- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It seemed like all of the Maryland football team’s talk of proving it was different than its last two editions vanished in a flash last night at Mountaineer Field.

In fact, it took 15 minutes. Fifteen interminable, forgettable, humbling minutes to show just how far away the Terrapins are from competing with the nation’s elite.

West Virginia’s Steve Slaton ran for 195 yards — 149 in the first quarter — and Maryland committed five turnovers as the No. 5 Mountaineers thrashed the Terps 45-24 in a game decided well before halftime.

It didn’t matter that the Terps (2-1) eventually cobbled together a few scoring drives against West Virginia (3-0). What will remain prominent in the memories of the 60,513 in attendance and the countless thousands more at home will be the humiliation of West Virginia’s 28-0 lead after a quarter — and rightfully so.

“We got our butts beat,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “Nothing I’m going to say is going to change that.”

Maryland viewed the nationally televised visit to its regional rival as a potential coming-out party for an offense under the direction of Friedgen. Instead, it was a suggestion perhaps not that much has changed since last season, when a porous defense surrendered 301 rushing yards to West Virginia and turnovers ruined games throughout the year.

For a team that claimed in the days preceding the trip that it understood how little it could afford mistakes, the Terps showed a striking disdain for handling the ball. Josh Wilson caught the Mountaineers’ first kickoff and flipped it to an unprepared Darrius Heyward-Bey, who never had possession before West Virginia recovered the fumble.

Quarterback Sam Hollenbach delivered his first interception of the season as he was drilled from behind in the first quarter, a mistake that set up West Virginia’s fourth touchdown of the first quarter and prompted an already grouchy Friedgen to bark “Let’s go” as the dejected Hollenbach trudged off the field with his teammates.

Wilson took a second-quarter kickoff from five yards deep in the end zone and fumbled it away. And the Terps appropriately finished the first half with a fumble on a hook-and-ladder play, one last taste of the bumbling that plagued them throughout the evening to take into the locker room.

“You can’t beat real good teams like that,” Hollenbach said. “They proved it. They took the turnovers and they made us pay for them. You take those turnovers out of the game and it’s a different ballgame.”

It would be too easy to blame the Terps’ miseries on the return of their turnover foibles from a year ago.

Their defense was ill-prepared to contain the Mountaineers’ run-heavy spread offense, and West Virginia rolled up 340 yards rushing — the most against Maryland since Friedgen took over as coach in 2001.

Paramount to the bludgeoning was the slippery Slaton, whose distaste for Maryland after having a scholarship offer revoked two years ago was well-documented this week. It didn’t take long for the Mountaineers to unleash the pinball-like sophomore, who shrugged off Marcus Wimbush’s tackle attempt and scampered 38 yards for a score on the sixth play from scrimmage.

He was far from finished. After West Virginia took advantage of Heyward-Bey’s fumble and then forced Maryland to punt, it was pinned at its own 4. The Mountaineers quickly ripped off yardage, and Slaton capped the 10-play drive by starting left, jutting right toward the sideline, juking cornerback Isaiah Gardner and strolling into the end zone from 37 yards out.

It was an electrifying run, but not nearly as demoralizing as his 52-yard burst after Hollenbach’s first interception. Wilson’s late shove saved a touchdown and Friedgen called a timeout to settle his team. But even after Slaton fumbled into the end zone on the next play, tight end Brad Palmer was there to recover it for a touchdown and a 28-0 edge.

“It’s very frustrating,” junior linebacker Wesley Jefferson said. “Obviously we prepare all week, and we know what going to happen. We just couldn’t get it done.”

Slaton’s long runs weren’t the only plays to make the Terps appear laughable. West Virginia’s Darius Reynaud actually fumbled a kickoff after Maryland pulled within 31-10 late in the first half, but had time to pick it up and bring it back 96 yards for a touchdown.

Much like after their first two games, it is difficult to gauge just how much progress the Terps’ offense has made since last year. Hollenbach didn’t take a snap until Maryland was down 14-0, and wound up completing 24 of 45 passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, including a 35-yard touchdown strike to Isaiah Williams while under pressure in the fourth quarter.

A better evaluation will have to wait until later — as will the victory over a universally respected opponent that Friedgen hopes will revitalize his program after two down years.

“It’s a long season yet, and this is one game,” Friedgen said. “We lost to a good football team in a tough environment on national television. It’s embarrassing, but we have to be able to come back from these things and get better.”

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