Maryland football opens its season against an old rival in West Virginia, prompting some new questions

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

For just one afternoon, a dormant rivalry of college football’s past will be reignited. Two bitter enemies will be sharing the field for the first time in half a decade for a chance to open the season on a positive note. 

Since 2015, West Virginia and Maryland have remained distant in many respects, despite sharing a state border. One side has enjoyed moderate bowl game success and appearances, consecutive weeks with a number beside its name and a good amount of winning. The other side has endured the opposite; from an identity crisis to a considerable bowl game drought. 

Fortunately, the foundation laid by head coach Mike Locksley provides some optimism that Maryland can potentially close the gap, flip its fortunes and snag its first win over the Mountaineers since 2013.

“It’s one of those games that was always on the calendar,” Locksley said.“When you have an opportunity to play a team like West Virginia to open up, as I told our team, it gives us a pretty fast idea as to what type of team we’re going to be.”

With a dependable starting quarterback and a handful of reliable co-stars on either side of the ball, it’s fairly reasonable to claim 2021 Maryland is the best Week One team Locksley has ever fielded in his tenure. For West Virginia head coach Neal Brown, also in his third year, the same could be said about his roster. 

Leading the Mountaineers offense is fifth-year quarterback Jarret Doege. Doege has developed a reputation as an inconsistent passer in the Big 12, but his year-to-year strides under center for the Mountaineers show the makings of a mostly steady quarterback. 

“[Doege’s] accuracy, his knowledge and his ability to orchestrate things on offense … He’s one of those guys that you know you can tell he plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Locksley said. “I expect him to be very well coached and execute at a high level.”

The former Bowling Green quarterback, though mostly a checkdown artist, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt, led the Big 12 in pass attempts and tied for the conference low of four interceptions to his 14 touchdown passes. 

At the very least, one could view these stats as somewhat encouraging statistics for a quarterback paired with a receiving core that dropped over 8% of its passes en route to a 102nd ranked drop rate in the FBS. 

Nonetheless, taking the majority of Doege’s handoffs is a more exciting athlete. Leddie Brown, the offensive star and the Terps’ soon-to-be pain in the side, marked up a 1,010 rushing season in 10 games. Brown also proved to be a quality receiver out of the backfield with 31 catches. 

“I think it starts with the running back,” Locksley said. “[Leddie Brown is] one of those guys that, can hit the home run, runs behind his pads. You try to load the box up and make the safety his guy — he wins that battle … he’s definitely on our radar as to who we have to do a great job of defending.”

For a defense that struggled against more run-heavy offenses, conceding well over 100 yards against every team that ran the ball over 30 times last season, keeping Brown boxed and away from open space as much as possible should be the first of many objectives for the Terps’ defensive unit. 

Meanwhile, the Terps offensive unit will be handling a lofty challenge of its own. Defensive tackle Dante Stills, the brother of Darius Stills, reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year, looks poised to compile some of his own awards and terrorize a fledgling offensive line. Johari Branch, Mason Lunsford and newcomer Aric Harris will have a massive responsibility of keeping the trenches under control and Stills at bay. 

Overall, West Virginia brings a defense that can cause problems nearly everywhere. In 2020, the Mountaineers allowed the fewest passing yards in the nation and was one of the top 25 scoring defenses in the country. However, with some of their quality contributors leaving through transfer or graduation there is a chance such a successful defensive campaign in consecutive years isn’t viable. 

Even so, Maryland can indeed get an idea of what type of team it’s going to be in a game of this nature at home. 

Will Maryland’s secondary live up to expectations and diminish West Virginia’s already tepid passing game? Is the offensive line ready for such a week one challenge against a high-level talent? Will Maryland’s offense fall prey to the Mountaineers’ well-coached defensive attack?

For the 60 minutes that this border-state rivalry is renewed, Maryland and Locksley have 60 minutes to make a resounding first impression.

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