West Virginia has put up some monster numbers offensively in the first two games of the season. Of course, those huge performances came against the Marshall Thundering Herd (99th in total defense) and the James Madison Dukes (under-sized, under-talented FCS defense). This week’s match-up with the Maryland Terrapins, who are ranked 8th in total defense, will be the first real test for the Mountaineers’ air raid offense.
Many will quickly point out that the Terps have played a pop warner schedule until this point (vs William & Mary, at Temple, vs Connecticut). That is a valid point, but the same can be said about West Virginia’s schedule to this point (vs Marshall, vs James Madison). Yes, both teams have played subpar schedules to this point, but that does not necessarily take away from how good each unit is.
The Maryland defense is averaging 227 yards allowed per game. It doesn’t matter who you play, that is an impressive statistic. In college, if you have a defense that gives up less than 300 yards per game, you have the potential to win any game.
Maryland is solid against the run, holding opponents to 103 yards per game. Much of the reason for the Terrapins success against the run is due to big defensive end Joe Vellano. A.J. Francis and Keith Bowers round out a stack defensive front that clogs up running lanes. The defensive front swallows up blockers, allowing stud linebacker Demetrious Hartsfield to make plays. The Mountaineers offensive line will need to work hard to clear lanes for Alston and Buie to move the ball on Saturday.
Most impressive and most concerning to the Mountaineers,is how well the Terps play against the pass. Maryland is giving up an average of 124 passing yards per game. That is just a ridiculous stat line. Most teams in the country average better than 200 yards per game, showing that this Terps secondary is really talented. The secondary unit features players like Dexter McDougle, Eric Franklin, Matt Robinson, and company. The Mountaineers passing attack, through the first two games of the season, is averaging 386 passing yards per game (2nd best in the nation). So what happens when you match a top ten defense against a top five offense? You get one heck of a show! Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, and Tavon Austin will have to step up their game against the Terrpins secondary..
The Terrapins defense isn’t just stingy in giving up yardage, they are also very capable of producing turnovers. Through three games, the defense has forced 6 turnovers. That could pose problems to a Mountaineers offense that has only given up one turnover on the season.
Overall, the Terps defense is solid and will force many WVU punts and maybe the second turnover of the season for the Mountaineers early on. The biggest problem for the Terps defense is the Terps offense. No defense can be expected to be on the field for the majority of the game and succeed. The Terrapins offense is quite possibly the worst offense in the nation (119th out of 120 teams), often leaving their defense with a short field as a result of ineffectively moving the football or worse, through turnovers. The Terrapins offense is just pitiful at protecting the football, having already turned the ball over 10 times this season. The Mountaineers defense will have their way with the Terps offense, giving Geno and company plenty of opportunities to air it out against the Maryland secondary and favorable field position all afternoon.
Look for the Mountaineers offense to be held to around 450 yards (down from their 612 yards per game average) but still score at least 5 touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if you see Geno’s completion percentage come back down to Earth from his 88% average, probably coming down to a solid 70%. Expect to see the Mountaineers beat the Terps by a similar score to that of the JMU game (44-19 prediction).