A Look Inside...Game Three

This shapes up to be among the more interesting West Virginia-Maryland games in recent memory. New coaches, new schemes … new Harvey Dent-modeled uniforms. And among the biggest battles of tempo and pace in all of college football this weekend.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 9/17/11 12:00 PM

College Park, MD

Byrd Stadium
Record: 2-0
Rank: 18/20
Last Game
Norfolk St W 55-12
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 1-0
Rank: NR
Last Game
Miami W 32-24
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Game Notes
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2011 Schedule

Series: WVU 24-21-2
First Meeting: 1919
Last Meeting: 2010
Game Notes
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

West Virginia, as one coach once noted, wants to make it more like a seven-on-seven drill; Maryland desires a fistfight. Whichever one is able to impose their style and will upon the other on both sides of the ball is the likely victor. Let's take a look at a few things to eyeball in this border state tilt.

  • First, the West Virginia offense. Simply put, the Mountaineers can't overcome another incredibly slow start. WVU needs to operate much better throughout the 60 minutes of play to pull what Vegas notes would be the mildest of upsets. Maryland's front is likely the best one overall thus far faced. Check the line play early. Is the pad level and drive sufficient? Is Geno Smith getting time? Can plays decently develop, or is the action a bit rushed? And is there any sort of run support to take at least a bit of the pressure off the passing game? This can't be another contest in which West Virginia gets virtually all its offense from Smith's arm while, being denied the most basic of execution in the run game. Gets six tries from inside the five against Maryland, and there should be seven points on the board. (Don't expect that many, as new Maryland head coach Randy Edsall's teams are always among the most disciplined in the NCAA.)

    Also, concerning the run game, see if Dana Holgorsen offers up a few more power sets as needed. One would think there would be added plays and sets thus far unseen, and at least a portion of those would have to be designed for the B backs. It won't matter without better execution up front, but the Mountaineers are likely, against a stronger, more physical defense, to try to gain some ground traction with muscle instead of speed once the speed as been stalled.

    WVU O vs. UM D
      WVU UM
    Scoring 44.5 ppg 24 ppg
    Rushing 72 ypg 172 ypg
    Passing 340 ypg 195 ypg
    If the rush offense is lacking, does Matt Lindamood or Ryan Clarke get a carry or two in short yardage situations? How do the backs align themselves? And what of the thus-far-pretty-poor back blocking? There isn't any sense in sugar-coating it, and the truth is this: The A backs are young bucks. They can run. They're athletic. But among the least developed weapons in a freshman RB's arsenal is pass blocking. They aren't good at it. They often haven't done it much in high school. And thus far, WVU's newcomers aren't always picking up correct players, and they are at times slow through the hole.

    But the B backs, besides possessing a bit more size, are also experienced. They have blocked at the college level for several seasons. There really isn't much of an excuse for them not to be executing reasonably by the third game of the season. Let's see how much of a chance Holgorsen gives them (part of this will obviously be dictated by down, distance and other in-game factors), and if he trusts them enough to allow them to carry the ball on short yardage calls.

  • This is a difficult TV task, but attempt to see how Maryland is positioning its secondary. Edsall's mindset is that he'd rather not make the big mistake, and forcing West Virginia to move methodically down the field is much preferable, in terms of pace and eventual outcome, to trying to press the issue, keep the safeties up and risk giving up the long pass. The Mountaineers have yet to show they can run the ball, so look for the Terrapins to at least start the game with the safeties deep, protecting against the vertical – what Mike Leach used to call ‘6' because he hoped to score on it – and daring WVU to execute 10 solid plays to score. That lack of running execution could also dictate how the Terps use their linebackers. Will they play a yard or two further back from the line to aid in the pass game? It's likely, until West Virginia shows them they can't.

  • UConn wasn't big on exotic looks within their defense, but you might recall they zone blitzed West Virginia quite often in 2009, and some in 2010. That tactic might not be scrapped, but it will be used far less because of the new offensive stylings. Holgorsen's sets and plays are a much better fit at picking up and controlling the zone blitz via blocking and getting the ball out quickly than was the offense of the last three seasons. Maryland isn't likely to try to bring several rushers and leave their corners in single coverage against this style of passing offense and against the athletes the Mountaineers offer. Look instead, again, for them to try to keep plays in front of them, make WVU prove it can run the football and not risk giving up the big play. The idea for Maryland: More equals more. Prolonged drives, in minutes and plays, is better than the quick strike. Tighten up once West Virginia is in the red zone, slow the tempo and pace – which the Mountaineers will do some themselves because of their lack of experience under Holgorsen – and limit the big play.

