WVU - Maryland Matchups

An old adage says that close games are won in the trenches, so that's where we look for our key matchups in the WVU-Maryland clash.

KEY BATTLES:

WVU offensive tackle Mike Watson vs. Maryland defensive end Shawne Merriman

The classic battle of pass rusher and disruptive force off the edge versus a tackle tasked with protecting the blind side of the quarterback. Merriman is the total package, and Watson will have his hands full as he attempts to neutralize Merriman and keep him out of the Mountaineer backfield.

Watch for West Virginia to attempt to neutralize Merriman by either using his speed against him or running right at him on some plays. Merriman is a quick outside pass rusher, so it won't be a surprise to see Watson try to force him wide while Rasheed Marshall runs a quarterback draw or two inside his rush path.

WVU also has a number of rushing plays where the quarterback reads the end before making the decision whether to had the ball off or keep it, so Marshall will likely have an eye on the talented Terp defender for much of the afternoon. Watson does have about a 50-pound advantage over his opponent, but that size disparity hasn't affected Merriman much over his Terrapin career.

WVU nose tackle Ben Lynch vs. Maryland center Kyle Schmitt

WVU's underrated linchpin of the defensive line must bring his "A" game in order to keep the Mountaineers from being overwhelmed again in the trenches, but a lingering shoulder problem makes this matchup one that West Virginia fans should view with trepidation.

Schmitt is an outstanding player who, despite playing in the shadow of more highly-touted teammate C. J. Brooks, is the anchor of the Maryland offensive front. And despite all the theories of Mountains regarding purloined playbooks and stolen signals, the simple fact is that Maryland's offensive line is the single biggest reason for the Terps' recent dominance in the series.

WVU needs a healthy Lynch, using his quick moves, to tie up Schmitt and occasionally get into the backfield to make a play on his own. While Lynch's backup, Craig Wilson, is a good player in his own right, the Mountaineers need Lynch's experience, savvy and quick burst on the field as much as possible on Saturday. Schmitt, on the other hand, will try to use his superior size to pin Lynch down and free his teammates at guards to get to the second level of the defense for blocks. If that happens, the Terps will roll up at least 175 yards rushing, and likely a win.

WVU punt returner Adam Jones vs. Maryland punter Adam Podlesh

While West Virginia is concerned with containing Steve Suter, the Terps also have a few worries about hemming in WVU's equally dangerous return threat.



Adam Jones
Jones is first in the Big East conference with an astounding 28.3 yards per-punt-return average, a number that looks more like a kickoff return figure. Podlesh is almost as accomplished, averaging 42.3 yards per boot so far this year, and showing excellent control as well, placing three kicks inside the 20-yard line and one inside the 10.

Will Maryland kick away from Jones, as many Mountaineer fans hope WVU does against Suter? Or will the Terps trust the high kicks of Podlesh, who, along with his coverage squad, have only allowed one punt to be returned (for minus four yards) so far this season?

Either way, it figures to be an interesting matchup. There probably aren't two better return men in the country than Jones and Suter, and the field position that results from this clash could be a huge determining factor in the game's outcome.


THINGS TO WATCH

Each team boasts a shutdown cover cornerback that opposing teams tend to avoid. For WVU, of course, it's Jones, and for the Terps it's Domonique Foxworth. Both players have the ability to shut down their areas of the field and force opponents to look elsewhere for yardage, but it should be interesting to see if either coach attacks one of the strengths of the opposing defense.

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Jones has been all over the field for WVU, recording 14 tackles to lead the team for two games. The Terps might try to use that aggressiveness against him to catch the speedy junior out of position. Likewise, the Mountaineers may be tempted to aim a pass or two at Chris Henry in the hopes that the 6-5 target can get up over Foxworth (5-11) for the ball. One drawback to that strategy, however, is that Henry hasn't attacked the ball at its highest point very well this year.

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A lot has been made of WVU having to avoid falling behind early as they did in previous games in order to have a chance on Saturday, and that's a good point. However, the Mountaineers don't necessarily have to jump out to a big lead of their own.

What's important is that WVU gets a few first downs on offense in the first quarter, even if they don't score. A series of three and outs could yield the old "here we go again feeling", but some success, even if it doesn't result in points, could serve to keep the Mountaineers in a much better mental state.

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One item that hasn't been discussed much is how the crowd will respond in the face of adversity. WVU isn't going to run up and down the field on the Terps like they did on ECU and UCF, so fans expecting that are going to be disappointed. If the Mountaineers don't move the ball early, will the fans (fueled by the frontrunners that only show up for "big" games) boo? Will they leave in droves if West Virginia falls behind? This is going to be a tough game for WVU to win, and they don't need their cheering section turning on them.


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