Pass Defense Will Be Key Against WVU

Maryland has a tough test ahead of them, as they try to contain Noel Devine, Jock Sanders, and Tayvon Austin.

In past seasons, the West Virginia Mountaineers have been a run first, pass later team. This season, Bill Stewart's squad sports a much more versatile offensive attack.

Currently, West Virginia has the 53rd ranked rushing attack in the nation, but owns the 30th best passing offense. Compared to their final rankings over the past three years:
  • 2009 - 24th rushing, 90th passing
  • 2008 – 15th rushing, 104th passing
  • 2007 - 3rd rushing, 114th passing

Part of the credit for this switch in offensive strategy has to go to Stewart, who took over for the run-happy Rich Rodriguez at the end of the 2007 season, but part of it also has to go to quarterback Geno Smith. Smith, one of the best passing quarterbacks West Virginia has had in years, takes over for Jarrett Brown this season, who replaced all-time great Pat White.

In a 31-0 rout against Coastal Carolina, Smith completed 20 of 27 passes for 216 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Against Marshall, a game that was closer than the Mountaineers would have wished, Smith was 32 of 45 for 316 yards and one touchdown.

"Any time [your opponent] can run an option and can throw the ball," coach Friedgen said. "You've got problems, because you've got to bring that other guy down to defend the option and now it opens up all kinds of throwing lanes."

Smith has three incredible weapons in Noel Devine, Jock Sanders, and Tavon Austin. While all three could be considered running backs, Devine gets most of the carries while Sanders and Austin line up at wide receiver most plays. Devine has caught twelve passes for 80 yards so far this season, while Sanders has 13 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown and Austin has 14 catches for 175 yards.

"With Sanders and Austin," Friedgen said. "If they get the ball in open spaces there's going to be issues. Our defense has a challenge waiting for them, but I think we're ready for it. I've been pleased with their progress this week, this is an important game for them."

A lot of the responsibility falls on starting cornerback Cameron Chism, the most experienced player in the Terps' secondary. Through two games this season, the junior only has five tackles and two pass deflections, but hasn't had much opportunity to show his coverage skills going up against Navy and Morgan State.

"I'm excited," Chism said. "I haven't really gotten a lot work over the two games as far as in the passing game, so I'm pretty excited to see what West Virginia's going to do."

Chism, who had 66 tackles and four interceptions last season, said he expects to cover both Sanders and Austin throughout the course of the game. The defensive leader expects a challenge ahead from the Mountaineers.

"We definitely have to run to the ball this week," he said. "They like to cut back, and they're quick, so we're expecting to gang tackle. Everyone should run to the ball, and if someone misses, then someone else is right there."

When asked if there was anything specific he was going to try and implement, Chism noted that he did not think West Virginia was very strong against the press, so he said he would "try and get in their face and press them."

The game will be televised on ESPNU at 12:00 p.m.

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