  • When Maryland has the ball, take a look at quarterback Danny O'Brien to see how comfortable he appears. The defensive sets, angles and holes are different from what he typically sees from a 4-3 or 3-4, and his experience last year against the stack was less than stellar. Is the sophomore confident as he progresses through his reads? Is he seeing the whole field well and locating open wideouts as the play develops? Or does he force passes into tight windows, or feel the need to get out of the pocket faster than is perhaps warranted? West Virginia will be somewhat hurt by Maryland having an off week prior to this match-up. O'Brien has been able to view film and see the odd stack for a couple weeks now, and one would think that increased exposure would help. With a regular week, WVU's defense is a bit like facing John Beilein's basketball offense with a day's prep in the NCAA Tournament. But with a couple weeks to watch tape and see it live in practices, albeit with scout players, it becomes a bit easier to recognize and dissect.

    Much of this will depend upon the down and distance situations that arise. If West Virginia can bottle the running game and force Maryland into second and third and longs, it reasons that Obrien won't be nearly as comfortable as he would needing to complete shorter, and thus faster developing, routes that run across the face of WVU's defense (an aspect that has often been a weakness for the odd stack).

  • A corollary to this is keeping an eye on Bruce Irvin and see how he is dealing with his largest challenge from a size standpoint since becoming an every down player. Is he still showing good quickness off the edge, attacking assignments and keeping his much-needed motor going into the third quarter? Or has Maryland's size worn on the senior to where he is giving ground?
    WVU D vs. UM O
      WVU UM
    Scoring 12.5 ppg 32 ppg
    Rushing 80 ypg 151 ypg
    Passing 156 ypg 348 ypg
    He will need to play physical, but very disciplined, football and not allow his aggressive nature to take him out of the play. See if he is able to pressure the pocket on non-obvious passing downs, especially when taking into account the ton of play action Edsall loves. Irvin won't be able to simply pin his ears back and attack as he did last year. He must also worry about the run. With the amount of play action the Mountaineers will see, keep an eye on Irvin and see how he handles the style. His push will have to be slowed, or momentum will carry him too far upfield, leaving holes available when the ball is handed off. That extra second will give the Maryland tackles time to set and become a bit more ready, and that should hurt Irvin's rush. This is what it means to battle as an every down player as opposed to a specialist, and Maryland will serve as a very good litmus test for WVU's leading rusher.

  • Interior line play will be major in this one. Nose Tackle Jorge Wright must hold his ground to keep Edsall's play calling from becoming ground oriented. Make no mistake: though O'Brien is perhaps the best quarterback Edsall has coached at the BCS level, the veteran would prefer to keep the ball on the ground if he can manage significant yardage against WVU's odd stack. Wright, Julian Miller and Irvin must keep the Terrapin backfield from getting into the second level on a routine basis. Solid ground chunks are the key to solid ball control and keeping Holgorsen's offense on the sideline. See if the line is keeping the ‘backers free to scrape, take good pursuit angles and make quick, decisive tackles. Terps' tailback Davin Meggett isn't the fastest back the Mountaineers will face, but he hits the holes nicely, has good experience and is a grinder, often getting better as the game progresses.

  • The last aspect is tight end play. West Virginia has at times struggled with covering this position, and Edsall's knowledge of the Mountaineers scheme combined with a few quality athletes might make him more adamant about using the TEs for quick routes, which would allow O'Brien to get rid of the ball faster and keep Irvin from pressuring the backfield. Can WVU cover this across the face of its defense? Do the Maryland tight ends have openings down the seams? This is a key to the short passing game, and thus a key to offensive production throughout.

  • Special teams. Both these teams have been as basic as one could expect on special teams through the first few quarters of the season. Holgorsen seems far more likely to fake a punt (although his philosophy is more akin to simply going for it with the offense), but might Edsall pull a play or two out of the book to surprise West Virginia? Thus far, Maryland has punted and covered much better than West Virginia, but hasn't been able to match the Mountaineers in the return game.
      WVU UM
    Net Punt 22 yds 48 yds
    Punt Ret 18 yds 2 yds
    KO Ret 37.8 yds 15.6 yds
    WVU benefitted from a big special teams play in its last win over UConn with Tavon Austin's game-opening kickoff return for a score in 2009. The Huskies were always solid-but-not-special on these units under Edsall, and it reasons that will continue with a basic approach at Maryland. That written, it would behoove WVU not to sleep. Both teams have holes (WVU's line play and some punt accuracy, Maryland's lack of an exceptional playmaker like Austin), and a major yardage or points swing either way could tip the outcome.

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