Maturation at Maryland led to big 2005 season

The development of West Virginia's program was evident at Maryland last year, when head coach Rich Rodriguez saw the centerpiece of his offense take hold and the entire team jell on a decisive fourth-quarter drive.

The Mountaineers, which roughed up Maryland for 301 yards, led 21-7 before the Terrapins, which had beaten West Virginia by more than 100 points over four of the pervious five years, rallied to within 21-19 with 8:19 remaining. The seven-play, 73-yard push proved that the Mountaineer youth was maturing quicker than expected and that this could be a very good team. Redshirt freshman quarterback Patrick White connected on three of five passing for 29 yards and, more importantly, avoided costly mistakes. He handed the ball to freshman back Jason Gwaltney, who mixed quickness and a bullying style near the goal line to score from 15 yards out.

Sophomore fullback Owen Schmitt, told to stay at Wisconsin-River Falls by the Maryland staff, unleashed his bruising style for a team-high 80 yards and one score. He led a hard-charging ground attack that churned out the Turtles and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. And safety Eric Wicks, in his first season as a starter, caused the final fumble from Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach that was recovered by linebacker Jay Henry to seal the game. Freshman place kicker Pat McAfee added a late field goal for the final margin in the upset.

Dan Mozes, who had played guard for the previous three seasons, was forced to be inserted at center in the middle of the game after former-starter Jeremy Hines quit after being relegated to second team and the new starter was injured. The now-Remington nominee (as the top center in the nation) saw his first two snaps sail over then-co-starting quarterback Adam Bednarik's head.

"He was," Rodriguez would later say, "one more bad snap from being pulled."

Instead, Mozes connected on the next hike and has since become one of the best players at the spot in the nation. He is an unquestioned team leader and, says offensive line and assistant head coach Rick Trickett, among the best linemen the veteran coach has ever mentored. White became a sensational run-pass threat, McAfee had a solid season and Schmitt would combine with Steve Slaton, then a little-known back that was snubbed by Maryland, for arguably the best running game in the nation.

"I know in our season it was a big game for us because he had a young team on the road in a tough environment and we got a lead and they came right back on us," Rodriguez said." At 21-19 it was really tight and our guys responded well, taking a long drive down for a touchdown. It was watching our guys grow up right in front of us. I remember, when we were taking that drive down, thinking ‘Hey, these guys are responding like veterans.' That was a sign to me that we might be ok. And we turned out to be ok."

That game was a springboard for Schmitt, Mozes, McAfee and West Virginia, which all maximized potential to create one of the greatest seasons in Mountaineer football history. The game seems long ago now, but some details and its meaning is not forgotten.

"Coach Trickett had just started repping me the week before that," Mozes said. I was taking reps during practice week. And I remember the bad snaps and me being back to my freshman days. I was kind of lost and then settled down and let the game come to me and things started going well. This next one is it. It will be my senior game, the last one against Maryland. If we happen to win it, I can go out on top.

"I think we are farther ahead than we were last year. We did not have a solid line until the third game last year. The ending line where we beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl we did not get established until the Maryland game last year. But our test against a true team will come this week."

Schmitt remembers his first facemask-denting, when he knocked a Maryland linebacker on his back on the way to plowing inside the five-yard line to setup a score. But he also remembers something most don't.

"I remember last year how hot it was," Schmitt said. I got a sunburn on my face. After the game my nose peeled and I had sun blisters."

Said Rodriguez: "He was jacked up to play. He had a big game and a couple big runs and some nice blocks. It was kind of his coming out party, I guess. He showed some things. It was the first time he really played for us."

Henry recalls the knee brace that, he insists, kept him from scoring on his fumble return – though teammates don't buy it.

"I remember I had a huge knee brace on because I had sprained my MCL earlier in the game," Henry said. "I was on a blitz on the play and flushed (Hollenbach) out. I had ran about 50 yards before Wicks actually knocked the ball out. I just picked it up, but then got tackled from behind. I always blame that on the knee brace."

It's amazing West Virginia can be joking about such aspects after it was dominated by Maryland the first four games under Rodriguez. It has won the last two, however, and is primed for another solid season. Another win in the series would dispel any rumors about which program is rising and which isn't, and could again help WVU secure very good postseason offerings. The winner the last six years has always gone to a bowl, while the loser had finished without a winning record half of the time in the true measuring-stick game.

Home games in Morgantown at night is really what makes playing special and playing Maryland adds that much to it," Henry said. "For the fans, obviously they have a long time to tailgate. For us, we are locked up all day at the hotel. We are just in there watching movies or whatever and that excitement builds up. You are excited to go and play."

The all-time series is tied at 21-21-2. But this will be more than a tiebreak. It's a chance to show on national television how far the West Virginia program has come since those early thrashings by Maryland, and just how the No. 5 Mountaineers do indeed rank against solid, BCS competition.

"They have had solid players every year since I have been here," Mozes said. "This year they will be just as good. They will be very big and physical and can move well everywhere. It will be another test on both sides of the ball, and the first real test for both teams."


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