The coaches change. The players change.
West Virginia still keeps beating Maryland. And turnovers continue to foil the Terrapins in the border series.
The No. 18 Mountaineers nearly blew a 24-point lead before fending off Maryland for a 37-31 victory at Byrd Stadium to deal the Terps their first loss under new coach Randy Edsall.
Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien threw three interceptions —- one returned for a touchdown, another to end his team’s final possession —- as the Terps lost their sixth straight to West Virginia (3-0).
“You can’t turn the ball over three times at the quarterback position and expect to beat a ranked team,” O’Brien said.
Indeed, Maryland has averaged three turnovers during its extended run of troubles against the Mountaineers. And those foibles, combined with exceptionally ill-timed penalties on defense and difficulties containing West Virginia’s athleticism, led to a familiar result.
The trouble keeping the Mountaineers’ slippery skill position players in check is nothing new. It defined Maryland’s last two losses to West Virginia at the end of the Rich Rodriguez years, and it was crucial in the Mountaineers’ victory in Morgantown last year under Bill Stewart.
First-year coach Dana Holgorsen inherited many of the same pieces Stewart enjoyed, only he deployed them in a far different manner. Three wideouts —- including slippery Baltimore native Tavon Austin —- topped 100 yards receiving as the Mountaineers passed their first major test as an offense in Holgorsen’s Mike Leach-influenced scheme.
“They just try to dump the ball in open space, and hopefully you miss tackles,” Maryland linebacker Kenny Tate said. “That’s their philosophy. They have great players. Tavon Austin is definitely one of the shiftiest guys in the nation right now, and when he gets in open space he can run right past you.”
It was a minor victory for the Big East on a day when multiple outlets reported Pittsburgh and Syracuse would soon defect to the ACC, and it happened before 53,672, the fifth-largest crowd in Byrd’s history. By the early stages of the third quarter, the Mountaineers owned a 34-10 lead and seemed headed for the sort of rout now so typical in the series.
It was the first time Maryland played since the indefinite suspensions of wideouts Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree. Tyler was charged with second-degree assault after an altercation witnessed by a police officer early Thursday in College Park.
While the offense struggled at times early, it was not responsible for the first-half defensive struggles. Players and Edsall denied the suspensions influenced the outcome.
“Missing those two receivers didn’t mean a thing,” said Edsall, who fell to 1-17 in his career against ranked teams.
Still, it wasn’t O’Brien’s sharpest day. The sophomore, who is still less than a year removed from his first college start, sputtered with two interceptions in the first half. Only one of the Terps’ first six possessions lasted more than four plays, leaving the Maryland defense vulnerable to West Virginia’s up-tempo approach.
The Terps recovered, stringing together three touchdown drives to close within 34-31. After West Virginia culminated a long possession with a field goal, O’Brien began a methodical march into Mountaineer territory.
One problem: O’Brien’s third-down pass with a little more than minute to go was intercepted by Eain Smith, and his day ended with the same sort of frustration with which it began.
“I just have to get on the same page,” O’Brien said. “We should have been, and we probably score if we get that.”
Instead, the Terps will cope with their first loss of the season for the next week, with a litany of events offering a balance of perspective.
The offense managed 477 yards, but couldn’t get started fast enough.
The defense forced three turnovers, but allowed points in six of the first nine drives.
And Maryland, a midpack outfit for much of the last decade, again found itself eager to bounce back from an early loss to West Virginia that offered a glimmer of hope amid obvious disappointment and frustration.
“We know we can hang with a top-20 team,” left guard Andrew Gonnella said. “We gave them things they didn’t earn. I think, essentially, we beat ourselves. We’re going to take this and come out with a fury next week and we’re going to handle business. That’s just the way you have to look at it.”
—- Patrick Stevens