MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 04: Geno Smith (R) #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers and Devon Brown #4 celebrtae after Smith scored a 7-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter against the Clemson Tigers during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Maryland travels to West Virginia Saturday to take on the No. 8 Mountaineers. Do the Terps have a chance of containing the offensive firepower of Geno Smith?
Even after a 2-10 season last year, it wasn't a realistic expectation for the Terps to have equaled that win total through three games in 2011. The prevailing thought was that the second win would come against Connecticut, not Temple, but a 2-1 record is a perfectly acceptable record for Maryland this year. They've faced one FBS opponent and two mediocre (or arguably bad) Big East programs, and done pretty well considering the players left on the roster.
That will likely change this week. The Terrapins travel to Morgantown to face No. 8 West Virginia and try to subdue arguably the best offense in the country in one of the hardest places to play in the country.
The Mountaineers haven't exactly had any big tests this year, either, and it's not a stretch to say that Maryland is their toughest opposition yet. In Week One, West Virginia played Marshall (statistically the top passing offense in the nation), and won 69-34. After a week off, they played FCS James Madison, a game they won 42-12.
It's West Virginia's first year in the Big XII, and the offensive explosion thus far has led to thoughts of a possible conference title and a Heisman run by quarterback Geno Smith.
Smith was a popular sleeper pick for the Heisman last year in Dana Holgorsen's offense, but a 9-3 regular season record prevented that from becoming a reality. He was still great - with over 4,300 yards passing, 33 total touchdowns and only seven interceptions - and he's doing even better this year.
We'll separate Smith's two games this year for added effect, because they're each equally incredible. Against Marshall, he was 32-for-36 for 323 yards and four touchdowns, and ran eight times for 65 yards and a score. Against James Madison, he was 34-for-39 for 411 yards and five touchdowns, with two rushes for 18 yards. So on the season, he's 66-for-75 for 734 yards and nine touchdowns in the air with ten rushes for 83 yards and a score on the ground. Let's make this clear: Geno Smith has more total touchdowns this season than incompletions.
Smith is helped out by two of the top receivers in the country, currently number one and two in the nation in receptions per game, in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Through two games, Bailey has 22 receptions for 277 yards and five touchdowns, while Maryland native/nemisis Austin has 21 receptions for 166 yards and two scores, with another 80 yards on four rushes.
Running backs Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie have also been important parts of West Virginia's attack. Alston has 30 rushes for 185 yards and three scores, while Buie has 13 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown and nine receptions for 121 yards.
This offense has big play potential all over, and the usual second-year boom of a Holgorsen offense is in full effect. Maryland's defense is going to have be on top of its game to hold West Virginia under 50, but there is some good news.
Kenny Tate is back, and A.J. Hendy might be (although that's less likely). Either way, the addition of Tate to this defensive unit can only be a good thing, although it will be interesting to see how they use him. We can only hope that he'll see some time in the secondary, but every indication has pointed to him being a linebacker from now on. Alex Twine has done a very good job in his stead, and I would expect them to split snaps.
Also, while Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart wasn't at Houston at the same time that Holgorsen was, he is very familiar with the air raid, at least the Kevin Sumlin variety. That didn't exactly help Marshall out, but the Terrapins will take all the help they can get.
West Virginia doesn't exactly have a strong defense, and Maryland could score some points if they attack it right. The Mountaineers are small up top, and with a large dose of Wes Brown, the Terps could gain some yards early. They run a "50" defense, which means a lot of players up on the line, so expect short dump offs to Stefon Diggs as well.
As usual, a lot of the pressure will fall on true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. Maryland will have to score and score early to stay in this game, and Hills can't make the same mistakes he has in the first three weeks - if you give the Mountaineers the ball, it is likely that they will score.
Just looking at statistics, you might think Maryland could strike on punt returns. West Virginia does rank last in the nation in net punting, but they've only had to punt three times, so that's not really a concern for them.
And that's really what it boils down to. With Brown and Diggs, Maryland is starting to find some weapons on offense, and they'll start to score more points as the season moves along. But if West Virginia scores every time they get the ball, it isn't really going to matter. The scary thing is the Mountaineers are one of the only teams that can actually do that. Smith is an out of this world quarterback, and Bailey and Austin can break a deep run at a moment's notice.
Prediction: West Virginia 57, Maryland 24. The Terps will be able to score, but this Mountaineers offense is just way too good. Smith continues to have more touchdowns than incompletions.