Blow for blow, the Maryland football team responded against a top 10 team in the first half Saturday, putting pressure on a Heisman candidate and getting production from one of the nation’s worst offenses. The Terrapins overcame a 14-0 deficit, but a late touchdown on blown coverage has them trailing No. 8 West Virginia, 24-14, at Mountaineer Field.
With screens and staggered sets featuring three tight ends, the Terrapins gave quarterback Perry Hills enough protection, and the true freshman finished the half 14 of 20 for 164 yards and two touchdowns, by far his most productive 30 minutes of the season.
But things turned sour in the half’s final minute. Lined up in the shotgun on first down, Hills took the snap but the play was whistled dead for a false start. After multiple whistles, Hills got blindsided and crushed by safety Travis Bell. There was no flag, and Hills remained down for some time. Devin Burns, a converted wide receiver, took a zone-read rush at quarterback for 17 yards before Hills returned and led Maryland into field goal range for Brad Craddock, who missed wide right from 42 yards out.
After trading punts to the start the game, the Terps drove to the West Virginia 30 behind two first-down completions to Matt Furstenburg and Kevin Dorsey. But on second and five, safety Darwin Cook came on a furious blitz, popping Hills mid-handoff. Linebacker Doug Rigg, who had drawn a 15-yard face mask penalty earlier in the drive, scooped it up and rumbled for a 48-yard touchdown return that quelled some early momentum and put the Mountaineers up 7-0.
Everything unraveled against the Air Raid offense on West Virginia’s next drive. It took the Mountaineers just two plays and 31 seconds to score, capped by a 44-yard touchdown reception by Tavon Austin, a Baltimore native and frequent Terrapins torcher in recent years, after a missed Maryland tackle.
Austin had 112 receiving yards in the first half, his third straight 100-yard game against Maryland.
After four straight rushes on Maryland’s ensuing drive, including a 15-yarder from Albert Reid and a spinning, dancing nine-yard burst from Brandon Ross, Hills hit Stefon Diggs on a crossing pattern over the middle. The true freshman found open space by the near sideline, tip-toeing in front of West Virginia’s bench before diving over the pylon for a 42-yard touchdown.
Crafty blitz calls by defensive coordinator Brian Stewart relegated Heisman favorite Geno Smith to quick releases, and the Mountaineers found themselves punting away again. Bolstered by two big third-down conversions on jailbreak and bubble screens to Furstenburg and running back Justus Pickett, respectively, the Terps opened the second quarter by driving into the West Virginia red zone. On third and eight after a timeout, lined up in shotgun, Hills found Marcus Leak for a sliding 12-yard touchdown. Craddock’s extra point tied things up at 14.
The Mountaineers responded with a furious, no-huddle drive. Blanketed Terps coverage got negated by solid pocket protection for Smith. From the Maryland 9, West Virginia stalled. Dustin Garrison rushed for no gain. Offsetting penalties on an incomplete pass brought up third down. Then A.J. Francis came bulldozing through the line, sacking Smith for a 12-yard loss. It was the first sack Smith took all season. Tyler Bitancurt then drilled a 37-yard field goal.
With the clock ticking, West Virginia took over with 3:10 left and drove to the Maryland 24. After a coach’s challenge, with 58 seconds left, Terrapins corner Jeremiah Johnson got burned in coverage, and Smith found Austin over the top for a 24-yard touchdown that provided the final margin at the break.
In his first action since a preseason hamstring injury, true freshman running back Brandon Ross had 24 yards on 11 carries. Furstenburg doubled his reception total with three for 54 yards, while Diggs had two catches for 57 yards, including his second touchdown of the season.
Smith, meanwhile, has completed 14 of 23 for 209 yards and two touchdowns.