MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The West Virginia University football team is back on the field and preparing for rival Maryland.
“We’re pretty eager to get going, finish our preparation and head into an electric weekend here in Morgantown,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said on Tuesday. “It seems like forever since we had the Terps over here. We’ve been at Maryland for the last couple of years.”
The Terrapins haven’t traveled to Morgantown since 2012, when the No.8 Mountaineers knocked off Maryland 31-21. WVU is excited for Saturday’s matchup, and Holgorsen believes the fans are too.
“Our team is excited about them coming over, and I know our fans are excited about them coming over,” he said. “It is one of the few regional rivals that we have on the schedule. I don’t think it is a mistake that this game sold out fairly quick. I know it means a lot to our fan base, and WVU. It is the same for their program as well. It’s going to be fun.
“Saturday is going to be fun. I know it’s going to be an electric crowd. It is going to be a live atmosphere. Every seat is going to be taken, and it is going to be something that will fire them up as well. I know we’re going to be pretty excited. ”
Despite suffering a loss to Bowling Green two weeks ago, Holgorsen thinks Maryland is a good team.
“They are very well coached,” he said. “Coach (Randy) Edsall has been there for as long as I’ve been here. They are very well coached, and they have a lot of depth. They’re sound in what they do on all three sides of the ball.”
Special teams are an area where the Terps excel. They have 2014 Lou Groza Award winner and All-American kicker Brad Craddock. Junior defensive back William Likely has been turning heads with his stellar return game.
“We have another battle of two good kickers,” Holgorsen said. “Hopefully, we win this one just like we did the last one. (Senior kicker) Brad (Craddock) is coming over.
“We feel like we have a pretty good kicker with (redshirt sophomore kicker) Josh (Lambert), but he’s a weapon for them (Maryland). He has a strong leg, and he does some good things for them. Then there is the return game with Likely that I made reference to last week. We have to do a great job at covering kicks. It’s going to be a challenge, but we better get used to it, because there is going to be a lot of good returners in the Big 12.”
In 2013, the Mountaineers were embarrassed 37-0 by Maryland and it something that still lingers in Holgorsen’s mind.
“I’ve reminded my team with what happened two years ago,” he said. “It’s not something that I can hide from, or run from. It’s the worst defeat that I have ever taken, but we weren’t in a good place.
“We turned the ball over six times. They outplayed us. They strained harder. Their effort was better. Everything that could’ve went wrong, went wrong. It motivated us, and I think we improved a whole bunch going into the game a year later. We fixed a lot of those problems. There were snap issues. There were quarterback problems.”
WVU is not about to let what happened two years ago happen on their home field. The Mountaineers are ready to go after a week off and it showed at Sunday night’s practice.
“They were energetic,” Holgorsen said. “I think they were bored for one, potentially, two weeks. They were ready to get back to work. We had a pretty high spirited practice on Sunday night, under the lights, and I anticipate that being the same here today and tomorrow.”
Jared Barber missed the game against Liberty after suffering a shoulder injury against Georgia Southern, but Holgorsen says the senior is ready to go on Saturday.
“He was pretty close to being good to go two weeks ago,” he said. “With Jared being an old guy like me, we obviously want to be careful with him. Coach Barber. When we have opportunities to be careful with him then we want to be able to be careful with him. He played a lot last week, and he is good to go.”
Holgorsen says patience is the key to solving Maryland’s defense.
“We have to be patient and put the ball in play where we need too as well as be able to handle pressure and defeat man coverage, which is what they’ve shown on critical downs,” he said.
Likely leads the country in punt return TDs (2) and combined kick return yards (424), and is second overall in punt return average (28.1). Holgorsen is aware of the threat the defensive back posses on the punt return.
“We will probably just kick it sideways right out of bounds,” he joked. “You can’t play like that. I can’t tell you what our plan is, but you can’t play scared.
“You can’t play the game of football scared. I give him all the credit and respect in the world. He is as good as I seen, but we are going to face some pretty good ones all year long.”
Holgorsen says this is going to be a big week for senior punter Nick O’Toole.
“He has to place the ball where we want him to place the ball, and I can’t emphasis enough the importance of the front seven guys to be able to get off their blocks,” Holgorsen said. “They do as good a job holding people at the line of scrimmage than I have seen. It creates space. I said this a lot, if you want to be have a good punt returner, you have to give him some time to catch the punt.”
Holgorsen doesn’t sugar coat things for his young wide receiving corps about the talent they will be going up against the rest of the season.
“There are a lot of good corners out there,” he said. “There are a lot of good corners in the Big 12. Are you a guy that is pretending, or are you a real guy? This is a pretty good opportunity to show that you are a real guy, whoever it is.”
WVU’s depth at wide receiver is deeper than freshman Jovon Durante and redshirt sophomore Shelton Gibson.
“(Freshman) Gary Jennings has practiced his tail off every day,” Holgorsen said. “Ka’Raun White is practicing his tail off, and he is getting better every day. We have more than just two young guys. We have those other guys, and we are going to continue to add to that as well.”
Holgorsen credits last season’s success against Maryland because his team was able to get first downs.
“If you get first downs then you can keep pressing the pedal down and keep going,” he said. “You have to execute in order to do that. If you go back and look at the offensive performances over the last two years, we had zero success two years ago, because we were bad. Last year, we were on the verge of getting pretty good, and we had success.”
Holgorsen told the media he wasn’t thinking ahead to the Mountaineers’ tough schedule in October.
“I know what’s ahead, but we are not worried about it,” he said. “I am going to focus on this one. It is our goal to get to 3-0. We haven’t even talked about the Big 12 yet.”
Maryland’s offensive line has yet to allow a sack this season and the Mountaineers are focused on getting past them.
“They are pretty good up front,” Holgorsen said. “They are big. They average around 305-pounds. They have three returning starters. They have been doing the same scheme for quite some time, and they have coached up the quarterbacks to get the ball out of their hands.
“It’s going to be a challenge to get there, and we have to figure out a way to get there. That’s something I have been talking about for quite some time because we need to get to the quarterback. I am looking forward to getting out there today and work on it.”