In 2003, the Mountaineers came out flat and just didn't play well against a hapless Central Florida squad. UCF, which still had talent despite their discipline problems, gave the Mountaineers fits for the entire game. In 2004, UCF again moved the ball well and gave the WVU defense trouble. WVU didn't have to punt until the fourth quarter, but still did not play well, committed numerous silly penalties, looked lethargic and probably were looking towards recent nemesis Maryland. The difference is in the outcome. The 2003 game wasn't settled until well into the final quarter, while the 2004 game, despite Rich Rodriguez' worries, was over well before that.
Against the Golden Knights, Rasheed Marshall had his best day as a Mountaineer quarterback. Jason Colson had a tremendous day backing up the injured Kay Jay Harris, and some little unknown walk-on looked tremendous until he tweaked his ankle. That little known guy is Bryan Wright, and he is a powder keg waiting to explode, if he can only stay healthy.
The offensive line, for the second game in a row, blasted their opponents off the ball and left gaping holes for the runners to blow through. Rasheed again had a nice running day, and scored his 20th career touchdown, which puts him sixth on the WVU career list, tied with Fred Wyant and Quincy Wilson.
The defense gave cause for concern with their play against UCF. The Knights were able to blast open some large holes right down the middle of the Mountaineer defense despite starting two true freshmen and three sophomores up front. Alex Haynes is a talented running back, but WVU's defense is geared to stop the run, so there's clearly some work to do there. The return of Ben Lynch should help.
Still, the Mountaineers held UCF to one long touchdown drive, one short drive after a turnover, and two field goals. The defense played excellently against ECU, save two coverage mistakes, and held the Pirates to less than 100 yards rushing. The defense held UCF below 300 yards on offense, while the WVU offense was churning up yards with more efficiency than Hurricane Frances.
Nobody, however, could be more pleased than the coaching staff over the performance of the special teams in the Orlando Citrus Bowl. Brad Cooper bombed a Big East record tying 54-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, and earned four touchbacks on eight kickoffs for the Mountaineers. Phil Brady came off the mat and showed why he won the punting duties during fall camp. Brady's first assignment was to punt from his own end zone to start the fourth quarter, and all he did was bomb a 61-yarder that put the Knights back into their own territory. His second punt was a 40-yarder that was downed with no return.
Capping the special teams play was Adam Jones, who once again showed why he is one of the most dangerous punt returners in the nation. After WVU was flagged for too many men on the field (WVU actually had only ten players on the field) during a UCF punt that bounded into the end zone, George O'Leary decided to kick the ball again. Bad choice. Pac Man ate up 59 yards on the return and set up Cooper's long field goal.
All of this brings us to Maryland.
And to the oversized loudmouth they have for a football coach.
It took Ralph Friedgen less than two minutes to start ripping off zingers toward West Virginia fans. Friedgen was quoted in the Washington Post as saying he'd be "dodging whiskey bottles" and their players were "hit with batteries" during their last visit.
What most people don't remember, because they were long gone before Coach Fridge addressed the Maryland fans after their blowout Gator Bowl victory, was Ralphie's comments over the stadium public address system. Friedgen's first comment went something like this: "Well, I guess we shut those West Virginia fans up, didn't we!"
Armed with that memory, reading his flippant quotes in the papers, and watching that ridiculous Under Armor commercial for the 100th time this week, I've got nothing but a Pitt-like distaste for the Terrapins.
Ralph should be proud. Because a mere four years ago, this was a boring game, and many Mountaineer fans were calling for a cancellation of a series that WVU was beginning to own. And Friedgen has resurrected a mediocre program to make it one of the nation's best over the last three seasons. However, unlike Maryland, which dropped West Virginia as a basketball opponent because they were afraid to play in the WVU Coliseum, the Mountaineers aren't running from a fight. And this week, the Mountaineers will bring the fight to Maryland. No playing around. No joking. WVU will be at Mountaineer Field to take care of business. And the business at hand is stomping some Terrapin backside.
Nicks and cuts and bruises won't matter this week. It is time for the Mountaineers to take back the Maryland series, and send the Terps back across the mountains with a sour taste in their mouths.
So buckle up your chin straps Ralph. You have never seen a West Virginia crowd jacked up for Maryland. This has never been a rivalry. But you've made it one. And I thank you for that. But I've got one thing left to say: This week, you are getting a heaping serving of Mountaineer Football, so come with an appetite. We have plenty for you.