Rivalry. When college football fans hear that word their mind may take them to "The Iron Bowl", "The Red River Showdown", or even "The Seminole War Canoe". This weekend the word takes them to Morgantown, West Virginia as the Maryland Terrapins come to town to take on their bitter border rival the West Virginia Mountaineers.
West Virginia leads the series 27-22-2 which has been going on since the year 1919. West Virginia also won the last meeting by way of a walk-off field goal courtesy of the Mountaineer's kicker Josh Lambert.
West Virginia is coming off a bye week after they opened up the season with two home victories. On offense the passing attack is led by a trio who has burst onto the scene in their first year as full time starters. Quarterback Skyler Howard, and wide receivers Jovon Durante, along with Shelton Gibson have connected for 392 yards through the air and 4 touchdowns on only 16 receptions. They are also led by a defense which has forced 5 turnovers in 2 games..
Maryland has bounced back after a 1-1 start to become 2-1. They defeated the University of South Florida 35-17 in week 3. The Terrapins have a new quarterback after losing last years starter C.J Brown to graduation. Redshirt junior Caleb Rowe has taken over the signal calling and is part of the reason why Maryland is averaging about 37 points per game. On defense standout William Likely is not only dangerous from the cornerback position but also returning punts. He has 4 pass breakups through just 3 games and has set a Big 10 single game punt return yardage record with 233 against Richmond.
A win sends either of these teams off in the right direction as they tackle conference play next.
West Virginia's Best Case
The Mountaineers represent a deadly duo not only in their receiving core but also at running back in Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell. If West Virginia wants to be able to bring a balanced attack like they have been they must control a Maryland defense that has allowed only 3.4 yards a rushing attempt so far this year. They also have 23 tackles for loss. Running back Smallwood leads the way challenging Maryland with his 7.1 yards a carry and will need Shell to equalize the attack.
In the passing game they find themselves in an interesting match up with a secondary that has given up 771 passing yards through only 3 games but is very experienced. Evaluating film from the Bowling Green game will be key. Bowling Green passed for almost 500 yards and 6 touchdown downs in their routing of Maryland in week 2. If West Virginia can take advantage of the holes in the secondary their stable of receivers should be able to have a huge game.
Special teams is also important and very key here. Last year WVU safety Jarrod Harper blocked a punt for a safety that sparked a turn around in momentum, William Likely returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown, and Josh Lambert won the game for West Virginia with a walk off field goal. This year stopping Likely is just as important especially with the hot start he is off to. Lambert must bring that leg that made him famous in College Park last season.
On defense the name of the game is turnovers. Caleb Rowe may be completing passes but has thrown 5 interceptions to his 4 touchdowns. The West Virginia Secondary is experienced and already has 4 interceptions of it's own with 5 pass breakups to add to that. They will need to stop a couple of brothers that are starting to add value to the Terrapin's this season in Tavion and Levern Jacobs.
It is imperative that the Mountaineers get to the quarterback. Hurries and sacks will lead to a mistake the secondary can take advantage of. That's not the only reason getting in the back field is important. Maryland can be run heavy and will look to make West Virginia respect it's 203.7 yards per game.
Best Case Prediction?
West Virginia's defensive line will have Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe making even more mistakes than the past has allowed and finally breaks out with 4 sacks. West Virginia wins in pass defense only allowing 1 passing touchdown.Karl Joseph creates havoc and picks up his 4th interception of the season.Terrell Chestnut adds 3 pass breakups. The Mountaineers will be give and take with the run game but ultimately make it through 4 quarters of play. The offensive side of the ball doesn't see much from the rush besides some quality touches from Smallwood but does however pass for over 400 yards as Skyler Howard connects with Durante and Gibson all game long.
WVU 45 UMD 24
Maryland's Best Case
If Maryland wants a chance to win this one they will have to rely on their offensive line. Most of the offensive day will depend on this. The Terrapins offense features an experienced and senior running back who has eclipsed 200 yards rushing already and is averaging 5.2 yards a carry. West Virginia only allows 3.4 so Maryland will need to win the battle upfront. The offensive line also needs to win up front in pass protection to help the time and decision making of their quarterback who is trying to win the fight with turnovers.
William Likely, William Likely, and MORE William Likely. The junior from Florida has amassed 337 punt return yards and will be counted on as another option for creating points and field position. He also serves as a pivotal member of the secondary who besides him are all seniors. The 5 including Likely have 106 starts between them.
That secondary just like West Virginia will lean on the defensive line to create pressure and force quarterback Skyler Howard into making a bad decision. Maryland loves getting to the quarterback. The Terrapins have sacked quarterbacks 14 times this year and currently rank second in the nation to that statistic. If they can keep Skyler Howard's mobility to a minimum the back 5 could have a good day in Morgantown.
Best Case Prediction?
Maryland gashes the West Virginia defense all game long with Brandon Ross leading the way. WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson isn't able to make the adjustments and a pair of William Likely punt returns have West Virginia in trouble. West Virginia is still being West Virginia on offense when the Terrapins run into a Big 12 offensive line and very mobile Skyler Howard they can't get past so they turn this thing into a shootout.This ends with it's veteran secondary giving up a touchdown to Shelton Gibson in the final 12 seconds of the game sealing the deal for West Virginia.
WVU 45 UMD 38
In reality, the only way this game can and will be close is with a balanced attack from Maryland and that cannot happen with a turnover prone quarterback, especially against West Virginia's secondary. The Terrapins do have defense and a lot of it but the Mountaineers have a playbook full of routes for their receivers that should save quarterback Skyler Howard from taking sacks if that becomes an issue. WVU can also survive ball games with or without the run game. Skyler Howard takes care of the football and through 4 games dating back to last year he still has not thrown an interception so expect that confidence to show on Saturday. The biggest problem with Maryland is consistency. They have had struggles dating back to last year when it comes to that field. The Mountaineers should be aware though because you never know what Terrapin team you may get.
WVU should take care of business at home.