The West Virginia University football team will face the second biggest test of the season on Saturday at M & T Bank Stadium against the Maryland Terrapins. Head Coach Dana Holgorsen, along with his coaches and players, will find out if they have what it takes to compete in the Big-12 conference this season.
It would be easy to forget Maryland head coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley's team is a member of the ACC and not the Big-12; they're offense is that good. Locksley, in his second stint as an offensive coordinator/quarterback coach seems to be pushing all the right buttons. Locksley was also Ron Zook's offensive coordinator/quarterback coach at Illinois.
It certainly helps to have talent at the wide receiver position, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long will remind Mountaineer fans of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Through three games the two receivers have a combined 31 receptions for 560-yards and four touchdowns. Diggs is averaging 24.2-yards per reception.
After that the similarities with the 2012 version of the Mountaineer offense ends, the 2013 Terrapin offense can run the football too. Brandon Ross leads the team with 46 carries for 265-yards and one touchdown. Ross averages 5.8-yards per carry.
The second leading rusher for Maryland, C.J. Brown, is also the leading passer boasting a 67% completion percentage, six touchdowns, and one interception. Brown averages 8.3-yards rushing per attempt and 10.96-yards passing per attempt. Brown's 833-yards passing and 257-yards rushing combine for a total of 1090-yards after just three games.
The dual threat that Brown presents to Mountaineer defensive coordinator Keith Patterson and his players is easily the biggest challenge Patterson's defense has faced this season.
The Maryland defense finished 2012 ranked 21 for total defense and 26 against the run. For the first three games of the 2013 season the Terrapin defense has given up 290 total rushing yards in three games. They gave up 165-yards rushing to Old Dominion, 91-yards rushing to Florida International, and 34-yards rushing to Connecticut.
The Mountaineer offensive line will have its hands full too.
Mountaineers' leading rusher Charles Sims has 296-yards and two touchdowns in his three games. After Sims, Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood add 177 and 109-yards respectively.
Maryland should be the fourth straight opponent that challenges the Mountaineer running attack and forces the Mountaineer quarterback to win the game. The Terrapin defense is very good, but they haven’t been tested, WVU is easily the best offense that Maryland has faced this season too.
For all the angst over the WVU offense statistically they match up fairly well with Maryland. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson's unit has posted 814-yards passing and 586-yards rushing. Certainly lower numbers than fans have become accustomed to by a Holgorsen offense, but still respectable.
For WVU to stay in the game Saturday they will need a very good performance from their defense, a good showing by their offensive line, and the running game will need to maintain their 5.3-yards per carry average. Even if the Mountaineers get those performances they could still easily lose the contest.
The Mountaineers starting quarterback will be Ford Childress again this Saturday and is easily facing the biggest test of his career. Childress needs to improve on his performance from last Saturday, continue to run the Mountaineer offense, and distribute to his play-makers.
The outcome of the game isn't totally dependent of Childress' arm either, though it will play a big part.
The most important group of players to a Mountaineer victory on Saturday are the wide receivers and their ability to make plays. The weakness of the Terrapin defense is the secondary, the WVU receivers must win those match-ups by more than just a little, they need to dominate.
The Terrapins will make big plays and they will score points against WVU, just like the teams in the Big-12. The Mountaineer offense needs to use the pass to force Maryland to pull defenders off the line of scrimmage. That will create running lanes for the Mountaineer backs, those running lanes will not materialize if the receivers don't make plays on the football while it is in the air.
As a young quarterback that will be inconsistent with his throws, Childress needs his receivers to make the necessary adjustments and make the catch. In a perfect world Childress would make the perfect throw every time. There is no such world, and for the Mountaineer passing game to return to its previous form the receivers must be excellent.
Every aspect of the Mountaineer football team could work to perfection against Maryland but if the receivers don't get their hands on the ball and keep them there, WVU will lose. That amount of responsibility may not be fair to a young group of receivers, reality seldom is.