It was probably Maryland's best game of the season, but it still wasn't enough. The Terps played a much more competitive game than expected in Morgantown Saturday, but Tavon Austin again proved to be too much as the West Virginia Mountaineers won, 31-21.
Austin finished with 12 receptions for 173 yards and all three of West Virginia's offensive touchdowns, and was absolutely explosive every time he touched the ball.
Maryland was able to counter with Stefon Diggs, who had three receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns and three kick returns for 63 yards but it ultimately proved to be not enough.
West Virginia took an early lead, as a perfect blitz stopped a Maryland drive and resulted in a score. The Terps and Perry Hills were driving down the field when Darwin Cook came through and sacked him, forcing a fumble. Doug Rigg recovered, returning it 48 yards for a touchdown.
The Mountaineers' next drive only took two plays - a 34-yard screen pass to Andrew Buie and a pass over the middle to Austin for a 44-yard score. On the touchdown, Matt Robinson missed a key tackle that would have likely prevented a first down, let alone the score.
Maryland was able to respond, as after four straight runs, Hills executed a perfect play-action to find Diggs on the left sideline. Diggs sprinted by the West Virginia defenders and dove in for the 42-yard score, making it 14-7 Mountaineers.
The Terps tied it up early in the second quarter with some huge plays on third down by Hills. On third-and-four from their own 41, he found Matt Furstenburg on a jailbreak screen for 29 yards. Three plays later on third-and-eight, a screen to Justus Pickett went 14 yards, and three plays later on another third-and-eight, Hills found Marcus Leak in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown, making it 14-14.
Hills was great all game, and had his best game as a Terp by far. He was 20/29 for 302 yards and three touchdowns with an interception that was essentially an arm-punt, averaging over ten yards per attempt for the first time in his career and showing his toughness throughout.
The Mountaineers took the lead again on a Tyler Bitancurt field goal, and expanded it with a late drive at the end of the half that ended with another touchdown pass to Austin.
After a scoreless third quarter, Maryland picked up another huge third down conversion at the start of the fourth quarter when Hills completed a swing pass to Pickett on third-and-seven for 21 yards. Two plays later, Hills completed a strike to Leak over the middle, who ran for a 28-yard gain before coughing up the ball. Darwin Cook recovered, giving the Mountaineers the ball.
West Virginia was able to put it away on the next drive, as Austin caught four passes on the drive, including a 34-yard touchdown grab to make it 31-14.
On the second play of Maryland's ensuing drive, Hills found Diggs on the right sideline, who cut back and sprinted down field for a 56-yard touchdown, weaving his way through the Mountaineer defense. The run was made possible by a huge block from redshirt freshman Andrew Zeller, subbing in at guard.
Maryland was able to force a three-and-out on West Virginia's next drive thanks to a huge pass defense from Dexter McDougle, and after a poor punt they started with the ball near midfield. After a second down seven-yard rush by Hills made it third-and-three, the offense regressed: an illegal formation penalty, a sack with an intentional grounding call, and an interception ended the Terps' hopes.
Overall, it was a very promising game for Maryland, despite the final score. They hung with one of the best teams in the country on the road, and for the most part kept their offense in check. Even better was the offense, especially the play of Hills and Diggs. This team could sneak out some wins in conference play if they play like they did today.
Improbably, the Terps kept pace with West Virginia offensively - each team had three offensive touchdowns, and Maryland only trailed the Mountaineers in offense by 20 yards.
We'll have more stats and reactions tomorrow.
For more on Terps football, visit Maryland blog Testudo Times, plus SB Nation DC. For more on WVU football, visit West Virginia blog The Smoking Musket, plus SB Nation Pittsburgh.