On Saturday, the Maryland Terrapins will travel to Morgantown for a rivalry game against the No. 8 West Virginia Mountaineers.
Maryland has already matched last year’s two-win total with victories over William & Mary and Temple, but failed to move to 3-0 in a home loss last week to Connecticut.
Meanwhile, West Virginia has dominated its two early out-of-conference foes, averaging 55.5 points per game in wins over Marshall and James Madison.
West Virginia has opened as 28-point favorites, so the experts are projecting a giant victory for the Mountaineers.
How well (or how poorly) do the Terrapins match up in this contest? Let’s take a look at a breakdown of the various matchups in the game.
Aside from 2008 and 2009, these two teams have faced off every season since 1980.
West Virginia currently leads the series with an all-time record of 25-21-2, taking the lead after winning the last six games in the series.
Maryland has not defeated WVU since its 2004 Gator Bowl victory, 41-7.
The Mountaineers have been nearly unstoppable in recent contests with Maryland, eclipsing 30-plus points in each of the last five games. I wouldn’t expect that to stop on Saturday.
West Virginia has defeated Maryland by double digits in four of the last five games, with last year being the only exception after WVU let up on a 34-10 third-quarter lead.
If Maryland wants to keep this game close, they will have to sell out to stop one man...
Geno Smith looks like an early Heisman Trophy finalist, putting on his best RG3 impression by throwing as many touchdowns as incompletions through the first two games of the season—nine.
Albeit, against soft defenses, Smith has completed 88 percent of his passes and has thrown for 9.8 yards per attempt in 2012.
However, the most important statistic so far is the number of times he’s been sacked—zero.
If Maryland wants any chance of keeping this game close, they need to put pressure on Smith early and often.
Unfortunately, the strength, relatively speaking, of Maryland’s defense is stopping the run, not stopping the pass.
They’ve also had little success stopping Smith in their previous two meetings. In those two games, Smith has a stat line of 55/78/656/5/1.
Maryland does not have the personnel to match up with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in the passing game, so expect those two to have monster games.
Running back Shawne Alston has looked great so far this season, and he may continue that success versus Maryland despite their ability to stop the run.
Maryland has yet to face a spread attack like the one West Virginia possesses, so the running game will be more difficult to stop than the likes of juggernaut offenses like William & Mary.
Long story short—Maryland will need to pressure Geno Smith and force him to make mistakes if they want to contend. Up to this point in the short season, that has been a difficult task for opposing defenses.
After the untimely ACL injury of starting QB C.J. Brown in training camp, Maryland has been forced to turn over the reins to freshman Perry Hills.
I can keep this very short. Perry Hills is not ready to perform at a high level and has yet to face a defense as big and as athletic as West Virginia.
Hills has been very turnover-prone in his first three collegiate games, throwing four interceptions in just 69 pass attempts. It also doesn’t help that he has been sacked 11 times.
Maryland has one player—Stefon Diggs. He accounted for more than 50 percent of their total yards in last week’s loss.
Let that sink in.
A true freshman, Diggs is a do-it-all player who will lineup all over the field in an effort to get the ball in his hands as many times as possible.
The Mountaineers did allow 34 points in the season opener to Marshall, but frankly, Maryland doesn’t have enough offensive firepower to score that many points versus a Big 12 defense.
Looking on the bright side, at least Maryland has an awesome punter.
Both teams have dynamic return men, so that is also something to watch for in this game.
While the Mountaineers will employ an assortment of returners on kickoffs, it is the dangerous Tavon Austin who will return punts and is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the football.
I’ve already mentioned Maryland’s Stefon Diggs—he literally does it all for the Terps. He’s returned 11 punts for 152 yards, as well as five kickoffs for 123 yards. He will need to make a few long returns in order to help Maryland keep up with the Mountaineers’ prolific offense.
I would like to give an edge to WVU in the kicking game, but their offense is so ridiculous that their kicker hasn't been called upon to kick a field goal this season. At least we know Tyler Bitancurt is pretty good at extra points.
While Diggs provides a spark on special teams, I still can’t give the edge to one team or the other in this aspect of the game.
While Maryland head coach Randy Edsall holds an edge in the experience category, I will not be the one to declare Maryland as having a head coaching advantage over West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen.
Holgorsen led the Mountaineers in his first season as head coach to a 10-3 record last year, en route to an Orange Bowl victory.
Edsall, on the other hand, led the Terrapins to a two-win season in his inaugural season in College Park.
I am a well-documented Edsall-hater, but bias aside, Holgorsen holds the advantage here as he has been calling the plays for this offense since his hire in 2010.
While Holgorsen is regarded for his play-calling abilities, I don’t see anyone praising Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley for his dynamic playbook and in-game calls.
With advantages in every aspect of the game, look for the Mountaineers to roll big on Saturday.
Prediction: West Virginia 45, Maryland 17.