Terps Hang Tough With #8 West Virginia, Fall 31-21
The Terrapins were a 27.5 point underdog heading into the game, and after falling behind 14 points early it looked like the rout was on. Maryland hung tough, and responded with their best performance of the year. The Terps were not able to come away with the win, but with playing as many young players as they do mistakes are expected and it was an encouraging display for the rest of the season.
Quarterback Perry Hills played his best game of the year so far, completing 20-of-29 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Hills showed a lot of poise after a late hit he suffered in the second quarter. Before the hit, Hills had moved the offense up-and-down the field against the West Virginia defense. After the hit, he struggled in the third quarter, but has made the fourth quarter his time.
Hills ability to stay cool in the fourth quarter in a hostile environment on the road is something to be applauded. He has come a long way from the season opener where he struggled against William & Mary. His development is obviously helped by having a steady set of receivers around him.
Hills re-discovered his Mackey Watch List (for the nation’s top tight end) candidate Matt Furstenburg today in a big way. Furstenburg had just 3 catches for 33 yards in three games this season, but had 4 catches for 65 yards today, with all four of his catches creating first down’s for Maryland.
Wide Receiver Stefon Diggs had another big game, as the Freshman has established himself as one of the most exciting players in the country early in the season. Diggs had 3 catches for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns on two incredible plays. Diggs also had 7 returns for 88 yards.
10 touches for 201 yards is very impressive for the Freshman, but his lack of offensive touches is becoming an issue. In the first two games, Diggs was getting carries out of certain formations, but it’s questionable that the team’s best playmaker isn’t getting the ball in his hands more than three times on offense. This explains last week’s quote where he said it would be a while before you saw him call a fair catch on a punt return.
One of the big storylines coming in to the game was comparing Diggs to West Virginia Wide Receiver Tavon Austin, and both showed why so much attention was paid to the two of them. Austin finished the game with 225 yards and three touchdowns on 19 touches. Seeing the ability Austin has with the ball in his hands has to make Terps fans salivate given the comparisons between Austin and Diggs.
Now, it didn’t help that Maryland left a linebacker on Austin for one of his touchdown receptions, but Austin has done nothing but destroy the Terrapins throughout his career. Quarterback Geno Smith has been the same way, despite having what some felt like was a quiet game.
The Heisman candidate finished with 338 yards on 30-for-43 passing attempts and three touchdowns. The 13 incompletions were four more than he had in the previous two games for the Mountaineers. The Maryland defense was able to shut down the vaunted Mountaineer air attack for portions of the game, and were actually attacking Smith and forced his first two sacks of the year.
Defensive Coordinator Brian Stewart was dialing up a heavy blitz package throughout most of the day, but backed off and different times throughout the game, and when they did, West Virginia and Smith were able to pick apart the Terrapins. Nose Tackle A.J. Francis was able to get the first sack of the year, and was able to help Joe Vellano shut down the Mountaineers rushing attack as they finished with just 25 yards rushing.
The return of All-ACC Linebacker Kenny Tate was a gigantic boost to this Terrapins defense. Tate showed off his speed and tackling ability that this defense had been sorely lacking. Tate was actually matched up on Tavon Austin in coverage and was able to get a hold of him where others could not.
At the end of the day, it was an encouraging game from the young Terrapins against their best competition to date. Maryland will now have two weeks to prepare for the start of the conference schedule. The two-minute offense still needs some work after it failed miserably against UConn last week. Also, Maryland’s flat-out refusal to use timeouts is, at best, puzzling and, at times, worrisome. The lack of urgency also reared its ugly head again today, as Hills was constantly looking over to the sideline as the clock was ticking away in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, what could be most troubling is the Terrapins lack of ball security. Maryland, again, had multiple fumbles lost, and another they recovered. Ball security is definitely an issue that, in theory should be correctable, but could continue to haunt the team as the season progresses. The loss drops Maryland to 2-2 on the season, while West Virginia improves to 3-0.
Up next is Wake Forest at home in two weeks. For more on the Maryland Terrapins, follow Brendan Darr on twitter: @BrendanDarr