Match-Ups: WVU - Maryland

One aspect of the passing game and a special teams confrontation highlight our look at the battles in the West Virginia - Maryland game 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
Record: 1-0
Rank: NR
Last Game
Miami W 32-24
Rosters/ Bios
Game Notes
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

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


WVU Pass Defense vs. Maryland Screen Game

West Virginia has done well against the pass overall, giving up just 156 yards per game and a meager six yards per pass attempt so far in 2001. It will face a different sort of challenge, however, from Maryland, which unveiled an unexpected passing attack in its opening win against Miami.

Many observers (myself included), expected the Terrapins to run a form of Randy Edsall's offense that he utilized at Connecticut. That system, a ball control attack designed to avoid mistakes and capitalize on those of opponents, isn't flashy, but it brought Edsall enough success to get him the Maryland job. However, against the Hurricanes, Maryland attacked the perimeter with a number of screens, and those plays were successful against the fast, if somewhat depleted, Miami defense. Of particular note was a quick bubble screen to a receiver in motion behind just one wide receiver to the ball side. On those plays, Maryland consistently got a good block and gained good yardage.

Theoretically, horizontal plays don't work well against defenses built on speed, because they have the ability to get to the receiver before the play has a chance to develop. However, Maryland got the ball out so quickly that pursuit was often late in arriving, and thus the Terps saw a steady diet of six and seven-yard gains, coupled with five big plays of 20 yards or more.

West Virginia showed some vulnerability to just that sort of screen in the Norfolk State game. While cornerbacks Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins were able to break up a couple of them before they developed, the Spartans were also able to get good blocks on the widest defender and get the receiver the ball in behind the block for good gains, especially on first down. On those plays, West Virginia's corners maintained outside leverage to prevent the receiver from getting to the sideline, but were often washed four or five yards downfield, allowing the receiver room to operate. WVU's corners will have to stand up to those blocks more strongly and not get pushed downfield. That will allow pursuing defenders to come straight down the line and shorten the distance they have to run in order to assist on tackles. As you watch this play unfold, make sure to sneak a look at the perimeter blocking when the pass is in the air. You'll be able to quickly assess the play's chance of success as you judge that lead block and figure out who is winning that battle.

WVU Return Game vs. Maryland Kick Coverage

West Virginia has dominated in the return game, while Maryland has allowed no punt return yardage and just a bit more than 21 yards per kickoff return. Which team will get the edge in this face-off of successful units?

Tavon Austin
Tavon Austin has been a one-man wrecking crew for WVU in the return game. He's averaging 22 yards per punt return and 48 per kickoff runback, including the 100-yarder against Marshall in the opener. Already a tough cover due to his blazing speed, Austin has added a stop-and-go move that puts defenders on their heels. He's a threat to break a big return on either return team, and will certainly be a focus of attention for the Terps.

Maryland has punted the ball just once this year and has not allowed a return, so judgment of its punt coverage team is still pending. It has done well covering kickoffs, as its eight boots have been run back for a total of just 170 yards (Austin has nearly that many yards on only three returns.)

How will the Terps address Austin's ability? Will it kick away from him, sacrificing yardage for an assurance that he won't touch the ball?OR will it see how its coverage teams do in handling the electric junior? West Virginia, having wisely made the decision to feature Austin as its prime returner, will be anxious to see how the Terrapins respond. In a game that is expected to be close, extra yardage, a big play or a score on special teams could be the difference. There will be pressure on kicker Nick Ferrara, who handled all of the kicking and punting duties in Week One.


We touched on this a bit in the opening item, but the Maryland's offense was a big surprise in Week One. Terp offensive coordinator Gary Crowton implemented many of his designs and schemes in College Park this fall, and the results were excellent in the Miami win. Maryland recorded 499 yards of total offense and scored five times (it also had two defensive scores) as it dominated action for much of the contest.

Fortunately West Virginia didn't face Maryland in that first game, as the element of surprise was on the Terps' side. WVU would likely have come out in a defense expecting to see more running, only to face a squad that threw the ball ten more times than it rushed it. How well will WVU be able to adjust to Maryland's revised tactics? There are some pluses and minuses to consider.

First, the Mountaineers did face Crowton and LSU last year, but the coordinator was obviously hampered by a lack of quarterback sill in Baton Rouge last season – a limitation he doesn't see with Terp QB Danny O'Brien. Thus he was able to attack all over the field, much as West Virginia hopes to do. WVU certainly can't base much of its defensive game plan on what it saw at LSU in 2010, so it will have to go mostly off what it saw form the Maryland game. However, with a young defense that is still playing a lot of base looks and not doing a great deal of disguising or stemming up front, West Virginia isn't likely to fool O'Brien. The 3-3-5 alignment will give him some different looks, and that could help WVU somewhat, but the Mountaineers still don't know how Crowton will attack its defense with Maryland's personnel.

* * *

We could have easily named Darwin Cook as our defensive player of the game for Norfolk State. We're rectifying that with an admonition to spotlight #25 at times when the Mountaineer defense is on the field. Despite a short history as a safety, Cook has been something of a prodigy in learning the position, and has recorded 15 tackles in two games. A couple of items have helped Cook get off to a fast start.

The first is that the Ohio native doesn't take many false steps. He makes his read, finds the ball and sprints to it at top speed, arriving with a good deal of pent-up force. The key, however, is that he doesn't waste steps. Film review of West Virginia;s defense this year has shown several players taking the dreaded "step to nowhere" – that is, a step that is hesitant, short, and doesn't propel the defender in the right direction at top speed. Cook, on the other hand, makes his decision and goes with it aggressively.

The second is tackling. That's an area that regressed a bit from week one to week two, but Cook has proven to be a sure tackler. While he unleashes his body into hits, he doesn't just go for the knockout blow. He gets his arms into the tackle and wraps up well – technique that typically results in a takedown. Spare a few isolation moments on Cook and see how he reacts to the ball. By midseason, he and Terence Garvin could be one of the finest pairs of safeties around.

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