No. 4 West Virginia at Maryland
When: Thursday, 7:45 PM
Where: Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md.
TV: Nationally televised on ESPN. Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Doug Flutie (color) and Craig James (color) with the call. Erin Andrews on the sidelines.
Radio: Terrapin Sports Radio Network - Johnny Holliday (play-by-play), Jonathan Claiborne (color) and Tim Strachan (sideline) with the call.
WMUCSports - Nick Verderame (play-by-play) and analysts Scott Sudikoff, Sam Duvall, Joey Whelan and Adam Winer. Norman Carter on the sidelines.
Maryland links: Official site | Roster
West Virginia links: Official site | Roster
Series history: West Virginia leads all-time series 22-21-2. Maryland is 11-10-1 at home in the series.
Coaches: Maryland - Ralph Friedgen, seventh year, 52-24 (4-3 vs. West Virginia)
West Virginia - Rich Rodriguez, seventh year, 52-24 (3-4 vs. Maryland)
Maryland articles (updated throughout the day)
~Cosh, defense the key for Maryland
~White and Slaton: the Maryland version
Cosh, defense the key for Maryland
In preparing for West Virginia's offense, Maryland defensive coordinator Chris Cosh goes through all the possibilities that could occur on a given play. One thing he knows for certain: the ball will be snapped to quarterback Pat White. After that, what happens is anybody's guess.
Almost every conceivable scenario after the snap presents danger for the defense. White could just run it by himself—he's already set the Big East record for career rushing yards by a quarterback—or he could hand it off to running back Steve Slaton—a Heisman Trophy candidate who ran for 195 yards last year against Maryland. White could decide to throw it to Darius Reynaud, the overlooked wide receiver that scored two touchdowns in last year's game.
"One fast guy's going this way, the other fast guy's going that way," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "All you got to do is be one step out of position and it's one-on-one."
There was plenty of that last year when West Virginia racked up 340 yards on the ground, gaining style points along the way. Maryland defenders were juked, laid out on cutbacks and were sometimes so out of position there were holes yards wide. Often they couldn't get in position to make a tackle, and when they did, they missed them.
"We basically were embarrassed last year," said defensive tackle Carlos Feliciano.
The defenses' performance in that game stayed in the minds of those watching around the country and Friedgen believed it hurt the team's ranking at the end of the season.
It stuck with Cosh too. It was his first real test as Maryland's defensive coordinator and it was forgettable. The defense was criticized by fans last season for being too passive and allowing teams to pick up yards easily while trying to prevent the big play.
But during fall camp, Cosh began to put his fingerprint on the defensive philosophy. He added new blitz packages and different coverage schemes to change up a defense that Friedgen said was predictable at times.
"[Cosh] made a lot of interesting changes, a lot of different blitzes," Trey Covington said earlier this fall. "I don't know how anyone can scout us because we have so much that we can run."
The changes have looked promising so far this season, albeit tested against inferior competition. Maryland already has four sacks compared to just 20 all of last year. The Terps rank seventh in the nation in total defense, having given up just 350 yards. The run defense, perhaps the most scrutinized aspect last season, ranks 15th in the nation compared to 96th at the end of 2006.
"I think we pursue the ball better. I think our assignments are a lot better. There's not as been as many errors thus far in the season. We're tackling better too," Cosh said.
The toughest challenges lie ahead, though. And it begins tomorrow with White and Slaton, a duo that has led West Virginia to a 24-3 record since 2005. The numbers are staggering:
--Slaton is the nation's active leader at running back in career touchdowns (43), rushing yards per game (125.1) and yards per carry (6.34).
--White and Slaton rank fourth and fifth respectively in career rushing touchdowns at West Virginia. Slaton has 38 and White has 28.
--The duo rushed for a combined 2,646 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns in 2006.
--White holds the top three single-game rushing marks by a quarterback in Big East history.
It can go on and on.
"Both of them are deserving of the [Heisman]," Friedgen said. "They're two really great football players. I can't remember playing one team that had two candidates."
Slowing the two down is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. But it's not an overly-complex one either. West Virginia's scheme is designed to punish defenses that don't play disciplined and end up out of position. The task is made harder with White and Slaton's elusiveness, but exploiting those missed assignments is what its offense thrives on.
"We can't try to do too much," said defensive tackle Dre Moore. "We got to do our job on the defense and play our position."
If you want to get technical—and the coaches do—the defense needs to maintain "gap integrity" and play "assignment-sound" football. In layman's terms, it loosely means "stand your ground" and "play in position." It sounds simple enough, but then there's the task of tackling them, especially when it's one-on-one in the open field.
"When you got dangerous runners they're going to break a lot of tackles in the open field," Cosh said. "That's how they became dangerous runners."
Tackling was a major issue against West Virginia last year and in other games during the season. Cosh said he saw it improve as the season wore on and it has been good through two games this season.
The key tomorrow is to just keep the Mountaineers offense in check. It won't be completely stopped and it will score its share of points, but limiting the big plays and keeping White and Slaton off the field is the only way Maryland will have a chance at a victory.
"The longer they're on the field, the better their chances," Friedgen said. "To me I'd like to have one of those old boring games—2-0."
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White and Slaton: the Maryland version
Down the road, Josh Portis might make a formidable dual-threat quarterback for Maryland. But this week, he's playing the part of the competition.
There's really no way to completely prepare for the prolific West Virginia backfield of Pat White and Steve Slaton—they bring an almost unmatched dynamic to the field. Portis—for good or bad—is reportedly doing a fine White impression in practice with the scout team.
"He's been very electric out there himself. He's very elusive," said defensive coordinator Chris Cosh.
"We ran a couple of quarterback draws [Monday] and he's cutting it back and forth, and as a defense we're getting mad because we're running all over the field," defensive tackle Carlos Feliciano said.
At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Portis is a little bigger than White, but his speed and elusiveness is about equal. During camp coach Ralph Friedgen repeatedly praised his athleticism and even shook his head in disbelief at some of the things he did in practice. Portis acted as White on the scout team leading up to last year's West Virginia game too.
Portis was ruled ineligible for the season two weeks ago, so maybe the defense would have the liberty of giving him a little more contact than quarterbacks are used to in practice.
"We wrap him up, we don't… We want him to be able to run the next play," Cosh said.
Pha'Terrell Washington, a speedy cornerback-turned-running back, is acting as Slaton. And again, for good or bad, he's doing a good job of it.
"Man, he's been cutting it all up on us--tearing us up," Feliciano said. "We're getting a little mad, but he's only making us better."
Washington's understudy is Bowie State transfer Rashad Henry, who reports a sub 4.4 forty time. Or maybe Henry's acting as Noel Devine, West Virginia's other explosive threat out of the backfield. It remains to be seen, though, how much time the true freshman Devine will see Thursday.
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Gameday Central: Maryland vs. West Virginia
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