Final Observations: WVU-Maryland

Whether you believe West Virginia almost blew the game, or if Maryland really was just a good squad, we learned a lot about this WVU team. Here were a handful of observations from the 40-37 victory.

The Mountaineers, at moments, looked as if they were unstoppable, and at one point led Maryland 28-6 with just over six minutes left in the second quarter. It was after a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch by Mario Alford that the game took a complete 180 degree change. Maryland completed big play after big play, with some aid from West Virginia, to stay in the game. Although the Terrapins fought back, the Mountaineers stayed strong, and left Byrd Stadium with a win.

From the first snap it was apparent that head coach Dana Holgorsen wanted to establish, if not rely upon, the ground game. On WVU’s first drive they ran the ball six times, including four straight rushes to get into the end zone. As a team the Mountaineers finished with 183 rushing yards on 59 attempts, compared to Maryland's 163 rushing yards, but 75 of Maryland's rushing yards came from C.J. Brown’s touchdown. Rushell Shell finished the day just shy of 100 yards. Another note, Shell was seen leaving the field in the third quarter with an apparent shoulder injury which might affect his play versus No. 4 Oklahoma this weekend.

Coming into the season Jordan Thompson was the de facto punt returner for the Mountaineers, and looked good in spots on Saturday. Thompson averaged 9.3 yards on four returns, made good decisions on when to fair catch the ball save the late miscue when he was arguably a bit distressed after his muff, and when to let it roll into the end zone. Thompson did, however, drop his first punt of the season, and did not look comfortable to try and return the one following that, instead letting it roll inside the 10 for a touchback that pinned WVU deep. That came two games after Thompson made a dangerous catch of a punt against Alabama that could have buried the Mountaineers in their own end of the field.

Thompson, typically quite sure-handed despite reports to the contrary, called a fair catch at the 15-yard line, but let the ball bounce to the five yard line instead of receiving it. He looked timid on the play, and if he wants to make an impact next Saturday against Oklahoma, he is going to have to mentally overcome some of the hesitation caused by the muff, which Maryland, because of a West Virginia defense that allowed minus-10 yards on 112 snaps in the fourth quarter, was never able to fully capitalize upon. WVU forced a field goal on the possession, a clear win for a defensive unit that kept its boarder rival from converting any third downs in the second half.

For back-to-back seasons WVU has allowed 37 points in the series, but this year the Mountaineers walked away with a victory. In last year’s 37-0 loss to Maryland, it looked as if the team had given up, but not this year. There were plenty of opportunities for the team to quit, but it was evident that every player, more mentally adept in terms of schemes and understanding, wanted not to win Saturday’s game, but had the wherewithal to withstand a rally that saw the then-unbeaten Terrapins score 31 of the game's 40 points in one segment.

It seemed West Virginia's backfield depth showcased itself, with Dreamius Smith and Dustin Garrison as prime evidence. Neither Smith nor Garrison took a snap until late in the fourth quarter, but the duo carried the ball to convert two third downs on WVU’s final drive that set-up the game-winning 47-yard field goal by Josh Lambert. The depth of the running back showed, and the willingness to win was visible throughout the game as WVU continued to display its maturation and fortitude.

Finally, although the game was close, WVU rode their wave of momentum - and didn't yeield at key times to the same such from Maryland, to victory. That's a major step in team - if not program - development. Now, with two wins under Holgorsen’s belt, the team will prep for their next big test in a key game against Oklahoma this Saturday, one that should truly define just how far this collective group has both moved past just that, and how much promise might lay ahead for a thus-far surprising Mountaineer team.

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