Look West for the Stars

The sheer star power of Steve Slaton and West Virginia's running game was enough to fend off and wear down Dave Philistin and the improved, physical defense of Maryland.
The sheer star power of Steve Slaton and West Virginia's running game was enough to fend off and wear down Dave Philistin and the improved, physical defense of Maryland. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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By Mike Wise
Friday, September 14, 2007

For much of two quarters, it seemed plausible. College Park was howling. The No. 4 team in the nation and its shell-game offense, despite being spotted a touchdown, wasn't fooling anyone, least of all the Terrapins linemen.

And as the mighty Mountaineers and their supreme confidence wobbled, nothing resembled the defenseless mauling last year in Morgantown. After 30 minutes, Maryland-West Virginia was suddenly about genuine belief rather than an eyesore of a rout.

Somewhere in the third quarter, though, drama died in Couch Bowl XLVI. After two neighboring state universities well-versed in postgame pyromania were done competing for yards as well as recruits, Byrd Stadium's scoreboard summed up a familiar reality: Rich Rodriguez's team still has too many playmakers for Ralph Friedgen's squad to handle. Seven years after they both returned to coach their alma matters, it's Rich 4 and Ralph 4. But remembering when Maryland last won in 2003 requires the recollection of a fifth-year senior.

Does last night's 31-14 West Virginia victory mean the gap between the programs has further widened? No. If anything, Friedgen's players acquitted themselves well enough to make Maryland matter through the next three weeks of quality opponents.

Given how well the Terps ran the ball early, the way they clocked and stopped the Mountaineers' two Heisman hopefuls, Patrick White and Steve Slaton, when it mattered, Wake Forest, Rutgers and Georgia Tech need to be prepared for a scrap.

Maryland was better against the Mountaineers, but still not good enough.

The sheer amount of West Virginia weaponry -- of speed and precise execution -- just wore down and then ran past a very physical and improved Terps defense.

"Any little seam they got, they flew out of it like rockets," Maryland linebacker Moise Fokou said.

Friedgen beat himself up afterward for his conservative play-calling, the idea being to run the ball and therefore keep the Mountaineers' fuel-injected offense off the field. He obviously saw Louisville beat West Virginia last year in a shootout, not a scrum.

But in the star-wars tally, West Virginia had three -- White, Slaton and Noel Devine -- and the Terps had nothing but Keon Lattimore putting his head down and Jordan Steffy trying to find a rhythm before he ran out of time. Darrius Heyward-Bey, a supernova wideout in waiting, had but three catches.

Before its final touchdown drive, Maryland had one play resulting in more than 20 yards. West Virginia had nine, spread out among four players. The game was over when Devine, the latest hologram of a running back to run the spread option, romped 76 yards to put West Virginia within a yard of a three-touchdown lead.

It says something when Maryland gives up 154 yards rushing by halftime and it's viewed as a success. It says how polished Rodriguez's players run the spread option and how familiar the sight of White and Slaton dusting the Terps has become.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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