MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
The passing games of both teams have the ability to put up points, and it's to be expected that each will be productive in the game. Following the theory that those might have the effect of cancelling each other out, could the running game be the key determinant in Saturday's West Virginia - Maryland battle?
If that is the case, Maryland has the statistical advantage, having piled up 401 rushing yards in its two wins, but it didn't face Alabama, either. Overall, the Terps coaching staff has been ok with the results on the ground, but the well-documented fumbling problem (nine total, four lost) has put a crimp in that aspect of UM's offense.
That might lead one to think the Mountaineers hold the edge, and while that's the view from here, there's also a misconception that needs to be corrected. A number of watchers, seeing West Virginia's loaded backfield, assume that WVU can line up and pound it down the opponents' throats. That's simply not the way WVU's running game is constructed, nor is it its forte. Even though Rushel Shell has displayed the ability to run over potential tacklers, WVU's ground attack is more about attacking gaps and slashing into creases than mushing behind dominant run-blockers.
* * * * *How will WVU defend Maryland's crops of fleet wide receivers? It's an interesting matchup that the Mountaineers are keeping under wraps.
Prior to the season, the Mountaineer coaching staff indicated, at various points, that it was returning to the "left" and "right" assignments for its corners, wherein those defenders would line up on the same side of the field on every play. Over the past couple of years, the corners had been designated as "wide" and "short" corners, with alignments depending on where the ball is spotted. Both systems have their advantages, but the thought this year was to avoid confusion and allow the defense to line up more quickly, and in the same spot time and again.
That went out the window against Alabama, however, when Daryl Worley shadowed Amani Cooper across the field on the majority of the snaps. Again, there are positives and negatives in creating that sort of matchup, but it was a shift from the preseason thinking. All of which leads to this game, and the options for defending the Terps.
Will Worley be assigned to Stefon Diggs permanently? Or is Maryland's depth at the position enough so that WVU would be better served sticking to the less confusing left-right approach? Or might a mix be employed, in the hopes of keeping the Terps off balance? However it plays out, this is a very interesting point of the game to watch. Keep an eye on number 7 (Worley) and number 16 (Terrell Chestnut) at the start of each play, and track their success in differing alignments. Also worth noting is WVU's shading of coverage -- will it leave Worley in more one-on-one matchups to provide help elsewhere?
WHERE'D THAT MASCOT COME FROM?
Maryland began identifying itself as the Terrapins way back in 1932, when football coach Dr. Curley Byrd (the namesake of the current stadium) suggested that the diamondback terrapin become the school mascot. Acting with a speed that in no way relates to the reptile itself, a bronze statue was quickly commissioned and installed, and the name adopted. The statue was reportedly modeled after Gorham, a live diamondback terrapin that was adopted by the school in some regard. Gorhap participated in the unveiling of the Testudo statue before passing away. He was reportedly preserved and is currently stashed on the Maryland campus.
The mascot is an appropriate choice for the school, as it is a native of the Chesapeake Bay, but the origins of its name -- Testudo -- are a bit murky. It may have come from scientific names of a couple of different species or groupings of terrapins, or be a play on the Latin word for helmets used by Roman Legionnaires. Either way, it does have an imposing ring when intoned in a deep voice. Imagine James Earl Jones pronouncing it.
While some deride a slow turtle as a mascot, it beats the heck out of the previous moniker employed by the school's sports teams: "The Old Liners".
Testudo's only apparent defense -- withdrawing into its shell -- was apparently insufficient to prevent multiple successful kidnappings of the original statue. It is currently anchored into place with almost a half-ton of cement and steel.
ITEMS TO WATCH
Would rain favor one team over the other? Again, the thought that the Mountaineers could ride a power running game to a win doesn't have any evidence behind it, and Maryland doesn't appear to have that sort of attack either. If that's the case, WVU might have an edge in its passing game, as it has been able to move the ball with shorter throws that might not be affected as much by wind and rain as some of the deep shots Maryland takes. Of course, there's also the question of footing, where the offense has an advantage because it is not in quick reaction mode, but that just puts the onus on corners and safeties to chop their steps, keep their balance, and focus on reading the body language of their opponents.
If the rains come, keep an eye on the secondaries. Which group is able to keep its footing? Are the corners able to react more quickly based on what they see from the opposing passcatchers before they make their breaks or moves? This could wind up being a key element in the contest.
Maryland's linebackers are overloaded with experience. Assuming that injured Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil is available after missing the first two games with an injury, all four starters on the second level of the Terps' 3-4 alingment will be seniors. Combining for 10 letters, the quartet forms a big (average weight 246 lbs.) wall against opposing running games. Look for WVU to test the speed of the group with its usual assortment of quick passes and sweeping runs.
SOMETHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
MAryland quarterback C.J. Brown holds the top two season marks for quarterback rushing yards in Maryland history. A year ago, he gained 577, bettering by two his total of 574 in 2011. This year, however, he has been a bit less likely to run the ball, tallying just 58 yards in his first two games.
Opinions out of College Park hold that Brown is staying in the pocket longer, looking for more opportunities in the passing game, rather than taking advantage of gaps in the pass rush as he has done in previous seasons. That makes him a bit more one-dimensional, and while it does present the chance for a bigger pass play, it also appears to have hurt Maryland's consistency and continuity overall. Brown's rushing ability has been a key factor for the Terps throughout his career, and it will be interesting to see if he has been coached to take off a bit earlier if he has the opportunity.