When you start a game by giving up a lightning-quick scoring drive in which running backs and receivers are running wild all over the field and then follow that up with four penalties before you have been able to run three offensive plays, it’s pretty clear that you are not ready to play.
That’s exactly what happened to Maryland in the renewal of its rivalry against West Virginia Saturday in Morgantown, a contest that ended up as a 31-17 victory for the 21st-ranked Mountaineers. The question is, why?
For the Terps, who already had equaled their victory total from a year ago with victories in their first two outings, this game was a huge opportunity to already exceed preseason expectations and make a name for themselves against a nationally ranked opponent. And for their coaches it was a chance to put a stop to all questions about job security. So, with all that riding on the game, how do you come out and lay an egg? A dinosaur-sized 28-0 third-quarter deficit egg to be exact.
On one hand it’s easy to point the finger at the coaching staff, but if you are not a part of practice every day, not privy to the game plan and don’t have game tapes to analyze, it’s very hard to tell how much of the blame should fall on the coaches’ shoulders. Of course, on the other hand it’s just as easy to blame the players, but since coaches are supposed to put their players in the best possible position to be successful, without more evidence you can’t necessarily place all the blame there – although coaches often seem to like to do that.
“They have big backs, but we’re better tacklers and I don’t think we did a good job tackling at all,” Terps head coach Ralph Friedgen said. “Our defense was on the field way too long. I’m really anxious to see who stepped up in the second half. They could have very easily quit and they didn’t do that – they fought back.”
Certainly Maryland, which had three players ranked among the top 10 ACC tacklers entering the contest, could have and should have tackled better. Several times they had West Virginia backs and receivers trapped in the backfield or short of the first-down markers only to let the players wiggle free for big plays. And yes, the Terps showed a lot of pride in coming back from a 28-point deficit to cut the lead to 14 and have a chance to pull within seven. But Maryland’s performance cannot be blamed only on the players.
West Virginia receivers, specifically Baltimore-native Tavon Austin (seven receptions, 106 yards, two TDs), ran free in the seams Maryland’s zone coverage during the first half with little apparent adjustment made to the defensive scheme. Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith completed his first 10 passes – and none of them were contested – before the Terps forced an incompletion.
Maryland committed four penalties on their its first “drive” before the Terps had run their third play, ending up with a 3rd and 29 situation from their own 3-yard line. Two of those were delay of game calls, indicating a communication snafu from the sidelines.
Maryland’s starting running back Da’rel Scott touched the ball four times all day, and his replacement, Davin Meggett, never got a chance until the second half, sparking an opening drive that came up short and finishing with nine carries for 30 yards.
Maryland went to the pass early out of necessity, but stuck with their less-confident passer, athletic QB Jamarr Robinson, instead of giving redshirt freshman drop-back passer Danny O’Brein an opportunity. Terp coaches finally brought O’Brien in for the final series of the first half with 39 seconds left and the ball at about Maryland’s own 40-yard line, setting the youngster up for a WVU defense that knew he had to throw and was going to bring all sorts of pressure. The end result was a woozy O’Brien stumbling off the field after getting pummeled while Maryland coaches frantically tried to get him to run another play.
The Terps didn’t get the ball into playmaking wide receiver Torrey Smith’s hands until the third quarter, and then they threw deep to him twice in a row. The end result was touchdowns of 60 and 80 yards. You’d think they might have tried to get him the ball throughout the game considering that the Mountaineers’ best cornerback was not on the field.
Then, of course there were the mysterious third-and-long running plays with Maryland trailing by as many as four scores, and the Terps never did anything to adjust to the WVU pass rush, which entered the game as one of four teams in the nation without a sack and proceeded to record seven QB takedowns vs. Maryland.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the game was the inability of the Terps to handle West Virginia’s speed and the Mountaineers’ no-huddle offense. Could that be a result of being able to play successfully at half speed against inferior competition in a 62-3 victory against Morgan State the previous week? Seems like a distinct possibility.
“We anticipated their tempo earlier in the game, and we didn’t do a very good job adapting to it,” Friedgen said. “They really didn’t do anything that we didn’t anticipate; they just did it very well.”
Ok, so again the finger is pointed at the players, but wait maybe it wasn’t all on them if you look at some of Fridgen’s other comments: “West Virginia just played better than we did. They are a good football team. They played a lot better than us in the first half and that’s my fault. Crowd noise was a factor, but once we adapted to that, we came back and fought hard in the second half.”
In hindsight the coach seems a bit confused about what actually happened, and the Maryland players surely looked confused in the first half. However you want to distribute blame, one thing is very clear: The Terps were not ready to play, and the coaching staff has to stand up and take most of the responsibility for that.
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Written by Scott Lowe