West Virginia may well be the class of the Big East by season’s end. But the Mountaineers, who will play Maryland at Byrd Stadium on Saturday afternoon, are clearly a work in progress under first-year Coach Dana Holgorsen. The play of the Mountaineers so far has been, in a word, uneven.
Don’t let the score (55-12) of Saturday’s win over Norfolk State fool you. The Mountaineers trailed 12-10 at halftime before thrashing Norfolk State in the second half with 45 unanswered points.
Maryland (1-0) has had an extra week to prepare for its rival. WVU could use an extra week before it visits Byrd Stadium.
Let’s start with the defense, which replaced seven starters from a unit that was one of the best in school history last season. WVU has not allowed a touchdown this season in victories over Marshall and Norfolk State. But Norfolk State kicked four field goals in the first half, and you had to wonder what Maryland’s potent offense would have looked like against the Mountaineers.
“We gave up too many yards in the first half, and part of that was offensively we put [the defense] on the field a lot,” Holgorsen said after the game. “We are more comfortable with our defensive scheme right now than we are with our offensive scheme.”
Quarterback Geno Smith completed 20 of 34 passes for a career-high 371 yards and four touchdowns, matching his touchdown total from last year’s Maryland victory. But Smith has room to improve.
“He needs to get better,” Holgorsen said. “He misses some checks and got the wrong checks a couple times. Even one [missed check] is unacceptable.”
The running game and offensive line play is a paramount concern. At one point, Norfolk State’s defense managed to stop West Virginia’s offense six straight times at the 1-yard line.
“Flat-out embarrassing,” Holgorsen said. “You can say schemes and that’s okay, but those are the same plays we run all of the time.”
Maryland, however, will need to get its kick coverage in order. That’s been an emphasis after the 32-24 win over Miami. And WVU standout Tavon Austin had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Marshall and a 64-yard punt return against Norfolk State.