- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2007

Two games against inferior opponents and another against a top-five team make it difficult to pass judgment on the Maryland football team’s prospects with only a quarter of the season complete.

This much is fairly certain: The Terrapins still aren’t nearly as good as West Virginia.

The No. 4 Mountaineers turned back the entirely black-clad Terrapins 31-14 before 53,107, the fifth-largest crowd in Byrd Stadium history. But for as much hype as the Maryland defense’s date with the West Virginia backfield buzz saw generated, it was the Terps’ offense that struggled for much of the night.

The Terps (2-1) gained only 66 yards offense in the middle two quarters, and quarterback Jordan Steffy wound up with a garbage-time aided 16-for-23, 180-yard game as Maryland lost to the Mountaineers (3-0) for the fourth straight season.

“I don’t see a moral victory here,” Terps guard Andrew Crummey said. “We had a great opportunity. I think we’re a great team and I think we could have played better today. We lost the game. West Virginia came out and played better than us. There’s always positives in a loss, but it’s a loss and it’s one we shouldn’t have lost.”

That’s debatable, given the Mountaineers’ play. West Virginia’s Steve Slaton proved again he was the best player on the field — 26 carries for 137 yards and three touchdowns — and there was only so much the improved Maryland defense could do to contain the slippery tailback.

The Terps’ attempts at containment — and they did a superb job against elusive West Virginia quarterback Pat White, limiting him to 22 yards rushing — were sure to go for naught if the offense did not stretch the field.

“What did Slaton get tonight?” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen asked. “That’s probably a good job. I thought we did a good job of containing them. The problem with those guys is if you step one step out of position, they’re going to make a big play. You almost have to be perfect, and I thought for a lot of the time we were perfect.”

The offense certainly wasn’t. Steffy looked jittery for much of the night, again relying on short routes for the bulk of his throws when the game was within reach. Wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey was held to one catch (and two total looks) for 33 yards in the first three quarters.

Steffy threw two ultimately meaningless interceptions — a deep ball that substituted nicely for what would have been a punt on the next play, the other a Hail Mary to end the first half. But he also failed to corral the first snap of the game, a miscue that led to a touchdown two plays later.

He would later throw his first career touchdown pass, a 22-yard connection with Danny Oquendo to make it 31-14 with 5:50 left.

“There’s still things we have to work on as an offense,” said Steffy, who was nursing a right shoulder injury after the game and said he would undergo X-rays today. “We have to come out and play a full game. The good thing about that is we have nine more opportunities to come out and get better.”

With so little offense generated, there was only so much Slaton and the Mountaineers needed to secure a victory in the teams’ final meeting before a two-year hiatus in the series. And with some help from freshman tailback Noel Devine (136 yards on five carries), Slaton was placed in position to finish a pair of second-half drives with 1-yard touchdown runs.

By the time the third quarter was over, West Virginia was up 28-7 and the imposing wall of black shirts in the student section began to thin out, other activities suddenly much more appealing than watching the end of a rout.

The night represented a chance to transform perceptions of a program that has spent much of the last three years far from the national stage and expunge the nightmare of last season’s 45-24 thrashing at West Virginia from everyone’s consciousness.

Maryland was not administered a heavy dose of humiliation, nor was the defense left to heal severe psychological wounds as it was a year ago. But there were inopportune breakdowns that ultimately proved costly.

The Mountaineers converted third down attempts of more than eight yards four times, and Maryland committed a pass interference call under similar conditions another time. Two of those breakdowns extended drives that ultimately led to touchdowns.

“That’s what kind of stands out the most about the defense,” defensive tackle Dre Moore said. “We limited the big plays from Slaton and White. I think if we get off the field a couple more times on those third-and-longs, they don’t even cross the 50 and don’t even get into field goal range and it might be a little different game.”

The Terps’ trip into the mountains last season was a disaster by the time the first quarter ended. It sure looked like a repeat was possible after Steffy fumbled the first snap, yet Maryland responded to its foibles with aplomb.

The Terps relied heavily on Lattimore, whose 4-yard touchdown dash to tie it on Maryland’s second possession. Lattimore rushed for 49 of his 80 yards in the first quarter.

Perhaps more notable was a defensive line that consistently hassled White after his early touchdown jaunt, containing one of the Mountaineers’ main elusive threats rather impressively.

Maintaining that for a full game, however, is anything but easy. Fullback Owen Schmitt’s 44-yard rumble led only to a missed 22-yard field goal but also served notice there was more in the arsenal than sending burners off the edges and gave Maryland something extra to think about.

Slaton eventually took advantage of his superlative speed. One play after West Virginia converted a long third down with a bomb down the left side to Darius Reynaud, Slaton scooted around the left corner and zipped into the end zone from 22 yards out to make it 14-7.

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