By Cam Huffman
It’s long been debated which school is West Virginia’s biggest rival.
Folks in the southern part of the state would probably point to Marshall or Virginia Tech. Fans in the Morgantown area would surely call out Pitt, while those who reside in the Eastern Panhandle would likely name Maryland.
One thing is for sure. The Terrapins — who will host WVU at 3:30 p.m., Saturday at the home of the Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. — are the only team on this year’s Mountaineer football schedule that can remotely be called a rival.
That adds a little more intrigue to the contest, which will air live on ESPNU.
“I can’t tell you how excited our team is about being able to play Maryland this week,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen during his weekly press conference Tuesday. “It’s something our guys are looking forward to. We don’t have many regional rivalries left. This is the only one we play this year. I look forward to many more in the future, but our guys are familiar with Maryland and excited about being able to play them.”
After home games with William & Mary and Georgia State, which brought about little excitement — and a road trip to Oklahoma that most fans couldn’t make — the Mountaineers (2-1) are anxious to play a game that gets fans excited and do it close to home. The fact that it’s in an NFL stadium only adds to the anticipation.
“It’s easier, because the facilities are good and it’s not a 100 percent home crowd,” said Holgorsen of playing the game on the Ravens turf, something WVU did regularly as a member of the Big East, playing games at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field (Pitt), Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati) and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa (USF). “It’s a big stage, and our guys get jacked up about that. I don’t view this as really an away game. It’s more like a neutral site game. It is a home game for Maryland, but I feel like we’ll travel pretty good, and there will be some Mountaineer energy in there.”
WVU will surely face some energy from the Terp fans, as well. After campaigns of 2-10 and 4-8 in the first two seasons under former Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall — who replaced Ralph Friedgen after the 2010 season, when Friedgen was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year — Maryland (3-0) is off to a strong start this season. The Terps opened up with wins over Florida International (43-10) and Old Dominion (47-10) at home before knocking off UConn 32-21 last week.
Edsall’s club ranks 10th nationally in total offense, putting up 554.7 yards per game. Quarterback C.J. Brown, back after missing the 2012 season with an injury, has thrown for 833 yards and six touchdowns, while rushing for 257 yards and five more scores. Brandon Ross has 265 rushing yards in three games and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Stefon Diggs leads the team with 16 receptions for 387 yards, and he’s found the end zone three times. He’s one of the most explosive receivers in the country. Deon Long, who began his career at WVU as a Bill Stewart recruit, and has made three stops since, has 15 catches for 173 yards and a score.
“They’re a different team than what they were last year and than they’ve been the last couple years,” said Holgorsen. “You can see, offensively, they’re a different unit with C.J. Brown healthy and playing. He’s had a good year so far, and he brings a bunch of balance to their offense. We know he’s athletic, and he has a bunch of athletes around him, as well. They want to be balanced in the run and pass.
“They’ve got two good backs in Ross and (Albert) Reed that can run the ball, in addition to Brown, and they’ve got two good guys on the outside in Diggs and Long that have tremendous big play potential. It will be a huge challenge for our defense to stop those guys. We haven’t seen the throwing threat we’re going to see this week. It will be a different challenge for us, and I’m excited to see how those guys respond.”
Defensively, the Terps are allowing just 13.7 points and 296.3 yards of offense per game. Like the Mountaineers, they’ve yet to face their toughest competition, but Holgorsen already has respect for Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, who held his team to 31 points in last year’s game, after WVU averaged more than 55 points per game in wins over Marshall and James Madison prior to welcoming the Terps to Morgantown.
“They stopped us last year,” said Holgorsen. “They’ve got a lot of new bodies from last year, but they did a tremendous job against us. We struggled to get first downs and score.
“It’s the same scheme. They have a lot of new bodies, but they have depth. It will be a challenge for us, because of what they do schematically, and they know our offense very well.”
With redshirt-freshman Ford Childress starting his second college game and first on the road, Holgorsen fully expects Maryland to try to put some pressure on the young signal caller and try to force him into mistakes.
“He’s going to pressure, I can assure you that,” said Holgorsen. “One of the things we did a poor job of last week was identifying zero blitz and giving us enough time to deliver the ball. They did that against us last year, so they’ll pressure us, and I’m not sure they don’t come out doing it on every snap. If they do, we’ve got to be able to handle it.”
WVU leads the overall series with Maryland 26-21-2 and has won the last seven meetings. That stretch, though, followed a string of four straight Maryland wins in what has historically been a very competitive series.
“It’s important to our administration, and it’s important in recruiting,” said Holgorsen. “It’s important to our kids, it’s important to our fans and we’re looking forward to playing at the Ravens stadium in front of a good crowd.”
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Holgorsen announced during Tuesday’s press conference that Brodrick Jenkins is no longer with the team. The coach wouldn’t expand on why the senior defensive back form Fort Myers, Fla., is gone, saying only, “It’s an internal matter.”
Jenkins played in 10 games last year, recording 33 tackles and an interception.
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On the injury front, Holgorsen said safety K.J. Dillon, linebacker Doug Rigg, defensive lineman Christian Brown and linebacker Garrett Hope have all been cleared to play this week after missing some time with injuries.
“Nobody’s ruled out, other than the guys who have had surgery,” said Holgorsen. “We’re as healthy as we’ve been.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.