Saturday will present a challenge heretofore unknown to Maryland’s true freshmen, both from a competition standpoint and regarding the decibel level. The Terrapins will have their hands full with an eighth-ranked West Virginia team putting up over 600 yards and 55 points per game. Tack on a road game in one of college football’s most hostile stadiums, where Coach Randy Edsall remembers having oranges thrown at him while he played for Syracuse, and the young players might be in for a surprise.
Of course, these same players will be the ones counted upon if the Terps hope to add another tombstone to the graveyard of top-10 wins outside their practice fields. West Virginia has won six straight meetings between the teams, making this rivalry somewhat one-sided over the past few years. Not that the Terps have been treated any differently upon arrival.
Tight end Matt Furstenburg had children give him the middle finger. Linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield got the same single-digit treatment, and remembers fans dressing up as former Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen in mockery. Walking out of the tunnel, defensive lineman A.J. Francis got spit on by an elderly woman he estimates to be 80 years old.
And then there’s the volume. When Maryland last played at Mountaineer Field, the Terps had three delay of game penalties and one false start on their opening drive, because center Paul Pinegar couldn’t hear quarterback Jamarr Robinson say, “Hike.” Perry Hills, inconsistent through his first three collegiate starts yet praised throughout the team for his resilience, will get thrown into the fire in an atmosphere he’s never seen.
Hills was furious after the Terps lost to Connecticut at Byrd Stadium, 24-21, on Saturday, repeating over and over again during his postgame interviews how much he hates to lose. But Maryland returned the next day and had its best Sunday practice of the season, according to Coach Randy Edsall.
“We try to tell them, once we go through the film on Sunday, the previous game is over,” Edsall said. “You’ve got to have a short memory. Same thing, I have complete confidence in Perry. Some of the mistakes you saw in Perry last week you won’t see this week.”
After the loss, which dropped Maryland to 2-1, Edsall intimated that Hills might have been taking the loss too personally.
“I love Perry Hills and I just told that to him,” Edsall said then. “He is in a tough situation and he is hurting. He was hard on himself today because he didn’t think he played as well as he could have. We have tremendous confidence in him and he will get better, just like all of us.”
Maryland’s confidence in Hills, who has six turnovers through three starts, has not wavered. The players still rally behind his bulldog mentality and his unwavering on-field demeanor.
“He’d rather run through a linebacker than slide any day,” Francis said. “When you’ve got guys like that, you’re not really worried about their mental makeup. He’s going to be pissed off for 24 hours like the rest of us were. I can respect a kid like that, especially a young kid. A lot of problems that older guys like myself have with the young kids is they don’t respect the game as much.
“I’ve got his back whenever he needs it. He’s here, and I believe in him.”
But there will be no room to think about the past while facing West Virginia, not with a top-10 team on the opposite sideline and brain space short-circuited by the raucous crowd.
“From the college freshmen to the 60-year-old lady up in the stands, they’re all just as rowdy,” right tackle Justin Gilbert said. “They’re crazy. They’re loud, so we have to put a big emphasis on crowd noise and make sure we don’t get off track because of that.”