The Chalkboard: Previewing The West Virginia - Maryland Game

This week's edition of The Chalkboard looks at a heretofore unexamined aspect of the West Virginia - Maryland border battle, and examines at some other final points of interest in the hours leading up to kickoff.

Maryland's running backs are in one respect similar to West Virginia's - they meld differing talents to present a challenge to opposing defenses. Brandon Ross shows power and consistency, and is averaging a career-best 5.2 yards per carry this season, while Wes Brown is doing likewise with a 5.7 yards per tote tally this year. Brown missed more than half of last week's USF game after being ejected for targeting after a turnover, but he is back in good graces for this week's game. Keep an eye on the way in which the Terps use this duo. Ross gets the start, but Brown has been a valuable sub, and his presence was certainly missed in the second half last week, even though Maryland still got the win.

Those substitutions probably won't change West Virginia's defensive approach a great deal, but there could be some increased awareness for perimeter vs. inside runs depending on which runner is in the game. Above, all though, the priority will be on shutting things down between the tackles. The Terps have their typical largish offensive line, and like to be able to run either isos or power with pulling backside blockers in order to create interior rushing lanes. That sets up their pro-style play-action passing attack, which is critical to reducing pressure on their QBs. Maryland's line has not allowed a sack this season, and while that's a testament to the ability of the linemen, it's also due in part to running game success, which slows all-out pass rushing. Maryland has been almost perfectly balanced on offense this year, averaging 203 yards per game on the ground and 206 through the air.

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The Maryland defense has racked up 14 sacks through its first two games, ranking second in the nation and first in the Big Ten. The Terps totaled six sacks against USF - the most since notching seven against Virginia Tech on Nov. 17, 2013. The counterpoint to that, though, is Maryland's somewhat low pass defense numbers overall.  UM is 89th in the nation in pass efficiency defense, allowing a nearly 60% completion rate and seven scoring tosses. Much of the damage came at the hands of Bowling Green, which shredded the Terp defense for 491 yards and six TDs through the air. Maryland did hold South Florida to just 60 yards passing, but at least some of that was due to Bull ineptitude.

 Those numbers make this match-up something of a feast or famine situation. The Terps can put WVU off-schedule and behind the chains with sacks, but if they don't get home, it looks like the Mountaineers will have the chance to move the ball through the air.  Also, don't discount the impact that four or five sacks can have. Each has the potential to stop a drive, and in a game with, say, 10-12 possessions, the thwarting of half that number is a huge advantage for any team in today's offense-driven game.

That brings up an item to track in this game: How many Maryland sacks lead to failed West Virginia offensive possessions? Of course, the Mountaineers don't want toyield any, but if the Terps do get to Skyler Howard, will WVU be able to overcome the lost yardage and get a first down?

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Remember back when coach Mike Locksley was something of the flavor of the day, and a segment of fans wanted him on West Virginia's staff for his potential in recruiting? He's fallen out of favor a bit, but it will be interesting to see what happens with the current Maryland offensive coordinator if the Terps conitnue to struggle to record wins.

We missed this last year, but two-time NFL Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion Keenan McCardell is the Terps wide receivers coach. The 17-year NFL veteran spent two years with the Washington Redskins as a coach before coming to College Park last year.

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This will be the 52nd meeting between Maryland and West Virginia. The rest of WVU's 2015 opponents haven't shown up nearly as frequently -- in a tie for second place on this year's list, the Mountaineers have faced Oklahoma and Oklahoma State seven times each.

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One place where West Virginia's defense has hurt itself this year is with penalties in key situations. The Mountaineers have yielded four first downs via yellow flags, and the majority of those have come on third downs when the result of the play would have brought on the opposing punting unit. Instead, enemy drives have been extended, with all the negatives that come with not getting off the field. This isn't a huge issue yet, but in games against better opponents (starting with the Terps), such miscues could make a difference. WVU has been very good on third down, holding its first two opponents to a 29% conversion rate, but that number could be even lower it the Mountaineers don't help their foes extend drives.

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In its game recaps, Maryland listed the exact same attendance (38,117) for its first home game (Richmond) and most recent one (USF). If those are true attendance numbers. that's an amazing coincidence. However, the stands looked much more empty than that, at least from the television views provided, against the Bulls. Byrd Stadium is listed as having a capacity of 51,802, and there were probably 30,000 empty seats, not filled ones, in College Park on that day. Another source lists the USF attendance as 36,827, which, while a different number, still shows a very disturbing trend for the Terps. After seeing a boost of its attendance average to almost 47.000 a year ago (its first in the Big Ten), the Terps have averaged just more than 37,00 per game this season.

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