MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On his second snap of his second senior season, Maryland linebacker Kenneth Tate brought down West Virginia’s Tavon Austin for no gain.
A play later, he broke up a pass intended for Austin to force a punt.
“It felt good,” Tate said.
Just like old times?
“I feel fine,” Tate said while offering a mildly amused gaze. “I’m back to normal.”
Of the many things the Terrapins can glean from their competitive 31-21 loss to the No. 8 Mountaineers, Tate’s solid season debut could rank among the most important.
Tate finished with four tackles in his first game since Oct. 1 for Maryland (2-2), which enters its bye week without a winning record but with a revamped defense whose strong start was validated with a capable performance against West Virginia.
The addition of Tate figures to further strength the nation’s No. 8 total defense. An all-ACC safety in 2010, Tate shifted to linebacker last year after the hire of coach Randy Edsall and collected 35 tackles in four games before a right knee injury sidelined him and eventually prompted surgery.
Tate did not practice in the spring and then was used cautiously in camp before he suffered a left knee injury, delaying the return of a player lauded for his skills but perhaps more for his exceptionally savvy play until Maryland’s nonconference finale.
Tate, who according to a team spokesman asked before the season to be referred to as “Kenneth” instead of “Kenny,” debuted on West Virginia’s third series. He split time with sophomore Alex Twine the rest of the way and played on the majority of the Mountaineers’ second-half possessions.
“I loved it,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. “I was so hyped, and I was so happy. It’s great to see him back and great to see him make plays. It just adds a huge element to our defense.”
It is uncertain if Tate will slide back into the starting lineup when the Terps face Wake Forest on Oct. 6, though he, Hartsfield and Darin Drakeford could give Maryland three seniors among its starting linebackers.
The three started last year’s opener together, then only one more time before injuries shelved each of them for part of the season.
Tate’s return also signals another step in the Maryland defense leaving behind its plethora of preseason ailments. Only three defensive players — ends Keith Bowers (calf) and Andre Monroe (knee) and defensive back A.J. Hendy (ankle) — missed Saturday’s game, and Hendy is nearing a return after playing on the scout team last week. Monroe is the only defensive player out for the season.
“I thought it was good to have Kenny back out there and I thought Kenny made some plays,” Edsall said. “We’ll take a look to see how he held up afterwards.”
As welcome as Tate’s return was to teammates, it was at least a mild relief for himself after missing 11 games and almost a full year.
“Yeah, definitely,” Tate said. “I just felt comfortable. Football is like my release so all the emotion and everything is definitely sorted out on the field.”
NOTES: Redshirt freshman Brandon Ross rushed for 52 yards while making his college debut. The Terps have started three tailbacks (Ross, Justus Pickett and Albert Reid) in four games; Maryland used only three starting tailbacks in its previous 50 games entering the season.
Perry Hills’ 305 passing yards against West Virginia rank as the No. 2 single-game performance among Maryland freshmen. Danny O’Brien threw for 417 yards against N.C. State in 2010.
Redshirt freshman guard Andrew Zeller made his debut, working in on a few series at right guard in the second half.