The gamesmanship has begun. Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen is making references to West Virginia's hostile crowd. West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez is calling his team the underdog despite its No. 7 national ranking.
Any expectation that 21st-ranked Maryland would quietly tiptoe into Morgantown, W. Va., this weekend was squashed midway through Friedgen's postgame news conference Saturday.
After Maryland (2-0) disposed of Temple, 45-22, Friedgen worked in a reference about expecting "to dodge the first four whiskey bottles" thrown out of the Milan Puskar Stadium stands. Moments later, Maryland's coach was asked how he could simulate such a hostile stadium environment in practice this week.
Friedgen mentioned the sound system on the Terps' practice field that pumps in crowd noise before not-so-subtly adding, "That's really about all, unless I can get some students to throw things at us."
Mountaineers fans and players remember four straight Maryland victories the past three seasons, the closest of which was 12 points in 2001. They remember the drama surrounding former Terps quarterback Scott McBrien, the West Virginia transfer who found success in College Park. And they can't forget the 2004 Gator Bowl blowout that sent some Mountaineers fans driving north on I-95 long before the 41-7 game ended.
"Maryland was everyone's conversation piece throughout the summer," Rodriguez said yesterday. Rodriguez said the Mountaineers (2-0) should be underdogs because "we haven't come close to beating them and they look as talented as ever."
Maryland players expect hostility, or worse. Or so history would suggest.
"Guys throwing things at our buses coming in," Maryland defensive end Shawne Merriman said about Maryland's 2002 game in Morgantown. "Every kind of language you can imagine coming out of people's mouths. But we look forward to playing games like that."
In a recent meeting between the teams, Merriman said, he was hit in the back of the helmet with a nine-volt battery. "At least I was focused after that," Merriman said.
Joel Statham, Maryland's starting quarterback, is not McBrien, but it may not matter. Statham remembers the incessant heckling of McBrien and expects a similar reception. "They just keep yelling at you constantly and never stop," Statham said.
That said, Mountaineers fans have developed an admiration for Friedgen. During Gator Bowl week, Friedgen said, hundreds of West Virginia fans took pictures with him at a Jacksonville, Fla., restaurant.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for their fans," Friedgen said.
Notes: West Virginia running back Kay-Jay Harris is questionable with a hamstring injury that Rodriguez termed "not major." Harris rushed for a Big East-record 337 yards in the season-opening 56-23 win against East Carolina. "Our medical staff is optimistic," Rodriguez said. "But Kay-Jay, mentally, he's got to be the one ready to go." . . .
Maryland middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (hyperextended elbow) should be ready to play, Friedgen said, but won't participate in contact drills this week.