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West Virginia vs. Maryland: Preview, Predictions and the Edge at Each Position

Tom PerryCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2011

West Virginia vs. Maryland: Preview, Predictions and the Edge at Each Position

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    For most West Virginia fans and players, the biggest game of the season is and will be Pittsburgh in the annual Backyard Brawl.

    But don't think for a second that when No. 18 WVU plays at Maryland at noon on Saturday, these two won't be gunning for each other on every play.

    With the Mountaineers riding a five-game winning streak in the rivalry, Maryland finally looks like it might have the manpower to pull off an upset.

    First-year coach Randy Edsall is familiar with WVU from his time at Connecticut, but until last year's victory he was more accustomed to coming up on the losing end against the Mountaineers.

    So who has the biggest advantage going into this year's meeting? Keep reading for a breakdown of the game.

Quarterbacks

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    Maryland and WVU both have experienced and talented quarterbacks.

    Danny O'Brien had a huge opening game against Miami as he completed 31-of-44 for 348 yards and a touchdown, but he also was picked off one time in the 32-24 win.

    O'Brien has matured a lot since last year's game in Morgantown.

    Geno Smith is thriving in new head coach Dana Holgorsen's offense.

    Smith has completed 67 percent of his passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception as the Mountaineers have rolled to a 2-0 start.

    The junior also ranks 22nd in the nation in passing efficiency.

    Edge: West Virginia

Running Backs

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    Maryland's running game is spearheaded by senior Davin Meggett, who proved to be a workhorse against Miami in the opener.

    Meggett enters Saturday's game with 92 yards on 16 carries, but WVU's defense is arguably tougher than Miami's right now.

    West Virginia's ground attack has been a major concern for Dana Holgorsen, who is used to having a productive back like Kendall Hunter.

    Instead, he's using Andrew Buie (37 yards), Vernard Roberts (76 yards) and Dustin Garrison (19 yards) for the bulk of the carries.

    Edge: Maryland

Receivers

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    Maryland's Kevin Dorsey had a huge game against Miami with eight receptions for 124 yards, while Matt Furstenburg added four catches for 68 yards.

    However, the Terps depth at receiver took a huge hit when Quintin McCree and Ronnie Tyler were suspended for the game Saturday.

    The clearest sign that Dana Holgorsen is a great offensive coach is the way he has developed the receiving corps in Morgantown.

    Tavon Austin (nine catches, 114 yards, TD) and Stedman Bailey (seven catches, 116 yards, TD) were expected to be clutch receivers. But Geno Smith has a slew of receivers to throw to this year, and he has confidence in all of them.

    Ivan McCartney (nine catches, 110 yards, two TDs) is finally living up to the hype, while Devon Brown (eight catches, 151 yards, TD) has been a huge surprise. Former tight end Tyler Urban has only three receptions and a touchdown, but his production should pick up.

    Edge: West Virginia

Offensive Line

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    Maryland's offensive line is young, but talented.

    Led by senior guard Andrew Gonnella (6'5", 295), the line does a nice job of pass protection and did a good job of opening holes in the opener with Miami.

    The other starters are tackles Max Garcia (6'4", 290) and R.J. Dill (6'7", 300), guard Josh Cary (6'5", 290) and center Bennett Fulper (6'4", 295).

    This group will have its hands full with WVU's athletic defensive line and linebackers.

    WVU left tackle Don Barclay (6'4", 310) and center Joe Madsen (6'4", 301) have started 29 and 27 games, respectively. Jeff Braun (6'4", 322) replaced the injured Josh Jenkins at left guard, but he started a lot at right tackle in 2010.

    Tyler Rader (6'3", 296) and Pat Eger (6'6", 301) got their first career starts in the opener against Marshall and are still working to improve on their run blocking.

    So far this season, WVU's offensive line has been a weak spot.

    Edge: Maryland

Defensive Line

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    Maryland runs a 4-3 with a small but athletic line.

    The tackles are Joe Vellano (6'2", 285) and A.J. Francis (6'4", 295), while the ends are David Mackall (6'3", 240) and either Clarence Murphy (6'2", 240) or Keith Bowers (6'2", 260).

