Our Staring Down The Musket series continues this week with WVU's oldest rival on the 2012 schedule, the Maryland Terrapins. Despite having played Maryland significantly more than anyone else the Mountaineers will face this year, we still don't know much about them. So we enlisted the help of Maryland's SBNation blog, Testudo Times to help answer some questions. And while I still can't tell whether the JMU Sports Blog was right about the Dukes being WVU's toughest non-conference opponent to date, I do know that the Mountaineers shouldn't take the Terps lightly. Randy Edsall has beaten WVU in the past, and evidently has some talented (albeit young) players on his roster who are chomping at the bit to knock off a ranked WVU team. Take it away, Testudo:
Country Roads: I'm going to be honest - other than Maryland's record this year, I really don't know much about the team. Danny O'Brien is doing terrible things at Wisconsin and Davin Meggett is no longer in a Terps uniform. I can't even name another player. Who are the standout guys that WVU fans should be paying attention to this week?
Testudo Times: Stefon Diggs. Stefon Diggs. Stefon Diggs. He is Maryland's shining Terrapin of hope. A true freshman wide receiver and former five star (thank you, Mike Locksley), he gets a lot of hype and deserves the vast majority of it. Every time he touches the ball it feels like anything could happen, and often it does; his change of direction and quickness is extraordinary, which makes him a terror in the open field and helps him to create something out of nothing. For a Maryland offense that so often runs on nothing, that's a nice skill to have. Randy Edsall's already acknowledged that he needs more touches, and he's not wrong: he's been almost ignored at times, and Maryland's offense just can't afford to have him getting anything fewer than 10 touches a game.
Of course, there's also true freshman Perry Hills at quarterback. He'll probably be the deciding factor for Maryland on Saturday, though calling him a standout may be a stretch. And there's another true freshman (see a trend?) in Wes Brown at running back; he struggled with fumblitis against Temple, but has proven to be Maryland's only truly consistent and dangerous back.
On defense, the big name is senior DE Joe Vellano, one of the hardest-working and most productive linemen in the country. Kenny Tate, a senior linebacker, is the other big name on defense and a bit of an interesting case. A standout as a junior at safety, he converted to linebacker as a senior last season before missing most of the year with a leg injury. Saturday will be his first game back on the field in about a year, and expectations are high. It'll take some time to get the rust off, but he's probably the only player with enough pure talent to make a serious difference in a game like this for Maryland.
CR: Speaking of Maryland's record, what's going on down there in College Park? You eke out a 7-6 win against William & Mary, then turn around and beat a decent Temple team, 36-27. Then UConn comes to town and you lose the Edsall Bowl 24-21. Having not watched even a highlight of any of these games, what happened? Is this the case of a young team being inconsistent? Is UConn better than we think (keeping in mind an Edsall-led Huskies team beat WVU in Storrs in 2010)? I just can't get my head around what to expect from Maryland this year.
TT: Us neither. It's always tough to talk about what to expect from a team this early in the year, but its even tougher with Maryland because they're so young and so unproven. There's plenty of talent, but how the youngsters ultimately take to the college game, especially so early in their careers, is still uncertain. So is how much (or little) they'll improve throughout the year as they gain experience. But yeah, inconsistency has been a big factor so far. With any team this young, straight-line progression is impossible; ups and downs are inevitable. A defense as stingy as UConn's (3rd in total defense) is just the type of thing that can make a young, improving team take a step back.
But it's still pretty obvious what some of the problems are. Their secondary isn't up to snuff. (Ignore the total passing D numbers: the first opponent was an FCS team without its quarterback, and the next two are in the bottom 15 in the country in passing. All three tried to run, failed, and eventually figured out they could beat Maryland through the air.) The offense, missing C.J. Brown at quarterback and forced to start a true freshman, is horribly inconsistent. The offensive line has been average at best. There are strengths (skill positions, front seven) but unless significant improvement is seen, a three- or four-win year wouldn't be a surprise.
CR: Clearly you guys have to be fed up with Edsall by now, right? Maybe you take some solace in the fact that Mike Leach looks a little lost at Washington State or you see a glimmer of hope in Mike Locksley's return to recruit the DC area, but do you really think Edsall is still at Maryland in 2013?
TT: Most are. Some are trying to be patient. On his merits, I think his seat would be one of the hottest in the country, just behind John L. Smith's and Jon Embree's (and maybe Frank Spaziani's). But he won't be judged solely on his merits. He has another $6mil in guaranteed dough after this year with no buyout in his contract, and Maryland has one broke-ass athletic department. Fans say he's a sunk cost, but that doesn't help Maryland conjure up $6m out of thin air. Then there's PR: Maryland just cut seven sports, and the general public won't look kindly on giving Edsall $6mil directly afterwards. Oh, and there's the issue of AD Kevin Anderson, too: he's hanging onto his job by a thread, and if he fires the guy he hired (who nobody actually wanted), it'll probably be the last straw for him. It's much more likely that Anderson gives Edsall as much cover as possible and goes down with the ship.
In other words: unless things are disastrously bad, like finishing out 0-10 and getting embarrassed multiple times, Edsall's staying. Anything short of that, and I think there are enough factors working in his favor, plus enough progress being shown on the recruiting front, for him to feel relatively safe.
CR: For a series that has historically been very competitive, WVU is on an unprecedented 7-game winning streak. I never take a win for granted, but the odds are definitely in the Mountaineers' favor on Saturday. I honestly miss the days when this series was so competitive (not the part about you guys beating us by 27 and 34 points in the same season or whatever it was, but the competitive part). Where do you see the Terrapin program going in the next few years and at what point do you see Maryland being favored to beat WVU again?
TT: There are three foreseeable paths. The first and worst path (and what most pessimistic fans suspect): Edsall fails this year, gets another season, shows no progress, Maryland's recruiting momentum disappears, talented players transfer, and the program is set back for another five or so years. If that happens, who the hell knows the next time Maryland's relevant, let alone competitive with WVU. The second is that Edsall fails this year and gets the hook immediately. That's not a disaster scenario: there'd be talent on the roster, recruits in the stable, and the program would be attractive to, say, Luke Fickell or Raheem Morris. The turnaround in that situation could be surprisingly quick, but still a ways from being favored in this game.
But there's a third, decidedly more optimistic possibility: Edsall keeps his hands off the innards of the team and becomes a program CEO, they somehow manage to win 5 or 6 games this year, and Locksley continues to funnel talent into College Park. If Maryland can show progress like that made on the field, Locksley will wreak havoc on the trail, the young talent already on the roster will gain experience and get reinforcements, and real success within the next two or three is certainly possible. This scenario is far from impossible, and if it happens Maryland's ceiling could land anywhere.
CR: WVU currently sits at a 28-point favorite, but I haven't seen an over/under. Where is your money, and if you're setting the over/under, what's the magic number?
TT: I take the points, but only barely. West Virginia is significantly ahead of Maryland in every aspect of the game right now, but they're even better in the area's Maryland is weakest. UMD's secondary struggled against Temple and UConn; I shudder to think what Geno Smith will do to them. And the offense is just too inconsistent to match WVU score for score. The saving grace is that Maryland probably has just enough athleticism on both sides of the ball, raw as it may be, to keep from being outclassed entirely. That's what's happened the past few times these two have met, but it shouldn't happen here. Oh, and I'd probably set the over/under around 62.5; something around 42-17 seems a fair scoreline to me, but both teams are much more likely to go over that than fall short of it.
Thanks to Testudo Times for taking a moment to answer our questions. Make sure to head over there to get an opponent's perspective on the game and talk some good-natured smack.