Tony Gibson's defense recorded its third dominating performance in as many games. Can the Mountaineers carry the effort onward?

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s defense entered the Maryland game wanting to eliminate mental lapses that plagued it against Liberty. It left it with the type of confidence only a complete mastery of the opponent can provide.

There are only so many synonyms to describe the ineptness of Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe, and the sovereignty the WVU secondary showed in everything aerial. The Mountaineers blanketed the UM wideouts, and Rowe was his usual self, throwing four interceptions, some directly into the waiting hands of defensive backs which had nicely positioned themselves between the loose cannon – or, rather, popgun – that was Rowe, and the receivers who offered little challenge.

Maryland was shutout in the first half, the third straight game WVU had registered the zero over the initial two quarters, and didn’t score until 11:45 remained in the game, at that point a 45-0 romp. The Terps could neither run, nor pass, nor often block the interior of a significantly smaller line. UM entered with the second largest offensive front in the Big Ten, behind only Wisconsin’s road graders. They left gentle giants, bullied and slapped by Bruce Tall’s charges that simply had better technique and frankly outperformed in the trenches the entire game.

Whether the Mountaineers can remotely approach, much less duplicate, the success of Saturday at Oklahoma remains a major question. But for one three-plus-hour window, there were none. There weren’t any in the passing game, and any visible daylight for backs Wes Brown and Brandon Ross was snuffed out via superior speed and yet another solid tackling game.

West Virginia also began to place more pressure on the pocket, bringing blitzes from various angles and positions. That didn’t appear to be the approach early, when the Mountaineers laid back on a pair of first quarter third down conversions by Maryland. But from that point on, Tony Gibson stayed true to his persona, and that of the defense, forcing Rowe into a series of quick decisions that were ultimately disastrous. Rowe had a 4.8 passer rating at one point after misfiring on 16 of his first 21 passes with just 24 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.

 

 

 The trio would have been enough to stagger most, but Rowe somehow came out and threw his fourth pick, pushing West Virginia’s turnover margin this season to 10:2, or a plus-eight that currently places it in the top five in the nation. For Rowe, it was his ninth interception in 64 attempts; by comparison, Howard threw the first interception of his career, which came on his 179th attempt. Rowe finished 10-of-27 for 67 yards and a 28.3 rating.

Not to note that this was all on Rowe. There was nowhere to go with the ball, save the safe check downs that were swallowed up for minimal gain. The outside wideouts were controlled by Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut, each of whom had a pick. Toss in the two combined by K.J. Dillon and Karl Joseph – that’s four on the season for the free safey – and every defensive back position registered a pick. More impressively, Maryland’s run game never truly gained any consistent push, and managed just 118 yards on 29 carries outside of Ross’ 55-yarder that would have gone for a score – had he not fumbled the ball through the back of the end zone for a touchback.

To be certain, Maryland contributed mightily to its own destruction, but the Mountaineer defense put a lockdown on its third different offense in four weeks and couldn’t have played more up to par in anchoring WVU to an unbeaten nonconference finish. The truer tests now begin, but it’s incontestable that West Virginia hasn’t really been in one yet, and that's attributed primarily to the defense.


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