Match-ups: WVU - Maryland

Forget the parsing of a few words or phrases for non-existent meaning. Here are the real keys in the Maryland - West Virginia game. Game Scorecard
Sat 9/22/12 12:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 2-0
Polls: 7/8
Last Game
JMU 42-12 W
Radio: MSN
Record: 2-1
Polls: NA
Last Game
UConn L 24-21
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

Series: WVU 25-21-2
First Meeting: 1919
Last Meeting: 2011
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

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WVU Kickoffs vs. Maryland return game

West Virginia has been shaky on kickoff coverage this year, ranking #74 in Division I in terms of kickoff return yardage allowed (21.3 yards per game). Punt coverage is even worse, as WVU is #96, yielding 13.0 yards per return. Granted, that last figure is a bit misleading,as the Mountaineers haven't punted much this year and have faced just two returns, but the overall point is still valid -- special teams coverage has been spotty at best.

Compare that with Maryland's return squads. Stefon Diggs is giving the Terps good field position, averaging 30.8 yards per kickoff return and 13.8 on punts. In fact, he's probably the most consistent offensive performer that UM puts on the field.

If West Virginia kicks off eight or nine times in this game, then this confrontation might not mean much. But if the Terps can figure out a way to slow the WVU offense, and then exploint West Virginia's kickoff coverage with good returns to answer scores, then it could be a factor. How might the Terrapins combat the Dana Holgorsen system? Read on...

Maryland running game vs. WVU offense

While these two units won't take the field at the same time, the performance of the Terp rushing game, with four tentative starters at running back, will have a direct effect on the Mountaineers' attack.

Doug Rigg
Maryland is playing it coy with its depth chart this week, listing Justus Pickett, Brandon Ross, Wes Brown and Albert Reid as possible running back starters for the game. The latter three are freshman (Ross having redshirted a year ago), while Pickett is a sophomore with one letter. On those runners, as well as on the offensive line, will ride Maryland's hopes of controlling the ball and limiting the number of West Virginia's possessions.

Note, of course, that time of possession isn't a big thing for West Virginia. Mountaineer scoring drives have typically been quick affairs this year, and Maryland isn't going to keep the ball for the entire game. However, if the Terps can establish the run and string together some first downs, they can limit the number of times the Mountaineers have the ball -- and that's likely their best hope of pulling off an upset. If West Virginia has 11 or 12 possessions, it's going to win the game, barring a barrage of turnovers or some other strange state of affairs.

The question is, can Maryland muster a running game? Through three games, UM has averaged just 2.7 yards per rush. UConn and William & Mary both shut down the Maryland ground game, but with a freshman quarterback at the controls, it's not likely that it will come out slinging the ball all over the lot. Neither the run nor the pass has been particularly kind to Randy Edsall's team this year, but in this game it probably doesn't have any choice other than to follow James Madison's blueprint to try to keep the game close.


"Tempo" has been a buzzword around the WVU football program this year, especially on the offensive side of the ball. As that group has gotten more comfortable with the offense, it has been able to play more quickly, and thus keep defenses from substituting or making adjustments on the fly. Tempo, though, isn't just about playing fast. It's as much about adjusting the pace of play as it is about going at all-out, top end speed on every snap.

To see how West Virginia uses this, watch WVU carefully on its offensive possessions. Note, at times, how Geno Smith will get his team quickly to the line, but won't snap the ball right off. Other times, WVU will milk the play clock down, giving Smith and the coaches time to look at the defense and perhaps change the play.

In other situations, though, it's hell-bent for leather. Snaps come at a furious pace. These often occur after a big play, when Holgorsen believes the defense is reeling. They can also occur at the start of the series, just as a change of pace -- and that's one of the real values of tempo. By varying the speeds at which it plays, WVU is able to throw even more uncertainty into opposing defensive coordinators. 'Will I have time to substitue on this next play?' he might be thinking. 'Can I call a nickel coverage with the personnel I have on the field?' Across the board, confusion can reign, and all because tempo is varied, not just a measure of how fast the offense can run.

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Another item to keep on the view list is the way in which WVU attacks a defense. The Mountaineers have faced two very different sets of tactics in its first two games, and responded with two different methods of operation. Against a Marshall team that backed out into coverage, WVU ran the ball with abandon. James Madison crowded the line and blitzed relentlessly, allowing West Virginia receivers to exploit single coverage in the passing game.

This isn't anything new -- in fact, it's the goal of many offenses -- to take advantage of what the defense gives it. It was certainly what the late Bill Stewart wanted when he took over the head coaching job. He announced it many times -- he wanted WVU to be more diverse, more able to adapt to what the defense as doing and attack its weak spots. The problem, though, was that the coaches at the time often called a number of different plays, even when a handful were working. They got away from successful calls, and seemed to try some other calls just to prove they could be diverse. That led to drive breakdowns, as too many negative or no-yardage plays bogged down drives.

That leads us to this assignment -- when West Virginia pops a big play, see how long it takes Holgorsen to call it again. Even plays that aren't huge gainers, but yield solid results, will get multiple re-runs. See how many you can identify. If WVU is having offensive success, you'll see the same look again and again until the opponent stops it.

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What players will Maryland put on the field on Saturday? Keep a roster handy, and highlight the following names: defensive backs A.J. Hendy and Matt Robinson; linebacker Kenneth Tate; running back Brandon Ross; and offensive lineman Josh Cary.

Those players, among several others, missed at least two of Maryland's first three games, and most were expected to be contributors this year. Maryland has dealt reasonably well with the absences of players so far -- no fewer than 14 members of its roster missed the Temple game, and many were still out for the Connecticut encounter. If the Terps can get some of these players back on the field, and in relatively good shape, they will certainly be a better team than the one on display the first two weeks of the season.

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