By Cam Huffman
West Virginia has played three games. Quarterback Ford Childress has experienced life as a collegiate starting quarterback and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson has had an opportunity to put his stamp on the Mountaineer defense.
All of them, though, will experience something new today.
The Mountaineers (2-1) travel to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md., for a 3:30 p.m. meeting with Maryland (3-0). The contest, which will air live on ESPNU, will be the 50th all-time between the two border rivals, and it will provide WVU with major tests on both sides of the football.
It starts with the WVU offense. Childress, a redshirt freshman, looked solid last week in his first start, throwing for 359 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted once and sacked twice.
But that was against a winless Georgia State team in its first season of playing Football Bowl Subdivision football. Today, Childress will be looking across the line at a Maryland defense that is giving up just 293 yards and 13.7 points per game.
The Terrapins lead the country with five sacks per game, and senior linebacker Marcus Whitfield leads the country with 1.8 sacks per game.
“I like my O-line,” said Childress earlier this week, displaying nothing but confidence. “I think we will do well. We worked a lot on their blitzes. We will get it down and will be able to get it down.
“They do some stuff that we haven’t seen this season yet, but we know what it is. We’ve watched a lot of tape on them, so they’ll be able to pick it up.”
WVU will also face some stiff challenges on the other side of the ball. The Terps have averaged more than 550 yards and 40.7 points per game through the first three contests.
Quarterback C.J. Brown, a threat on the ground and through the air, might be the best WVU has seen this season, and wide receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs are two of the best in the ACC.
Patterson’s defense has been much improved from Joe DeForest’s group last year, which was statistically the worst in school history, but Maryland could be its biggest test to this point, after wins over William & Mary and Georgia State and a loss to Oklahoma.
“I don’t think you can sit there and focus on the quarterback and two receivers,” said Patterson. “You just have to be sound. They are very balanced and are putting up 520-some yards a game, 290 throwing it and 230 rushing it. You have to make them one-dimensional, and that will be one of the keys to the game. You cannot let them get balanced.”
Maryland will face some tests of its own. The Terps are looking for their fourth win for the first time under third-year head coach Randy Edsall, but their wins — Florida International, Old Dominion and Connecticut — haven’t exactly come against a who’s who of college football.
“Right now, we got another one coming up against West Virginia and that’s number four,” said Edsall. “They understand that the season isn’t over, that we do have three wins, but you don’t even worry about those three anymore because they are over and done with. And they’ve been very good at just focusing in on the task at hand that we have for that particular week. That’s a nice thing to deal with when you’re a coach.”
Today’s game is also about bragging rights. Maryland has made a push to sell its program throughout its home state, and playing in the state’s biggest city inside the home stadium of the Baltimore Ravens is a good opportunity to do exactly that.
“We’re trying to continue to develop the Maryland pride,” said Edsall, who coached UConn to a Fiesta Bowl appearance before taking the job with the Terps. “With the city being as large as it is, and also having that venue, M&T Bank Stadium there in Baltimore, when you do have the opportunity being that we’re the flagship university here in the state and we’re the only state school that’s an FBS, it’s something that I think is important to us.”
West Virginia, though, has won seven in a row against an ACC school with which it often competes in recruiting and would love to run that streak to eight.
“It is just like playing Pitt,” said redshirt-senior defensive lineman Shaq Rowell. “It’s a rivalry. A lot of the other guys do not really know about this rivalry, but we have played Maryland 49 times since 1919 and have beat them the last seven times. I know Maryland will come out this weekend wanting to beat us.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.