The non-conference portion of West Virginia University’s football schedule is over and this Saturday the Mountaineers will play their first game as a member of the Big 12 conference. The game is in Morgantown at noon and can be seen on FX.
The Mountaineers had a little more trouble dispatching Maryland last Saturday than many anticipated, but had enough firepower to win 31-21. The Terps were 2-1 coming into the game, but had nearly lost to William & Mary in their opener and was coming off of a home loss to Connecticut last weekend. WVU was nearly a four-touchdown favorite with its highflying offense and Top 10 ranking.
Maryland figured to struggle offensively with a host of freshmen starting including true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. Hills looked a little more seasoned than a true freshman last Saturday completing 20 of 29 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Maryland’s staff put together a nice game plan for Hills that featured good use of the tight end. Anyone that watched Syracuse destroy West Virginia with a heavy dose of the tight end last fall was a little uncomfortable for a while last Saturday.
Even though the defense was being pushed around, it did record five sacks and forced a Hills fumble that linebacker Doug Rigg scooped up and ran for a touchdown. Obviously, that was a huge score for the Mountaineers. The sacks and turnovers are positives the young WVU defense can hang its hat on for now. Fans, just be warned that this defense is going to see much more polished offenses beginning this Saturday.
A silver lining could be that the Maryland defense will rank up there with most in the Big 12, so the reduced output of Geno Smith and the offense Saturday shouldn’t get anyone too worried... yet. There is really no way to put a positive spin on West Virginia’s 25 rushes for 25 yards, indicating the offensive line, that also allowed the first two sacks of the season, was very suspect.
A popular explanation to that meager run total was the absence of starting running back Shawne Alston who was nursing a thigh bruise. There’s a lot of merit to that point. Alston is at least 40 pounds heavier than Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, who got his first two carries of the season, albeit for one yard.
Just one opinion, and a bit of a straddle at that, but a healthy Alston would have made a difference because of his ability to gain yards after contact. The thing is, the offensive line was losing the battle up front, so Alston would have had a tough time making a big enough difference for the passing game to get untracked, at least to the level we’ve come to expect.
That said, Smith still had a nice day passing for 338 yards with 30 completions in 43 attempts. But it was Maryland native Tavon Austin that was the star with 13 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns. In a nutshell, WVU did not look like a Top 10 team against the Terps, but there will be nine more games for the Mountaineers to make a case for that.