    Miami ran the ball fairly well in the opener, with 172 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Maryland may actually get a break since WVU's running game has been mediocre so far in 2011.

    The Mountaineers run a 3-3-5 under defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.

    Like Maryland, size is not their strength. Instead, WVU has one of the more athletic lines in the Big East.

    Led by preseason All-American end Bruce Irvin (6'3", 236), the Mountaineers will get some pressure on Danny O'Brien.

    End Julian Miller (6'4", 259) can't be overlooked, and Jorge Wright (6'2", 281) is doing a good job of replacing Chris Neild, who graduated.

    Edge: West Virginia

Linebackers

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    What Maryland lacks on the line, the Terps certainly make up for it at linebacker. Randy Edsall has some beasts that make plays all over the field.

    You have to start with Kenny Tate (6'4", 220), who had 11 tackles and an interception against Miami. He's been a big-time player since he arrived at Maryland.

    Weak-side linebacker Darin Drakeford (6'0", 240) leads the team in tackles with 14, and he also has a sack. Strong-side linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield (6'2", 235) also had a nice game against the Hurricanes with 13 stops.

    WVU's Najee Goode (6'1", 239) has started 15 games in the middle, and he's solid on both pass coverage and stopping the run.

    The Mountaineers' other starters—Doug Rigg (6'1", 228) and Casey Vance (5'9", 222)—are short on experience.

    Edge: Maryland

Defensive Backs

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    Maryland's Cameron Chism returns for his third season as a starting corner. Against Miami he had six tackles and a big interception.

    While Eric Franklin has earned two varsity letters as a safety, corner Dexter McDougle and safety Matt Robinson are relatively fresh faces. Robinson did have 10 tackles in the opener.

    West Virginia employs five backs on every play, so the unit has to be deep and athletic. They are also asked to play the run and blitz.

    Senior Keith Tandy could be the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year after hauling in six interceptions last year. He had five tackles in the season opener against Marshall.

    Pat Miller is the other starting corner. The safeties are equally important to the defensive alignment. Terence Garvin and Eain Smith have plenty of experience and are two of the best in the league. Darwin Cook became a starter this season.

    Edge: West Virginia

Special Teams

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    Junior Nick Ferrara handles both place kicking and punting duties for Maryland. He made 4-of-5 field goals against Miami, but all were chip shots—including a 23-yarder he missed.

    Ferrara punted just once for 48 yards.

    Kick returner Justus Pickett, who returned five kicks for 78 yards, has the potential to be dangerous.

    West Virginia kicker Tyler Bitancurt comes off a down year. So far this year he has made 4-of-5 with a long of 41 against Marshall.

    The Mountaineers may be a little more dangerous on punt and kick returns with Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin returning, but WVU's kick coverage is still a problem.

    Edge: Maryland

Coaches

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    Randy Edsall is 1-6 against WVU as a head coach, but all of that came at Connecticut.

    He has much more talent at Maryland, and he understands what he'll face on Saturday.

    Edsall had a nice debut in his "dream job." Edsall did great work with the Huskies, but it remains to see if he can really take the next step with the Terrapins.

    West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen has a chance to become the first coach since Bobby Bowden (1970) to open 3-0 in his first season in Morgantown.

    Holgorsen is hailed as an offensive mastermind who has worked miracles with quarterbacks at Houston, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

    Now he's trying to do the same thing with Geno Smith. The results so far are mixed, but the offense is better than anything under the previous regime.

    Edge: West Virginia

Intangibles

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    Maryland is riding high after the win against the Hurricanes, and the Terps have had an additional week off to prepare.

    The Terrapins are also tired of losing to WVU in recent years, so the home crowd is going to be jacked up when the Mountaineers come to town.

    Maryland's experience is also a factor, and Randy Edsall understands the importance of this win.

    West Virginia isn't quite in sync yet on offense, and the Mountaineers may not realize the snake pit they are about to enter at Byrd Stadium.

    Edge: Maryland

Make the Pick

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    The breakdown of each team was an even split, and even though the intangibles go to Maryland it's hard to go with the Terrapins.

    The X factor in this one is WVU's offense.

    If that group puts together a complete game, Maryland's defense will be run ragged.

    But that's a big if.

    Winner: West Virginia

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