X-Factor At The 'Y'

Pat White and Steve Slaton are the main focus of Maryland's defensive preparation. But it's Darius Reynaud who could make the biggest difference for a second consecutive game.

The junior wideout is a jack-of-all-trades – and a master of some. Reynaud's explosiveness in the open field and ability to take a bubble screen or an end around for a score had made him the fourth threat after the triple-headed backfield of White, Slaton and fullback/tight end Owen Schmitt, who seem to get the first chance to shine.

It now seems Reynaud is the go-to player when No. 4 West Virginia needs a play made and its other weapons are no-go. His 60-yard catch-and-run versus East Carolina last year broke open a tight game in which the Pirates tackled well and limited Slaton. The Louisiana native mimicked that effort in the last game against Marshall, scoring WVU's opening touchdown on a 46-yard quick slant pattern, then adding eight more catches – including a second scoring pass from White to open the second half and the six-scores-in-seven possessions floodgate – to swamp the Herd. Reynaud was the feature player on the all-important opening drive, snaring the first two first down catches, one on third down, then finishing it with the score.

To its credit, Marshall had also tackled well, stealing a page from ECU's playbook by overloading the run and crashing the line with safeties. It worked, until the X-factor emerged to set career highs with nine catches, 134 yards (24 more than he had against East Carolina) and the two receiving scores. And when Marshall continued to threaten into the second half, Reynaud helped WVU average 23.2 yards per kickoff return, nearly two more than Marshall's 21.3 even with its 77-yarder to start the game.

"It's athleticism: strength, speed, the whole nine yards," White says of Reynaud's flash and dash ability. "He is a total athlete. His strength is very much underrated."

Reynaud ripped off a series of solid catches to start the second half, then took another third quarter pass from White and made two defenders miss before dragging another along with his shirttail for three yards until the opponent lost his grip. The score helped cause Marshall to lose theirs, and West Virginia won its seventh straight over the Herd, ringing up a 48-23 win and the worst beating of Marshall in the 17-year history of Joan C. Edwards stadium. Now, the Mountaineers will look to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive game over Maryland on Thursday, when the two rivals clash for the 46th and final time before a two-year hiatus in the series.

Reynaud shined in last season's game. He led all WVU pass-catchers with four grabs for 28 yards. That doesn't read like much, and it isn't. But considering West Virginia rushed for 340 yards and held a 28-0 lead before the end of the first quarter, it's little wonder White threw just nine passes, completing six. The biggest play of the night, along with Slaton's electric field reversal run and Reynaud's five-yard scoring catch to give WVU a 21-0 lead and start the blowout, was the wideout's kickoff return. Maryland had pulled with within 31-10, only to have Reynaud bobble the boot, then split a seam and run 96 yards for the sealing score and a 38-10 lead.

"I was nervous when I first started because it was my first kick return," Reynaud said. "When I bobbled the ball, it suddenly became open and I just hit the green. I have good cuts, and once I make that first cut it is all over."

Special teams and assistant head coach Bill Stewart immediately knew the game was over.

"Maryland worked and worked last game and got back to 31-10 just before the half. Then they kicked the ball off and … (Reynaud) broke their back," he said. "It took them out of their element. I'd love to do it again, because it is difficult to come back from 38-10 against a team like us."

The Terps (2-0) have utilized a mix of stacking the box and keeping its safeties back in a traditional two-deep look that divides the field in half in the first two games. Marshall, conversely, often blitzed Reynaud's cover player to seal the inside and bottle Slaton. The Herd then dropped a safety into the box to stuff the bubble screens that were called, hoping that they would tackle effectively enough. Reynaud could see some single coverage Thursday, but that would be closer to a more traditional press style. Once the junior gets past the midrange area, look for him to be doubled. Thus, Reynaud will likely not only have to make the cornerback or covering linebacker miss, but also the safeties to break into the open in the upcoming outing.

"The last couple of years we have played them, they had a lot of size but not as much speed," Reynaud said. "That's the biggest part of us playing against Maryland is our speed. I have seen some one-on-one after watching film, and we are going to try to stretch the field a lot if they stack the box. We will come out throwing the ball. There is something about Maryland that I like. I know when I get the ball I can do well.

"But there is not a lot of pressure. I know when we play Maryland they are going to stack the box like other teams do. That opens the game more for me. Lots of teams do cover zero, and Coach Rod loves that."

And his multi-purpose threat.

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