The Mountaineers won a relatively ugly looking game. No I am not referring to the questionable costumes both teams wore, but rather the sloppy play, especially in the second half. The Mountaineers finished off the Terps 31-21.
The game showcased the 2nd rated offense of the Mountaineers versus the 8th ranked defense of the Terrapins. Taking a quick look at the boxscore, it is plain to see that the Terps defense won the match-up. WVU, who has averaged more than 600 yards of offense a game, was held to only 363 yards. Of the total offensive yards by the Mountaineers, only 25 yards came on the ground. That speaks volumes about how well the Terps defense controlled the line of scrimmage.
The Mountaineer rushing game could not get going as the offensive line was overmatched today. With Alston being limited with a thigh injury from earlier in the week, the running game was even further handicapped. The Mountaineers offense would have to rely on Geno’s cannon to deliver a victory.
Geno did not disappoint. The early Heisman Trophy favorite delivered an outstanding performance amidst relentless pressure. Smith completed 30 of 43 passes (69.8% completions) for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns. Geno had issues early on in the first half completing his passes as he had not seen a significant pass rush all year. Once he had adjusted to the blitz, Geno settled into rhythm finding Bailey and Austin frequently. Geno’s favorite target today, by far, was Tavon Austin.
Tavon Austin loves tormenting his home state team. Austin in the previous two meetings against Maryland had 18 receptions for 228 yards and 2 touchdowns. With one last shot to punish the Terrapins, Austin went off for a record performance. Austin snared a career best 13 receptions for 179 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Maryland defense just did not have an answer for Austin.
The other #1 receiver in this game was not to be out done. Stefon Diggs, the Austin-like freshman for Maryland, put up Austin-like numbers today. The elusive Diggs was bottled up pretty well by the Mountaineers defense, but when he was able to get his touches, he made big plays happen. Diggs only caught 3 balls, yet turned those limited grabs into 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns. If it were not for the shifty moves of Diggs, this game would have turned into a blow-out.
Besides having issues taking down Diggs, the Mountaineers defense put on a great performance. Many haters will point out that the defense surrendered 351 yards of offense to one of the worst offenses in the country. What the haters won’t tell you is just how well the Mountaineers played against the run, stuffing the Terps for 46 net rushing yards. The haters won’t tell you that the Mountaineers pass rush came alive for 5 sacks. Yes the defense gave up yards, but they also forced 5 fumbles, collected 5 sacks, forced 3 turnovers, and scored a defensive touchdown. Like it or not, that is a solid defense. The defense does have room for some improvement, but they were not the glaring weakness today. That weakness was the offensive line.
The front five of the Mountaineers could not move the Terrapins defensive line. Alston, Buie, and even Dustin Garrison (excited to see him back in pads) could not find running lanes. As a team, the Mountaineers rushing attack struggled to 25 net yards. The offensive line also struggled to keep Geno upright. Smith was constantly being knock down as he threw and was also sacked twice. Geno also nearly had his head ripped off in the first half.
Part of the struggles can be contributed to the endurance of the line. Josh Jenkins exited the game in the second half with a lower body injury, forcing Nick Kinder into the line-up for the remainder of the first half. Linemen like Pat Eger and Quinton Spain got called for holding multiple times, and could have easily been called for holding many more times. The line looked fatigued in the second half, most likely from the constant pass rush of Maryland. Sometimes, all the line could do was hold to keep Geno from being flattened.
Now it’s not like the offensive line played horrendously, but they were fortunate to be blocking for the quick release Geno Smith. The Terrapins defense proved that they are worthy of their top ten ranking. The Mountaineers offensive line will face tough defenses like Maryland from here on out, so they will need to make some blocking scheme adjustments going forward. Coach Holgorsen and offensive line coach Bill Bednbaugh, will need to work some of the major things out this week prior to the Mountaineers Big XII opener against Baylor.
– Tavon Austin set the West Virignia career receptions record with 208 grabs, breaking the 206 reception record of former teammate Jock Sanders.
– Geno Smith was sacked for the first two times of the season today. He also had his lowest completion percentage of the season, 69.8%, down from his season average 88%.
– Dustin Garrison saw his first action in nearly 10 months after suffering a knee injury prior to the Orange Bowl this past January.
– Wes Tonkery recorded his first career interception.
– The 5 sacks by the Mountaineer defense is the most sacks recorded since last year’s Backyard Brawl in November last year. That day, the Mountaineers pummeled Tino Sunseri with 11 sacks.
– Punter Corey Smith has improved his punting average. He had 7 punts for 312 yards for a 44.6 yards per punt average. That is great news for the Mountaineers and Smith, who was just awful last year, averaging 39.7 yards per punt a year ago and was known more for his shagged punts late in the season.