BALTIMORE, Md. — We’re to believe there is pride reborn in the Maryland program—and not just in the latest batch of comic-book uniforms—because a 3-0 start against the murderers’ row of Florida International, Old Dominion and UConn signals a turnaround?
Actually, anything short of a sweep against that FIU, ODU and Geno Auriemma U. would’ve signaled catastrophe, so when Randy Edsall sticks with the standard coachspeak about Saturday’s game being no more important than the previous three, he’s saying what the mic expects to hear and not what the rational mind comprehends.
Lose to WVU in a game meant to remind the Baltimore area that Maryland still dresses out a football team, lose to WVU for the eighth straight time, and the Terps are right back in deep muck. Beating West Virginia is Maryland’s first crack at legitimacy this season.
Conversely, West Virginia has pinned a couple cupcakes itself, though that trip to Norman, Okla., certainly qualifies as a legitimate opponent. We’re still unsure whether the Mountaineers can challenge for the Big 12 title or even reach a bowl game, though the first three games provided a few lessons:
1. Dana Holgorsen is not infallible when it comes to picking preseason quarterbacks.
2. A defense can be vastly improved yet still susceptible to backbreaking plays.
3. The Oklahoma loss encapsulated the best and worst WVU has to offer.
Footnotes on the lessons:
1. Holgorsen has rescinded his original quarterback choice by replacing Paul Millard with Ford Childress in a move that should last until 2015 if not longer. Short of a multiple-interception meltdown or a zero blitzer-induced injury, Saturday’s game will be Childress’ wire-to-wire.
2. The three long completions by William & Mary, those occasional gashes at Oklahoma and a 65-yard sucker-punch by Georgia State have tempered Keith Patterson’s review of his defense so far. Much improved group athletically and schematically, but still capable of turning a 15-yard play into a breakaway. With Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown extending plays and the Diggs & Long duo capable of shaking free in the secondary, defensive discipline will be tested.
The presumed return of Isaiah Bruce at Spur linebacker would be pivotal for WVU. You’ll recall Bruce missed the second half at Oklahoma, after which Holgorsen said “he was playing terrible and looked slow.” That quote left Patterson shaking his head in quizzical disbelief this week. (Hey, maybe Holgorsen was confused from the heat.)
“(Bruce) played pretty dang good from what I could tell,” Patterson said. “If he had been in the game that might have been a different outcome. Once he went out of the game, we gave up about 150 yards of runs.”
With Bruce back in the lineup and manning an outside linebacker spot, WVU should be better aligned and stingier against a Terps rushing attack that averages 229 yards.
3. The Sooners are a deeper, more confident team than Maryland, and WVU came within a few dropped/misfired passes from possibly winning that game. It was maddening for Holgorsen and Co. because the upset was there for the taking; yet on the flip side Oklahoma felt like it left 20 points on the field as well.
Childress doesn’t have Millard’s experience, but that loss showed he may have an edge in poise nonetheless. With the Terps gambling more on blitzes, and forced to start their No. 3 and No. 4 cornerbacks because of injuries, expect WVU to eek out an eighth consecutive win.
Pick: West Virginia 21-20
Ranking the other Big 12 games:
1. Texas 27, Kansas State 20: (Longhorns -5.5) Mack Brown has been telling his team “we aren’t as far away as it looks,” but that line only works for side-view mirrors. Texas has lost five straight in the series and this week will be No. 6 if UT doesn’t figure out how to slow the read-option—something it couldn’t do against BYU or Ole Miss. “Kansas State will run the option,” said Brown, who told his defense: “If they didn’t run it, they will put it in.”
2. Baylor 44, Louisiana-Monroe 21: (Bears -29) Producing 69.5 points per game, Baylor has been carving up one of the weakest nonconference schedules in America. The first-team offense has scored 14 touchdowns in 17 possessions, which is farcical, but it’s second-team quarterback Seth Russell who leads the Big 12 in passing efficiency.
3. No. 25 Texas Tech 49, Texas State 17: (Red Raiders -27) The only flaw in Kliff Kingsbury’s 3-0 start is Tech’s minus-3 turnover ratio, worst in the Big 12. More continued carelessness could give a glimmer of hope to the Bobcats, who are plus-6 in the category during a 2-0 start.
4. Kansas 23, Louisiana Tech 14: (Jayhawks -9) The downwardly mobile Skip Holtz hauls his Bulldogs (1-2) into Lawrence, sporting an offense nowhere near as dynamic as last season’s 51 points-per-game average. That should perfectly complement KU’s sputtering attack, which will feature three new receivers after the group let down Jake Heaps against Rice.