Defense eager to test Terps' young QB
MORGANTOWN - If West Virginia's defense was in any position at all to lick its chops at the prospect of what it will soon face, this would be that time.
Of course, given the wholly uncertain nature of the Mountaineers' defense, that's not the case.
This is a group that breathes a sigh of relief at almost every success, at least for now. That's just the way things are as WVU transitions to a new scheme with new players and new coaches. Every game is not only a learning process, but an adventure unto itself.
Still, one has to like the Mountaineers' chances when turning loose a defense whose primary goal is to create havoc and turnovers against a team with a true freshman quarterback playing in a hostile environment. And that's what the No. 8 Mountaineers (2-0) face at noon Saturday at Mountaineer Field against Maryland (2-1) and Perry Hills.
Confuse the young man as much as possible and try to take him out of his comfort zone.
"I think that holds true with anyone, with any quarterback,'' WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "You want to show him [different] looks, go from one thing to another, give him pressure. So yeah, the more looks we can give him and the more confused we hope we can get him, the better.''
In Hills, the Mountaineers will face a quarterback who has already had his ups and downs after just three games.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Pittsburgh was thrust into the starting job when two things happened to Maryland's depth chart. First, Danny O'Brien transferred to Wisconsin. Then C.J. Brown blew out a knee midway through August camp.
In the team's opener against William & Mary, Hills threw three interceptions and the Terps struggled mightily. He recovered enough to finally lead a fourth-quarter scoring drive and give Maryland a 7-6 win.
In the second game at Temple, he was named the ACC rookie of the week after passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns and running for another score in a 36-27 win.
But then last week at home against Connecticut, Hills was sacked six times and was just 10-for-24 passing in a 24-21 loss.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen looks at Hills and, of course, sees potential. But he knows reaching potential can take some time.
"He's just young,'' Holgorsen said. "He's going to continue to get better. He's a good-looking kid that is trying to figure things out.
"What they're going through is the same thing we'd be going through if we had to start Ford Childress.''
Compounding matters is that Hills isn't the only freshman playing for Maryland. Only eight teams in the country have played more true freshmen than Maryland's 12.
"When you play that many young kids there are going to be times where it doesn't look very good, times where it's frustrating and they're not moving the ball as well as they'd like to,'' Holgorsen said. "With experienced guys, that gets easier. It's like us offensively this year, where it's a little easier to call plays and move the ball because we have experienced guys. It's always challenging to have a lot of freshmen that you're counting on, but with that you coach them up and the more you play, the better you get.''
That's what Hills' coaches are stressing, too.
"You have to have a short memory,'' Maryland coach Randy Edsall said of both Hills and all his freshmen after last weekend's loss to his old Connecticut team. "I know that Perry has put that behind him. I know that some of the mistakes you saw from last week you won't see this week. You might see some new ones. You hope you don't, but I'm confident in him. He's extremely conscientious and he's going to get better. He's got to feel comfortable when he goes out there and plays.''
In three games, Hills is now 37-for-69 passing for 444 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's also Maryland's third-leading rusher with 110 yards gained, although 66 yards in losses on 10 sacks have cut into that total.
And West Virginia will try to hit Hills some more on Saturday.
"He's been hit a lot,'' Holgorsen said. "That's going to be something that's important for us. Defensively we're going to want to be aggressive. We're going to want to attack them in a variety of ways. And with any young kid, you're going to want to give them different looks and try to confuse them.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1