In the preview for the offense, we touched on the awesome jerseys, but of course we need to shout them out again, they are game changing! Now onto Maryland’s defense and trying to contain West Virginia’s offense. This year’s Mountaineer team is rebuilding after losing the likes of Geno Smith, Steadman Bailey, and Tavon Austin. That’s not to say that the 2013 squad is garbage, they just don’t have those guys anymore (thank goodness!).
Without those guys, this puts West Virginia as a team in flux right now. They are still running the up-tempo spread offense that we have seen for years. However, they don’t have the same type of playmakers that they had in recent years. The offense has been held to under 25 points in two of their first three games this season, which is something that is extremely uncommon to hear. They also switched quarterbacks in last week’s win against Georgia State, and appeared to find rhythm afterwards. Granted, they were playing Georgia State, who isn’t good and probably wasn’t expecting to see the back up quarterback. While this switch might cause Maryland some problems, they now have film to prepare for him, which should help if they pull the same switch.
As for Maryland’s defense, they are sneaky good and are beginning to get the praise they deserve. It’s easy to forget about the defense in a day and age where offense is king, and Maryland is putting up 500 yards a game. But the defense has been just as key to Maryland’s success as the offense has. Last week at UConn, they chipped in nine points, and shut down UConn following their everything but the kitchen sink touchdown drive. UConn put together one touchdown drive that showed everything they had, and after they were unable to do much of anything. As great as Maryland’s defense has been, they lost another cornerback last week in Dexter McDougle. There are a lot of question marks coming into this game, which brings us to what to watch for:
1) Will Likely -The freshman has been an absolute stud so far this season. Not only does he face his biggest test so far with a spread offense in West Virginia, but he will now have to take one more responsibility with the injury to McDougle. Likely has shown great maturity so far this season. Not only is he skilled, but he is well disciplined and a quick learned player. He will have his hands full this week against West Virginia, but he has shown that he can handle the pressure so far.
2) Marcus Whitfield – The senior linebacker has been a man on a mission so far this season. Whitfield already has 4.5 sacks this season and is coming off a stellar three sack performance against UConn. West Virginia is a harder team to get sacks on, since their offense runs off of quick passing. Whitfield might not be able to get many opportunities to get to the quarterback, but he can still make an impact by disrupting passing lanes. Against Old Dominion, Whitfield tipped a ball in the red zone that was intercepted. We could see him have a similar impact on this game, and on third and long see him get pressure on the quarterback.
3) Keeping WVU Off Schedule – Like Maryland, West Virginia is a team that runs on a schedule when they have the ball. They have playmakers that are capable of opening a game up and they use them with short passes to get them into space. Their short passing game moves on a schedule and doesn’t want to be held up for longer plays. Disrupting an up-tempo offense comes down to forcing them into uncomfortable downs. Maryland has a strong pass rush, but if West Virginia is able to execute their quick passing game, then that aspect of Maryland’s defense will be negated. If Maryland can force West Virginia to longer second and third down situations, then the pass rushers can tee off and get pressure on Ford Childress.
4) Stopping The Run – For years, West Virginia has had a strong running game, which is overshadowed by the passing attack. This year isn’t anything different, and it might be the better part of their offense right now. They have two running backs in Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith who each average over five yards a carry right now. With West Virginia’s ability to create big plays on the outside, the running backs are able to find holes in the defense for big yards. Maryland’s pass rush will struggle to get to the quarterback a lot this game, but can make their impact by slowing down the running attack. Even without McDougle and Johnson in the secondary, if Maryland can force West Virginia into a one dimensional passing team, that will definitely benefit them. Neither quarterback is Geno Smith, who was able to complete over 80% of his passes weekly a season ago, and with the quarterback controversy, it would be in Maryland’s best interest to get to the quarterback launching passes all day.
5) Forcing Turnovers – Maryland’s defense has done a great job so far of being able to force turnovers and set up the offense in great field position. We saw it last week when McDougle returned an interception for a touchdown, which pretty much sealed the win for Maryland. If this game turns into a shootout, which there is a strong chance it will, then any type of mistake the defense can force would change the game. If they can force an interception, recover a fumble, or even deflect a lot of passes, that could swing the game into Maryland’s favor. Getting back a possession in any way possible greatly helps in a shootout.
West Virginia is a huge step up from UConn and Old Dominion for the Maryland’s defense. They will have their hands full with a spread out attack and quick playmakers. But so far, Maryland has shown that it has a better defense than many people would have given them credit for in the offseason. As always with the defense, it will come down to a full team effort. If guys like Whitfield and nose tackle Darius Kilgo are getting pressure up front, and Likely and safety Sean Davis are shutting down the passing game, then Maryland will be successful. Preventing big plays will be a test of Maryland’s discipline, and that is what will win them the game. Just like the offense, this week we will learn a lot about where the defense is and how it recovers from the two injuries it has sustained so far this season.