Maryland's defense no match for West Virginia's big three

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; 12:09 AM

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. - In practices leading up to Saturday's game at West Virginia, Maryland's coaches tried to simulate the noise of 60,000 Mountaineers fans. The futility of such an endeavor was evident on the Terrapins' opening drive, when they were flagged for four penalties.

And after West Virginia's first two possessions resulted in touchdowns of breathless efficiency, the futility of trying to simulate the speed of West Virginia's offensive triumvirate - wide receiver Tavon Austin, wide receiver-punt returner Jock Sanders and running back Noel Devine - was even more evident.

Within the first seven minutes, Austin reeled in touchdown strikes of six and five yards, fired to almost the identical spot in the end zone (the second time without a Terrapins defender within 10 feet), to spot West Virginia two easy scores in its 31-17 victory over Maryland before 60,122 jubilant fans at Milan Puskar Stadium.

There was cause for concern all around in the aftermath of such a humbling defeat, with the 21st-ranked Mountaineers bolting to a 21-0 halftime lead that squelched any lingering bravado from Maryland's 62-3 romp over division I-AA Morgan State last weekend.

But the performance of the Terrapins' defense told much of the tale, with Maryland digging itself a hole early because its defenders were slow to react to the speed of West Virginia's stars, slow to respond to its quick offensive tempo and too reliant on young, inexperienced players in the secondary.

A breakdown in coverage - a defender rushed the quarterback when he was supposed to drop back into pass coverage - led directly to Austin's second touchdown reception, Coach Ralph Friedgen said afterward.

"I could have got open on those two," Friedgen groused. "The guy who was supposed to be covering him was rushing."

Friedgen also pointed to poor tackling, particularly in the first quarter.

"They're good backs - don't get me wrong," Friedgen said of Devine and Ryan Clarke. "But we're better tacklers than we were today. Even when we did have 'em wrapped up, they fell for two or three more yards."

The statistics attested to the lopsided nature of the ground game, with West Virginia rushing for 201 yards (Devine accounted for 131; Clarke had 65) to Maryland's minus-10.√Said Maryland senior linebacker Alex Wujciak, whose 16 tackles led all defenders, "Anytime you've got a little guy [Devine is 5 feet 8], he hides behind the line, and it's hard to see."

Still, there were encouraging signs for the Terrapins on defense, which improved as the game wore on.

Linebacker Alex Wujciak made the first big defensive play, forcing a fumble by Austin with the Mountaineers marching toward what looked like a 97-yard touchdown drive late in the first quarter. A.J. Francis recovered for Maryland, but the offense was off the field after three plays went nowhere.

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