West Virginia Football: What We Learned from the Win over Maryland
West Virginia finished off its non-conference schedule Saturday with its seventh straight win over Maryland.
The 31-21 victory was a lot closer than many expected.
You have to give credit to a feisty young Terrapins team, which certainly came to play and wasn't intimidated at all by Mountaineer Field. However, the close outcome had a lot more to do with West Virginia's ineffectiveness and mistakes on both sides of the ball.
Here's a look at what we learned from Saturday's game.
The Offensive Line Needs to Step Up
By far the most disappointing unit in this game was the offensive line.
The veteran-laden group, which includes three seniors, only gave up one sack in the team's first two games. However, on Saturday it gave up two sacks and allowed a blitz-happy Maryland defense to constantly apply pressure on QB Geno Smith.
The front five also committed a few killer holding penalties, one of which got right tackle Pat Eger benched for the remainder of the fourth quarter and got him an earful from coach Dana Holgorsen.
This is a group that better step up its play in the coming weeks against Big 12-caliber defensive fronts.
Geno Smith Is Tough
Since the offensive line turned in a subpar performance, QB Geno Smith got a chance to display his toughness against the Terrapins.
Smith was harassed from the start to finish and was absolutely drilled on a few occasions. However, the senior signal-caller showed that he's truly a tough leader, as he always got up and shook off the pain, no matter how hard he was hit.
Tavon Austin Is Still the Team’s Best Receiver
Stedman Bailey may have been West Virginia's most productive receiver in its first two games. But Tavon Austin came out against Maryland and showed he's still the Mountaineers' No. 1 receiver, hauling in 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns.
The senior playmaker once again showed that he's an electric and explosive weapon who can do major damage any time he gets his hands on the ball.
The Running Game Is Lacking
Many West Virginia fans, including myself, were wondering why RB Shawne Alston didn't have any carries on Saturday.
Coach Dana Holgorsen revealed during his postgame press conference that Alston was held out of action due to a thigh bruise.
Alston's absence proved to be detrimental to the running game, as the Mountaineers could muster only 25 yards on 25 rushes against Maryland.
Sophomore Andrew Buie was asked to carry the load, but he averaged just 2.4 yards on 14 carries.
Given the power of West Virginia's passing attack, the team doesn't need to have a big-time rushing attack to win games. But 25 yards certainly isn't going to cut it in the Big 12.
Tight Ends Can Cause Problems for the Defense
Maryland did a solid job of using tight end Matt Furstenburg, who caused problems for the West Virginia defense.
Furstenburg caught four passes for 69 yards, and he picked up a few critical third-and-long conversions.
Luckily, there aren't a lot of top-tier tight ends in the Big 12.
Corey Smith Is Just Fine
Corey Smith didn't attempt many punts in West Virginia's first two games. However, when he was called upon, he didn't exactly produce as expected.
Smith had a punt blocked against Marshall and shanked a 24-yard punt against James Madison.
The senior looked much better against Maryland. He averaged 44 yards on seven punts, including a few boomers that travelled more than 50 yards.
It was definitely an encouraging sight to see.
The Defense Needs to Improve Its Tackling
One of the few noticeable flaws we've seen in West Virginia the first few weeks of the season has been the defense's inconsistent tackling.
That was on display once again against Maryland. Many defenders took poor angles to the ball-carrier and failed to wrap up once they got close.
The Mountaineers defense doesn't have to be great this season, but the unit does have to do a better job of wrapping up, especially in key situations.
Joe DeForest Knows How to Pressure a Quarterback
West Virginia may have had trouble taking down Maryland's running backs, but the Mountaineers certainly didn't have much trouble taking down QB Perry Hills.
Coordinator Joe DeForest did a great job of devising different blitzes to get to Hills, who was sacked five times.
Admittedly, Maryland's offensive line isn't all that great. But it was still good to see that DeForest knows how to come up with blitzes that can create pressure and cause problems for quarterbacks.
There’s Still Work That Needs to Be Done
This wasn't the type of performance that West Virginia needed to to build momentum for Big 12 play. Hopefully, though, the Mountaineers got whatever was plaguing them out of their system and can now learn from their mistakes before the schedule becomes more difficult.
We know that QB Geno Smith, receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and the rest of the offense will be able to pile up points and yards against any defense that they face. However, the question is, does this team have all of the proper pieces to contend for a Big 12 title in 2012?
The running game is still a big question mark. The offensive line needs to improve, and the defense has to step up its game for this team to beat conference foes like Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State and TCU.
After witnessing Saturday's sloppy performance, there's obviously still work to be done.