Sat 9/21 3:30 PM ET
M&T Bank Stadium
Ga. State 41-7 W
UConn 32-21 W
Series: WVU 26-21-2
First Meeting: 1919
Last Meeting: 2012
MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
West Virginia has moved the ball well at times this year, At others it has not. Overall, has the productivity been good enough to win with? Are criticisms of the offense arising out of a simple comparison to last year's record-setting attack?
First, the good. The Mountaineers are averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and have gained an even 1,400 yards from scrimmage in its first three games. That works out to an average of 6.4 yards per play, and combined with the team's 73 first downs, shows that sustaining drives and getting downfield haven't been major issues.
On the flip side, though, there's the matter of scoring. Seventy-two points is an o.k. number, but in this era of high scoring (59 Division 1 teams scored 30 points or better last week), it's not enough. Turnovers (six) and red zone failures (a woeful 50% touchdown percentage) have kept the points from piling up, and are problems that must be corrected. (By way of comparion, Maryland has scored a touchdown every time is has possessed the ball in the red zone this year.)
However, it's consistency that is keeping West Virginia off the board as well. Three-and-out possessions have been too common, while dropped passes have also been a noticeable sympton of the lack of continuity.
It wasn't long ago that 24 points was good enough to win most games. Today, it's just enough to keep the final score respectable. Sixty-four of the 123 FBS teams average 30.7 points per game or better, leaving WVU (tied for 85th) trailing in the one statistic that counts more than anything. If it is to make a run at a bowl game this year (or have a chance against Maryland on Saturday), that number has to increase.
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A great deal of attention has been paid to Maryland's pass rush, and with good reason, but there's another aspect of the Terp defense that concerns WVU -- its stopping power against the run. A year ago, Maryland held WVU to 25 yards on the ground -- a figure which, despite the presence of the most high-powered passing attack in WVU history, was still a bit embarrassing. Even discounting Geno Smith's carries, some of which were sacks, West Virginia managed just 41 yards on 19 carries. This year, even though the Terrapins are going all out with blitzes, they are still stout against the rush, standing 14th in the nation while yielding just 96.7 yards per game on the ground.
Granted, there are a lot of grains of salt (perhaps even the whole shaker) to be taken with that stat. UM's opponents haven't been spectacular, and game circumstances can contrive to produce numbers that make a defense look better against the run than it is. (For example Texas State leads the nation with just 34 yards per game allowed. Marshall is sixth.) Great numbers against the run also aren't a guarantee of victory, as the top ten in the category have six losses already in 2013. Still, a West Virginia team struggling to find consistency in any offensive play phase is going to need to figure out a way to move the ball on the ground, especially as an antidote to the Terps' pass rush.
A NUMBER WORTH COUNTING
The number this week is a big one -- 1,235. That's the number of receiving yards Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs has piled up in just 15 games as a Terrapin.
West Virginia doesn't have the talent to cover Diggs one-on-one for more than the occasional snap, so look for lots of zone and safety help against the Terp speedster. That didn't play out very well a year ago, as the freshman recorded 113 yards and two scores on three catches against WVU, one of which was a crossing route that covered nearly the entire width of the field before Diggs turned it up for the score.
Had West Virginia avoided injury and fielded the same defensive lineup each of the first three weeks of the season, confidence in the Mountaineers' ability to slow Diggs and the Terrapin attack might be a bit higher. However, as we highlighted earlier this week, injuries have forced constant shuffling on the WVU defense, to the point that even passing packages have featured different personnel on almost a quarter-by-quarter basis. WVU hopes to be back to as near full strength as it can be this year by Saturday, but there's no denying that the lack of preparation and practice snaps will have a negative effect.
The key for WVU is to not blow coverages, especially at the back of the defense. Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook are both big play performers at the safety positions, but this week they have to be disciplined. If Maryland gets receivers behind them for long scores, the Mountaineers will come home with a loss.
BEER OF THE WEEK
Zombie Dust Pale Ale makes the list not just because of the current undead craze, but because it just doesn't have many flaws in my view. Stumbling upon this potion was an unplanned surprise, but with its strong citrus-orange flavor and light finish, it's perfect with many different bar food servings. It's made by the Three Floyds Brewing Company in Indiana, and it can be tough to find, but if you're in the Chicagoland area it is worth the search. Hit the Three Floyds brewpub for your best chance at finding it, but it reportedly sells as fast as it is brewed, so calling ahead might save you a trip.
ONE MORE THING...
The Maryland duo of Diggs and Deon Long is getting plenty of attention in the passing game, but it's another pairing that also give the Terps punch. This one makes its presence known on special teams, where Diggs and freshman William Likely are serious threats to gain big yardage and score from distance.
A year ago, Diggs returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and while he hasn't broken out this season, it figures to only be a matter of time. Meanwhile, Likely, who foes knew little about, has seized the spotlight. He's averaging 10.3 yards per punt return (that's like a free first down), and is ripping off kickoff returns at the rate of 38.2 yards per chance.
Overall, Maryland has a ten-yard per return advantage on its foes so far this year -- that's field position that doesn't get a lot of attention, but is often crucial in the game. WVU punter Nick O'Toole and kickoff specialist Michael Molinari will need to be at their best to produce kicks which limit the Terps' chances at returns.