WVU coverage about to be tested
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Had it chosen to do so, Oklahoma could have presented West Virginia with some of the same kinds of offensive problems Maryland will present this week.
The Sooners didn't, of course. A week before unleashing Blake Bell and allowing him to throw for 413 yards against Tulsa, Oklahoma kept things pretty ground oriented under running quarterback Trevor Knight in a 16-7 win over the Mountaineers.
A pity, really. West Virginia could have used the practice.
"Personnel-wise, I think Maryland is a lot like Oklahoma,'' WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "You can't just focus on their quarterback or their running backs or their receivers because they're all good. But Oklahoma didn't throw the ball against us like these guys will.''
Indeed, when West Virginia (2-1) faces Maryland (3-0) Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, the Mountaineers will be facing a team that seems just as explosive running the ball as throwing it. In a 32-21 win over Connecticut last week, quarterback C.J. Brown not only ran the ball for 122 yards, but also threw for 277.
West Virginia has faced running quarterbacks this season, but the Mountaineers have not faced one with Brown's potential to throw it.
"We haven't seen the throwing threat we're going to see this week,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "The way these guys throw the ball around, they've got big-play potential. This will be a different challenge for us. I'm excited to see how those guys respond to that.''
Much of the reason for Maryland's explosiveness in the passing game is because of what the Terps have at receiver - an All-America candidate on one side and a former Mountaineer on the other.
Stefon Diggs ranks sixth nationally in receiving yards and has crept into a few Heisman Trophy lists. On the other side is Deon Long, who started out at WVU, transferred to New Mexico and played for Mike Locksley there. He spent a year in junior college when Locksley was fired, then rejoined Locksley when he became the offensive coordinator at Maryland.
Diggs has 16 catches for 387 yards this season and Long has 15 for 173.
"They have tremendous big-play potential,'' Holgorsen said.
How balanced is Maryland? Well, through three games against rather suspect competition (Florida International, Old Dominion and UConn), the Terps are averaging 262 yards rushing and 292 passing. Much of that is because of Brown, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior who was one of four Maryland quarterbacks injured during a disastrous 2012 season.
"You can see, offensively, it's just a different unit with C.J. Brown healthy and playing,'' Holgorsen said. "He's had a good year so far. He brings a bunch of balance to their offense. We know he's athletic, but he's got athletic guys around him, as well.
"They're a different team than what they were last year. They're a different team than what they've been the last couple of years.''
All of which presents perhaps the biggest challenge yet to a West Virginia defense that is inarguably much better than it was a year ago, but still has not faced the kind of balanced attack it will see Saturday.
"We haven't faced a passing attack like this yet,'' Holgorsen said. "Do we feel better about where we're at defensively? Yes, absolutely. Do we feel like we've got it figured out? No. I said that last week.
"Maryland is going to bring some challenges that some other teams in the Big 12 are going to bring, as well. They have the ability to be able to do both. Oklahoma State and Baylor, our next two opponents, are going to have the ability to big-play us and they're going to have the ability to run the ball, whether it's with the quarterback or the running backs. So this will be a good test for us to see where we're at.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.