That time of the year is finally here again as the excitement builds around campus and all of Morgantown as the newly retooled Mountaineer football team will play their first matchup at Maryland on Saturday afternoon.
Maryland will not be an easy roll-over victory by any means as the Terrapins return nearly 85 percent of their total production from last season which ranks as 10th highest-returning production out of any team in the country. This is also very comfortable territory for Maryland as they have won nine straight non-conference openers heading into Saturday’s matchup.
A big time player to watch out for on the Terrapins defensive side of the ball will be defensive lineman Mosiah Nasili-Kite who led the Big Ten conference with 0.8 sacks per game and took down the quarterback four times in five of Maryland’s games last season. Safety Nick Cross will make a difference in the Maryland secondary this season after he has recorded eight total pass breakups in two seasons along with 68 tackles.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa also led the Big Ten last year with 13.48 yards per completion as well as ranking second in the conference with a passing efficiency of 138.5. Not to mention, Tagovailoa will have a pair of All-Big Ten wide receivers returning this year in Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett.
“A big time challenge, not only are they extremely talented on both sides of the ball, they’ve recruited really well, I think they’ve had two top-20 recruiting classes in a row,” Neal Brown said. “On top of that they only played five football games last year, several of their top players missed some time during the shortened season, so they are a quality team.”
West Virginia will look to see how they can knock off a solid opponent like Maryland with the team that Brown and his staff have been able to assemble this offseason. In the matchup series between the pair of state border rivals, West Virginia leads the all-time series with a 28-22-2 mark. In season openers over the years the Mountaineers bring in a record of 91-33-4 and will seek their 92nd win this year in College Park, Maryland.
One of the biggest things the Mountaineers are looking to do as a whole this season is play better on the road and that could start this Saturday. A season ago, West Virginia dropped all four of their road regular season games with the only victory on the road coming in the Liberty Bowl at the end of the season when WVU defeated Army, 24-21.
“We need to get a bad taste out of our mouth, we didn’t go on the road and perform as well, that hadn’t been the case historically, we played our best football on the road in ‘19… I don’t think it’s an issue but we’ve still got to go out and win,” Brown said.
Of some of the younger Mountaineers set to see the field a lot this season will be offensive tackle Wyatt Milum, wide receiver Kaden Prather, running back Justin Johnson and safety Aubrey Burks. West Virginia is certainly bringing in a number of top notch new faces this year both out of high school and via the transfer portal that many believe could make a big impact in the old gold and blue.
To get around a solid defense that consists of Nick Cross patrolling the deep ball and Nalili-Kite stuffing the line, offensive leaders in lineman Zach Frazier, quarterback Jarret Doege and running back Leddie Brown will have to play at the level that they are capable of and have shown they can for a full 60 minutes.
A surprise starter in the secondary for the Mountaineers will be Daryl Porter Jr. who currently carries the least experience of the group of cornerbacks as he gets set for his second-year freshman season.
“We grade everything defensively, and Daryl was our most productive in that (cornerback) room during fall camp. He’s had some growth and has earned that (starting) opportunity, but Jackie will also play and play a lot,” Brown said.
Only Saturday afternoon’s tilt inside Maryland Stadium will tell how both of these teams will begin their seasons either ending up in the win or loss column.
Kick-off for West Virginia’s season opener will be on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.