After a week off, the Maryland Terrapins will host the West Virginia Mountaineers for an afternoon tilt on Saturday. For a little help previewing Maryland's first game against a ranked opponent this year, we went to SB Nation's West Virginia blog The Smoking Musket, as well as and Aaron Hawley of SB Nation Pittsburgh, and asked them what we could expect. Here are their answers.
You can find my answers to some similar questions (including what is hopefully the last time I have to talk about the jerseys) here.
SB Nation D.C.: We've heard rumors that Dana Holgorsen has been holding back in the first two weeks. Do you expect the West Virginia offense to be more complex than what we've seen so far?
Aaron Hawley: Yes and no. I would dispute the notion that WVU is holding back on offense and replace it with the notion that the offense just hasn't clicked yet. Holgorsen bragged in the off-season about the simplicity of his system and how it only takes three days to install. I don't really expect drastic changes over what has been seen so far. Obviously there may be a few plays and schemes that haven't been shown yet, but I think the difference will be the players growing prowess in running his offense, not a huge change to the offense itself.
Truthfully, of the three and half halves that the Mountaineers have played, only the second half of the Norfolk State game showed any kind of offensive success. But when it broke open, it broke in a big way when the 'Eers scored four touchdowns in 20 offensive plays. Mountaineer fans are just hoping that's the level of execution we see on Saturday.
The Smoking Musket: Based on everything I've heard/read him say, there is credence to this statement of him holding back. But, I do believe it is more to do with getting the guys familiar with running the plays than trying to hold his cards close to his chest. Holgorsen is a big fan of repetition until it's second nature (they had to have open tryouts for QB's because they needed more arms to spread around the 1000+ throws per practice).
But more complex, I don't believe so, at least not from the WVU point of view. Everything he and the players have said that it truly is a simple offense for the team running it to learn (execution is another matter, see last week's first half). It will be more complex from the defensive perspective and they likely will run more plays than they have shown in the previous two games, simply because they are more familiar with them.
SB Nation D.C.: When it's clicking, what can Maryland expect from that offense?
Aaron Hawley: A lot of quick passing, mostly. Lots of spread-out sets with four and five wide receivers running wild in what looks like a controlled chaos. West Virginia's deepest talent pool is at wide receiver, and everybody gets the looks. Tavon Austin entered the season as the Mountaineers top wideout, but has been banged up all week with a finger injury, so his impact could be negligible. Look for Wake Forest transfer Devon Brown to get a lot of looks over the middle while Brad Starks and Stedman Bailey work the sidelines.
Mountaineer fans have been surprised at a much more equitable split between running and passing plays, but the run game will be used primarily to keep the defense honest. Holgorsen is rotating three freshmen at tailback right now and none of them have managed to step to the forefront. I expect Geno Smith to throw early and often, and even though that's exactly what the Terps expect, it's exactly what they're going to get.
The Smoking Musket: Anything and everything ... if it's working. Holgorsen is very unpredictable with the play calls and there will be vertical passes, swing passes, bubble screens, outs, slants (all from more formations than I've seen at WVU) and more to go along with a few runs here and there to try to keep the defense on it's heels. And when it is working, it works fast. Fast in execution, and especially fast in the reset between plays. The faster, the better.
SB Nation D.C.: Has the defensive game plan shifted much under the new head coach?
Aaron Hawley: Not at all. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is now working under his third different Mountaineer head coach, and the reason he's been kept around so long is that he's been incredibly successful. The true tragedy of last year's underachieving WVU team was that it squandered one of the best defenses in the nation because of an anemic offense. Casteel sticks to his guns with his 3-3-5 stack formation, which amounts to constantly playing nickel, but results in the ultimate "bend but not break" defense. His greatest challenge is replacing seven starters from last season's squad and getting them up to speed on their assignments. So far this season, while the defense hasn't allowed a touchdown, it has allowed over-matched offenses to move the ball with ease, so facing another school with BCS-level talent will be a huge test. Casteel's greatest skill is having his defense constantly improve over the course of the season. Unfortunately, it's only week three, so there's not much to hang your hat on there.
The Smoking Musket: The entire defensive staff, and consequently the scheme, remains intact from the previous regime. They have and will continue to run the 3-3-5 odd stack for the foreseeable future. They are a vastly experienced group with very little ego (two of the assistants were Division I coordinators at previous stops) and they all just signed multi-year contract extensions. Holgorsen is very hands off with this group, letting them do their thing and they do it well.
Also, despite rumors in the national media of a rift between the new offensive staff and the holdover defensive staff, there is very little, if any evidence to support such a claim.
SB Nation D.C.: What aspect of the Maryland team (offense/defense etc.) do you expect West Virginia to have the most trouble with?
Aaron Hawley: Right now, the Mountaineers are struggling in the trenches on both sides of the football. On offense, the offensive line has been letting too may pass rushers into the backfield to let Mountaineer fans breathe easily. Couple that with Geno Smith's tendency to hold the ball a little too long, and it could spell trouble. Holgorsen's offense is predicated on making reads and getting the ball out quickly. If he can manage to do that the offense should be fine.
On defense, despite the presence of All-American candidate defensive end Bruce Irvin, the 'Eers have struggled to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks. If Danny O'Brien is allowed to stand in the pocket too long, it could spell doom for the Mountaineer defense. Additionally, opposing running backs have been making a living between the tackles in the Mountaineers first two contests. If Maryland wins the battle of the big boys on both sides of the ball, it could be a long afternoon for the 'Eers.
The Smoking Musket: Not knowing much about Maryland, but seeing WVU the first two weeks, I would venture to say WVU will have a bit of trouble handling the UMD defensive front in the run game (pass blocking has been pleasantly better for the most part so far this year). Based on statements from Holgorsen, the team as a whole (including running backs and receivers) have had a hard time finishing blocks. With young runners such as WVU is playing (3 true freshman and a sophomore), they are having a hard time finding and hitting the hole quickly most times.
SB Nation D.C.: How evenly do you think these teams are matched?
Aaron Hawley: I think this is a very, very interesting matchup because I think the teams are matched pretty evenly. Both teams are loaded with latent talent that is in the process of being molded by a brand new head coach. I think both quarterbacks are similarly talented and in a position in their careers where they're expected to take it to the next level. I think game will be decided by who wins the matchup between the West Virginia defense and the Maryland offense. If Maryland can score, they should be able to keep pace with the Mountaineers offense. I anticipate this one coming down to the wire. I would be surprised if the margin of victory in this one exceeded seven points.
The Smoking Musket: This is a hard question for me because I think there are too many unknowns on both sides of the field. They are both in similar situations with new head coaches and offensive systems. In that sense, I think they are very even. I really don't know enough about Maryland's team to make an educated comparison. I'm not convinced that Miami was a good barometer for UMD, any more that I'm convinced Marshall and an FCS team are for WVU. WVU's defense hasn't really been tested and O'Brien will easily be the best quarterback they've faced thus far.
That said, both teams have exceptional quarterbacks. There is not much to debate in that regard. Geno Smith may have a few more weapons at his disposal to throw to, but if the run game can't even be serviceable, it may not matter. But, based on post-game statements by the players last week, this group does not want to be the team that Holgorsen's system didn't work for. I do expect to see a more focused WVU team in that regard. Whether that leads to a victory remains to be seen.
Thanks again to Aaron Hawley of SB Nation Pittsburgh and WVUIE97 of the Smoking Musket for their help. For more on this game, check out the StoryStream. Head over to Testudo Times for more on the Terps, and check out SB Nation Pittsburgh and The Smoking Musket for more on the Mountaineers.