(Neal Brown postgame press conference)
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Desperately seeking a road win after failing to earn one last season, West Virginia repeatedly stubbed its toe in Saturday’s 30-24 season-opening loss at Maryland.
The Mountaineers finished with four turnovers, none more important than their final one — a Jarret Doege pass intercepted by Terrapins’ defensive back Jakorian Bennett for a touchback with 8:16 remaining.
“The biggest statistic in football that tells whether you win or lose is turnovers and we had four that led directly to ten points, and they had zero,” said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown, who fell to 11-12 in his WVU tenure. “It’s not overly complicated. It’s that simple.”
Bennett’s interception came on a second-and-10 play from the Maryland 13-yard line and WVU facing a 23-21 deficit.
The Terrapins (1-0) capitalized when quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa found Rakim Jarrett for a 60-yard touchdown pass and a 30-21 advantage with 6:25 remaining.
The Mountaineers (0-1) got into the red zone on their ensuing sequence and produced their only points of the second half on Casey Legg’s 24-yard field goal.
Needing to force a three-and-out to get the ball back and have a chance to go ahead, West Virginia allowed Tagovailoa to run for 4 yards on third-and-3, which effectively ended the contest. Tayvon Fleet-Davis’ 53-yard run two plays later sealed the verdict.
“They ran 80 snaps, we ran 62 and we got tired,” Brown said. “Depth is an issue for us and we said that in the preseason. They wore us down.”
Maryland trailed 21-20 at halftime, but went on top for good when Joseph Petrino made a 26-yard field goal with 9:16 remaining.
Winston Wright returned the ensuing kickoff 48 yards to give the Mountaineers good field position, and Doege found Sam James for 39 yards before the costly interception.
It marked another squandered opportunity for West Virginia, which lost out on several chances to add to a 21-20 lead in the third quarter.
Despite holding Maryland to 26 yards and no first downs in the third, WVU was unable to take advantage.
The Mountaineers punted on their first three series of the second half, and on the fourth, Leddie Brown lost a fumble after being stopped for no gain on third-and-1 from the Terps’ 34. The recovery by Maryland’s Lawtez Rogers prevented West Virginia from trying to convert on fourth down.
“The fumble was just as big [as the other three turnovers],” Brown said. “We were going to be short, but we were going to run it on fourth down and go with two chances to get a yard.”
It appeared a shootout was in store at the start, with the two teams combining for five touchdowns and six scoring drives on the first eight series.
Petrino’s 45-yard field goal gave UM an early 3-0 lead, but WVU responded with a 78-yard drive that was capped by Doege’s 20-yard swing pass to Brown for a touchdown.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Tagovailoa found Dontay Demus for a 66-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the ensuing series. Demus got behind cornerback Daryl Porter, who was making his first college start.
“DP, on the one he gave up, just had really bad eye discipline,” Brown said. “He had his eyes in the backfield and you can’t do that.”
The Mountaineers’ defensive struggles in the first quarter continued on Maryland’s third series, which was an eight play, 70-yard drive that ended with Tagovailoa tossing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Chigoziem Okonkwo.
“They tackled considerably better than we did,” Brown said. “We really struggled in the first quarter and took poor angles in pursuit.”
Wright returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to set up Brown’s 2-yard TD run, allowing the Mountaineers to close to within 17-14 with 35 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
“I just understand the scheme,” Wright said. “I know how to draw defenders to the opposite side and hit the hole.”
After the Mountaineers forced their first punt, they covered 74 yards in six plays and went on top 21-17 at the 11:30 mark of the second quarter when Brown scored his third TD — this one a 9-yard run.
VanDarius Cowan brought down Tagovailoa for a loss of 8 on fourth-and-1 nearing the midway point of the second quarter, but Doege threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Nick Cross on the very next play.
“The first interception was a really bad decision,” Brown said. “You have to throw the ball away. Can’t make a bad play worse.”
Although the Mountaineers remained in front, they didn’t run another offensive play until 2:47 left in the half as a result of Wright muffing a punt that Maryland recovered.
UM was unable to capitalize, however, as Petrino’s 51-yard field goal missed off the upright.
“Everybody in college football opens up a game with a 10 to 15 play script,” WVU linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo said. “They had a full offseason to figure out what to do. As the game went on and we got into the normal stuff that we practice, we started to settle down and make plays.”
The Terps forced a three-and-out to get the ball back late in the half and put together a seven play, 66-yard drive to draw closer on Petrino’s 21-yard field goal.
Maryland finished with a 496-328 advantage in total yards.
Doege was 24-of-40 for 280 yards and Brown rushed 17 times for 73 yards.
Tagovailoa completed 26-of-32 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns.
Demus and Jarrett each had six catches and one touchdown. Demus finished with 133 receiving yards and Jarrett added 122.
Fleet-Davis rushed for 123 yards on 18 carries.
“They didn’t lose it. They didn’t turn it over,” Brown said. “The quarterback played really well. We didn’t get as much pressure on him as we thought we would. They did some nice things schematically and helped him in the run game.”
The Mountaineers return to action Saturday when they welcome FCS opponent Long Island for the home opener at 5 p.m.