return the majority of their starters and have a lot of talented underclassmen to boast following a 2-3 finish. For the first time since 2015, they will face West Virginia. In the past, this was a yearly contest between the schools, but one that Maryland did not fare well in lately.
The all-time series favors West Virginia 27-22-2. Maryland’s game notes say that West Virginia has won 27 games; however, West Virginia’s say it has won 28 meetings. In any sense, the Mountaineers have won four out of the last five meetings.
Scouting West Virginia
West Virginia is, like Maryland, on the up and up. Potentially one of the reasons for the optimism in Morgantown are the teams leaving the Big 12. With the upcoming absence of Texas and Oklahoma in the coming seasons, the Big 12 is as open as ever. A lot of impact players from both sides of the ball return.
The Mountaineers have their leading passer and rusher from last season in Jarret Doege and Leddie Brown, respectively. After a 6-4 finish in 2020, the Mountaineers are looking to improve their offense as a whole under third-year coach Neal Brown.
Brown has emphasized a ground-and-pound type of offense in preseason press conferences. However, Doege is a very accurate passer who more than fills the void behind center. In 2020, he ranked 16th nationally in passing yards per game.
With Brown, he is an explosive back and one who can just rack up yards. He is on the Doak Walker Award watch list, and it is easy to see why. The true question is how he does coming out of the backfield as a receiver.
The biggest thing that West Virginia has to boast about is its stout defense. Even though the Big 12 is not known for being able to keep opponents off the scoreboard, the Mountaineers were exemplary at it last year. They ranked as the top overall pass defense in 2020 while also leading the Big 12 in total and scoring defense. For the Terps, they will try to break through the impenetrable wall that is the West Virginia secondary.
The three best players for the West Virginia defense each reside on a different level. Up front is the preseason AP second-team All-American selection Dante Stills. To be very frank, he is a game wrecker and someone who almost always attracts two bodies to keep him out of the backfield. His 10.5 tackles for loss in 2020 are outstanding, especially considering that he is going against some top-tier offensive linemen.
Linebacker VanDarius Cowan is someone capable of ruining game plans when healthy. That is the big quantifier with him, though. He has struggled with injuries while playing collegiately.
Finally, safety Alonzo Addae is the top tackler and ball hawk in the secondary.
Maryland’s First Attempt to Break Out
Maryland is, historically speaking, not a football school. The discrepancy is not as large at other schools like Kansas, but the football program is now making strides in College Park. Head coach Mike Locksley has rebuilt the program both physically and internally.
The new facilities are a tangible changing of the guard for the Terps. The team has one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory, ranking as the No. 18 class in the nation in 2021, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The entire coaching staff has been raving about how well the young players have done during practices. Now, it is time to prove it.
This game will be a battle of the teams’ strengths going at it. Maryland’s offense vs. West Virginia’s defense will be something to keep an eye on all afternoon. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is entering his second season with the Terps, and under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, expectations are high.
He faces a tall task to open the year, but one that will prepare him for the rest of the season against stout units in the Big Ten. As a side note, the last time Maryland had a quarterback throw for over 300 yards in a game was in 2012 against, ironically, West Virginia.
Accompanying Tagovailoa is Tavon Fleet-Davis, another player on multiple award watch lists. Locksley has raved about how well the entire group of running backs have done, but Fleet-Davis has drawn the most praise.
The wideouts are also looking to take a step forward in 2021. Last year as an inexperienced group, they impressed despite low expectations. Now, they are going to be relied on for big things. Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett, and Jeshaun Jones will all be targeted often and expected to make winning plays.
The Maryland defense has the most question marks entering the season. The secondary returns nearly all of its starters including Nick Cross and Tarheeb Still. Both of them have received preseason award recognition.
The biggest source of intrigue will be how the Maryland front seven matches up against the ground game for West Virginia. The game might be a match-up of strengths, but how each team masks their weaknesses will decide the outcome of this contest.
When: Saturday, Sept. 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, College Park, MD