COLLEGE PARK, Md. — While it’s easy this week to remember the score from last time West Virginia played Maryland in football, it’s just as convenient, and ultimately more useful, to remember the response.
WVU lost 37-0 to the Terrapins last season, and the school’s first shutout loss since 2001 and an unbelievable outcome for a team ranked No. 5 not even a year earlier.
“It was a tough pill to swallow and there was a lot of self-examination that was going on after that game. What could we have done differently?” WVU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson said. “But if you look back on it, I think that was really who we were at that point last year. We weren’t very good and I don’t know if there was much we could have done differently.”
That had to change in Holgorsen’s third season in charge and second in the offensive-minded Big 12. The day after the loss, WVU started making changes to fix what was broken, and the lengthy process arrives at a significant landmark at noon Saturday.
The Mountaineers, who insist they have changed for the better, play at Byrd Stadium (Big Ten Network) against a Maryland (2-0) team that has pretty much the same team it had last season.
“I think our mentality is in a much different place,” Holgorsen said. “We’re a much more experienced team. We’re a more confident team. We play with a lot more energy and effort, and that’s hopefully going to make a big difference in the outcome of the game Saturday.”
Holgorsen enjoyed arguably his most impressive win a week after the loss to the Terrapins. The Mountaineers beat then-No. 11 Oklahoma State with a depth chart that had 21 changes. Two areas were affected most.
Quinton Spain was moved from left tackle to left guard as one of two changes to the starting lineup of linemen who were at the mercy of Maryland’s defensive line. Clint Trickett was named the starting quarterback, the team’s third in five games, and Saturday’s start will be his ninth in WVU’s past 10 games.
Ford Childress started against Maryland last season and had been dealing with a strained pectoral muscle for a few weeks. He tore the muscle on this throwing side in the first half, but never told his coaches and tried to play through the pain and the limitations — he was 11 of 22 for 62 yards and two interceptions, and he couldn’t throw deep passes. The day after, WVU knew he was probably out for the rest of the season, and he’s since moved on to Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas.
“We were bad at that position, among others, and obviously you’d rather have him tell us he was injured rather than try to play through it, but he was a tough kid trying to fight through it,” Dawson said. “You can’t blame anybody. I give credit to them more than I blame anything we did. They outplayed us.”
The Mountaineers (1-1) accepted that and began to understand that part of the reason they were outplayed was because of who and how they were playing. They changed quarterbacks and moved starters and backups around on the offensive line and at receiver.
They tried to build an offense around Trickett, running back Charles Sims and the offensive line.
“A lot of the changes we made after that week helped us,” Dawson said. “We had, in our opinion, some people playing out of position. The changes we made solidified a lot of the wrongs we were looking at.“
Changing the offense meant moving away from what WVU couldn’t do with the players it liked and focusing on what could continue working. That was what worked for that team, though a 4-8 record suggests it didn’t work that well.
Holgorsen and Dawson want to play faster than that team did and be able to pass the ball more often and more effectively, so long as they can rely on a quarterback and receivers who know what to do without being reminded.
Already this season, WVU has played faster and more consistently than it did with Trickett last season. The corps of receivers — Kevin White, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson — is more productive than last season’s group, which had only first-year players.
“The way I called plays last year, the way we game-planned last year, we’re not doing the same things,” Holgorsen said. “We’re a different team, and we’re able to do different things. We’re able to call plays differently. You can just look at the tape over the last two weeks and see that it’s a little bit different than what it’s been in the past.”
That would include the recent past and a window of time influenced by the deflating loss to Maryland. Holgorsen saw his team panic early in that game and then never regain what it lost, and that as much as anything else prompted changes. These Mountaineers are reunited with tactics they’d abandoned. They’re again working with what they believe in and they believe they’re better because of what happened a season ago.
“It comes down to being confident as coaches, being confident as players, playing with great effort, coaching with great effort, putting a product out there everybody is proud of,” Holgorsen said. “I will game plan differently, and I will call plays differently based on our players. I have a ton of confidence in our guys right now. When you have a ton of confidence in your guys, you’re going to do things differently.”