BALTIMORE — Stefon Diggs streaked toward the end zone, a standard sight for Maryland’s dazzling sophomore wide receiver. But at this moment, late in the first quarter of the Terrapins’ 37-0 blowout of West Virginia on Saturday, all eyes were not on Diggs and the vaunted offense.
Instead, Diggs galloped off the bench to help celebrate safety A.J. Hendy’s 28-yard interception return for a touchdown, overjoyed that the spotlight was shining on the Terrapins’ less-heralded unit.
Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart preaches relentless pressure, and in practice anything less than three or four forced turnovers is considered a failure. After Hendy crossed the goal line at rain-soaked M&T Bank Stadium, the Terrapins’ lead was 14-0. When the game ended, the Mountaineers had as many giveaways as first downs: six.
The Terrapins emphatically snapped a seven-game losing streak to their border rival and improved to 4-0 entering their first bye week of the season, with a suddenly intriguing matchup with No. 8 Florida State looming when they return Oct. 5.
“I don’t think today could have gone any better,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said. “We couldn’t have scripted it any better in terms of what happened.”
Summoned into nickel-package duties after starting cornerback Dexter McDougle underwent season-ending shoulder surgery this week, Hendy led the charge. On third and 12 from the West Virginia 23-yard line, he jumped an out route, snagged the interception and tiptoed down the sideline untouched.
“This year, when those guys went down, it’s unfortunate,” Hendy said of the injuries to McDougle and fellow starting cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, who is out with a broken toe suffered in Maryland’s season opener. “You don’t want that to happen to anyone on the team. But guys have to step up. That’s how winning teams start. That’s how winning teams begin.”
Hendy’s return came four plays after Terrapins quarterback C.J. Brown hit Dave Stinebaugh on a six-yard score, the tight end’s first career touchdown that was set up when Hendy smothered a botched West Virginia punt return. As Maryland suffocated redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress and silenced the Mountaineers’ spread offense, linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil intercepted another pass that Brown converted into a one-yard touchdown plunge just before halftime.
“That was kind of how the day was for us,” Brown said. “Defense did an unbelievable job with the turnovers and the pressure. For them to get that shutout was a huge statement for them. A tip of the hat to our defense. They kept our offense in it.”
Whether because of sluggish execution or a slippery football, Maryland’s offense labored to 334 total yards, far fewer than the ACC-best 555 it averaged through three games. Yet the Terps didn’t need any offensive fireworks.
Thirty-seven offensive plays and nearly 43 game minutes elapsed before West Virginia (2-2) finally cracked 100 yards, and the Mountaineers finished with just 175.
Cudjoe-Virgil’s first career interception helped Brown retain his ACC total touchdown lead (13) with a one-yard score late in the first half.
And seconds after Brandon Ross fumbled an option pitch in the third quarter, L.A. Goree stripped Mountaineers running back Charles Sims, and Sean Davis pounced on the loose ball.
“We’re nowhere near where we can be,” Edsall said. “That’s the thing I like.”
The back-and-forth sloppiness continued into the fourth quarter. Two plays after Brown lost an option scramble, West Virginia gave the ball right back, another fumble and its fifth turnover of the game. After three third-down conversion passes from Brown to wide receiver Deon Long, a one-time West Virginia commitment, Ross danced across the goal line for a three-yard touchdown for the final points.
By then, however, it mattered little. Hendy intercepted a failed Childress lateral late in the fourth quarter, allowing Maryland backup quarterback Caleb Rowe to kneel away the game and give the Terps their first six-takeaway game since 2001.