By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; 12:17 AM
MORGANTOWN, W.VA. - This was the big-game litmus test Torrey Smith wanted, a chance for the Maryland football team to display improved maturity and poise. But Saturday afternoon, Smith could only shake his head in frustration after a litany of blunders proved too costly to overcome.
Smith's two scintillating touchdown receptions - 60 and 80 yards - in a 31-17 loss at West Virginia won't be highlighted as much as Maryland's series of breakdowns: costly penalties, missed tackles, blown coverages and squandered opportunities. A team believing it was ready for prime time demonstrated it was not even ready for an afternoon telecast on ESPNU.
"We are more mature than what we showed," Smith said. "We weren't composed at all."
The 21st-ranked Mountaineers (3-0) won their fifth straight game against Maryland, which has not won a road game in nearly two years. The Terrapins, fortunate to beat Navy in their opener and untested against division I-AA Morgan State last week, became unglued on the biggest stage they've seen thus far. A crowd of 60,122 at Milan Puskar Stadium - mostly awash in old gold and blue - witnessed the Terrapins commit unforced and self-inflicted errors.
"We tackled terrible," Coach Ralph Friedgen said.
"Some guys lost their poise," offensive coordinator James Franklin said.
And at 2-1, concern is now mounting because injuries are mounting. Left tackle Justin Gilbert suffered a third-quarter left leg injury that Friedgen felt was significant because the player heard a "pop." Franklin said he believes Gilbert will return this season but did not know when.
"It's pretty serious," said starting quarterback Jamarr Robinson, who was sacked seven times. "That's my blind side. That one is hard to replace."
Robinson is banged up himself; he played with a sore throwing shoulder throughout the second half. His bruises are a particular concern because backup Danny O'Brien re-aggravated a right ankle sprain when Mountaineers defensive end Bruce Irvin hammered him from behind on O'Brien's only play in the game late in the second quarter. The next healthy quarterback available: freshman Devin Burns.
Friedgen only wanted to use O'Brien if absolutely necessary. Now that O'Brien is "dinged up, is that a couple more weeks without him? We're in a bind right now," Friedgen said.
Friedgen called Robinson's performance "gutty" even though he missed several open receivers, because he repeatedly scrambled to avoid pass rushers. The two words Robinson used to describe his perspective on the game: pressure and confusion.
Coaches spent the week talking about the need for their quarterbacks to yell loudly because of crowd noise. But a communication breakdown occurred on the first series that set the tone for the game. The Terrapins committed four penalties, including three delay-of-game infractions. Robinson also burned a timeout.
In an image that symbolized how out of sorts players at times appeared, Robinson, in the shotgun, emphatically flapped his arms on third down so center Paul Pinegar would snap the ball, but to no avail. Another delay-of-game flag.
"Noise," said Robinson, who also used a silent count at times on Saturday. "They said they could not hear me."
Defensively, Maryland could not get off the field and, in the first half, could not stop wide receiver and Baltimore native Tavon Austin, one-third of West Virginia's quicksilver offensive trio. Austin amassed 92 of his 106 receiving yards in a first half in which he scored two touchdowns. On the second, a five-yard reception, no Maryland defender was within 12 feet.
Friedgen said his defense blew two coverages and that even the burly 63-year-old coach could have gotten open on one. He said a player rushed when he was supposed to sit in coverage, adding: "Where is that from? Sometimes in the excitement of the thing, kids, they just make mistakes, and all of the sudden you have a guy wide open in the end zone."
Despite spotting West Virginia a 28-0 lead, Maryland responded because Franklin knew his wide receivers could exploit West Virginia's secondary - especially with top cornerback Brandon Hogan suspended - and Smith told Robinson to throw the ball high because he could win his one-on-one battle.
Smith's touchdown receptions may make highlight clips, but it was the end zone catch he didn't make - another missed opportunity, Friedgen said - that weighs on his mind. Flanked by cornerback Pat Miller and safety Robert Sands, Smith admittedly pushed off and jumped high in the end zone, getting his hands on a pass. But he looked down and the ball fell to the ground.
"It's killing me right now," Smith said of the play that would have whittled the deficit to 28-21 late in the third quarter.
From the poor offensive line play - Maryland had minus-10 yards rushing, including the sacks - to the penalties - the Terrapins committed nine for 66 yards - Maryland's players offered some alarming flashbacks to the disastrous 2009 season. Friedgen rattled off several plays - including a near momentum-changing interception by linebacker Adrian Moten - that could have, perhaps should have, gone the other way.
Missed opportunities and unforced errors: Maryland's players said they are too experienced, too mature to self-destruct as they did, especially early, in Saturday's game.
"We can battle back; we can put points on the board when we do what we're supposed to do," Smith said. "But the bad thing is that we have to eliminate penalties and look composed throughout the game. Just learn how to win on the road. There are no excuses."