Behind Enemy Lines: West Virginia

Maryland (2-0) hosts West Virginia (1-1) Sept. 13 at noon in Byrd Stadium. In order to gain more insight into the Mountaineers, we spoke to beat writer Kevin Kinder.

Maryland (2-0) hosts West Virginia (1-1) Sept. 13 at noon in Byrd Stadium. In order to gain more insight into the Mountaineers, we spoke to beat writer Kevin Kinder. Here's our question-and-answer session with him:

Terrapin Times: Kevin, after a disappointing season last year for West Virginia, they look like a much better team this year. They throttled Towson and hung with the No. 2 team in the nation, Alabama. What’s the perception of WVU right now; are people thinking they could make a turnaround this year?

Kevin Kinder: It’s only been two weeks and a lot can happen, but I think people do think this is a team that can turn things around. I’m not sure people are expecting they’ll win 10, 11 games, but improve over last year, definitely. Obviously they were excited after the Alabama game, where West Virginia was basically in the game until the final three minutes, and then beating Towson the way they did last week was encouraging. So people are pretty excited after these first two weeks.

And [WVU] is playing better, more guys are making plays, and when one guys goes out there’s not much of a dropoff to the next [man up]. That’s a big change from last year – there’s more depth and more guys stepping up to make plays.

TT: Quarterback Clint Trickett started some games last year, but he struggled at times and he had his doubters. Has he silenced them after these first two weeks, throwing for 350-yards-plus each in both games?

KK: Definitely. The biggest thing last year was he was always hurt. The one or two games he was healthy he threw for over 300 yards, but then he had a shoulder injury, a labrum injury – I mean, he was a mess physically. But he played through it, and it [affected] him. Obviously he didn’t play that well, and people weren’t happy, saying he wasn’t accurate, couldn’t get the ball out, couldn’t throw the deep ball. Those were the biggest things, but this year he’s getting the ball out quickly, he’s making good decisions, he’s getting the ball to his receivers, and he hasn’t come close to throwing an interception either. It’s helping, too, that the pass protection has been really good so far.

TT: Yeah, I know WVU has two new tackles (Adam Pankey, Marquis Lucas) this year. They’ve held up OK? And how has the front five been in general?

KK: They’ve been really good – the pass protection has been good. They moved one of their starting tackles last year inside to guard, and he’s been fine, and the two new tackles, it’s not like they’re totally new. They both played and have some experience. So so far the pass protection looks really good. The power running game has been a little bit of a problem, though. Against Towson they had like six snaps inside the 5-yard line and gained a total of 6 yards, so there’s still a little bit of a question there with the run [blocking].

TT: Defensively, I know WVU switched back to that 3-3 stack this year after shifting away from it in 2013. How has that adjustment gone and are the players happy to have it back?

KK: It’s not as big of a change as it might sound. They still played with a three-man front last year. They moved the linebackers a little bit with the strong, middle and weak-side guys, and they have those two safety-linebacker hybrids in there. The biggest change is they moved Karl Joseph, a safety last year, closer to the line of scrimmage. He’s a big hitter and can really get to the ball. And the other safety, K.J. Dillon, he’s moved in as well. Both of them are really, really good and really quick, and I think [Dillon and Joseph] are the two keys to why the defense is playing better.

TT: Besides Joseph, Dillon, Trinkett and the receivers, who we know can make plays, are there any other X-factors we should be aware of? Maybe someone who is a big impact guy no one knows about yet?

KK: I’ll tell you, one guy who has really come on is the sophomore cornerback Darly Worley out of the Philadelphia area. I’m eager to see what he can do against [Stefon] Diggs or [Deon] Long. He did really well against Amari Cooper from Alabama in the first game, and has really looked good. I know Cooper caught like 12 passes, but from the first play [Worley] didn’t let [Cooper] get behind him and he kept him out of the end zone. He tackled him well as soon as [Cooper] made the catch and really limited his yards. So I think that matchup with Worley on Diggs or Long is one to watch.

TT: What’s the main strength of the team right now, and what’s a concern WVU still has?

KK: The strength has to be the passing game and the efficiency they’re showing. Trickett is making the right decision almost all the time. He has just gone to another level with his passes and how he’s managing the offense. And the receivers are making plays for him; he’s spreading the ball around and guys are making plays.

As for a weakness, the pass rush is still a problem. They’ve had trouble creating pressure, and have had to bring blitzes from other areas which has left them exposed a little bit. [Maryland] saw that in the game last year against West Virginia, when [the Terps] receivers got open downfield because [WVU] had to bring [Karl] Joseph up to try and create pressure. But West Virginia is going to blitz, and they’re going to try other ways to get to the quarterback, but right now it’s still a problem.

TT:Speaking of last year, are people pretty fired up about this game after what happened last year with Maryland shutting out WVU in Baltimore?

KK: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. When you get down to it, right now Maryland is West Virginia’s only traditional rival with Pittsburgh off the schedule and Virginia Tech off the schedule. And then obviously with what happened last year, they definitely remember that. Even Dana [Holgorsen] was saying in the press conference he will have no problem getting the guys’ attention this week after what happened last year in Baltimore.

TT: There were a lot of WVU fans who came up to Baltimore last year for the game. Will there be that many, or more, heading to College Park this time around?

KK: Definitely, and a lot of that has to do with the Big 12. Away games, and getting to them, are a lot more expensive, so if [the fans] have a chance to go to a closer game, they’re going to go. And combined with the rivalry and what happened last year, I expect a big contingent of West Virginia fans to come out for the game.

TT: How is Dana Holgorsen being viewed now? I know he was under some fire last year. Is this a make or break season for him?

KK: It’s not a total make or break for him. It’s not like if they have some losses he’s definitely going to get fired. They do have to play better and look better, there’s no doubt about that – and they’ve done that so far. Maybe if they started out 1-3 or something like that, they’d be facing a must-win game, but so far they’ve done better.

The biggest thing with [Holgorsen] is just being a head coach -- learning how to deal with the media, dealing with all the other stuff around him. And this year he does seem more comfortable with it all, and dealing with everything. Now, if West Virginia starts losing and loses to Oklahoma, that could change and things [the hot seat talk] could get all fired up again, but right now it’s been fine.

TT: In terms of WVU recruiting in Maryland, I know the staff has made this one of their priority areas. And WVU has done well over the years pulling prospects out of the Maryland-D.C. corridor. A few of the more well-known ones have graduated, but they’ve got some younger guys from out here like William Crest (Dunbar), who Maryland wanted, and also Marvin Gross (Dunbar) and Daejuan Funderburk (Friendship Collegiate Academy). How are those guys looking right now?

KK: [The quarterback] Crest has definitely looked good, and played well against Towson last week. We thought they were going to wait until later in the year to use him, but apparently over the last couple of weeks he’s really taken off [in practice], and they’ve been impressed with what he can do. He’s not a threat to Trinkett or anything like that, and I don’t think they’re going to put a special package in for him, but [Crest] is doing really well. As for Gross, he had to have surgery and will redshirt this year. And Funderburk is a guy they really like and think has a lot of potential. I think they think he can be another Karl Joseph type of player for them.

TT: Maryland enters this game favored by three points, but how do you see it going down? How do you think WVU will do in their second straight trip to Maryland?

KK: I think if the weather’s good it could come down to what passing game executes the best. Both teams look to have good passing attacks, though I know Maryland had like six turnovers last week. But I still think it’s going to come down to, Can West Virginia still be effective against the Maryland defense, and Can Maryland hit the big plays like in last year’s game? I honestly think this could be a shootout.

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