All the early-season attention paid to a Maryland team with a new coach and gaudy new uniforms couldn't save the Terps Saturday from a rejuvenated old nemesis that had won five in a row against them and played as if it was its birthright to continue that streak.
In losing, 37-31, to No. 18 West Virginia, Maryland (1-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) missed an opportunity to reverse its fortunes against the Mountaineers (3-0, 0-0 Big East) with a win that could have kick-started its season and pushed the Terps into the national rankings.
If there was consolation for the Terps, it came from scoring 21 unanswered points and knowing that — after trailing 34-10 — they pulled to within 35 yards of a potential winning score before quarterback Danny O'Brien threw his third interception at the end.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall — a disciplinarian from the Tom Coughlin coaching tree — had promised during training camp that his players would respond to adversity. "On a Randy Edsall-coached team, there are never going to be any quitters," he said sharply after Saturday's game.
But it was a stern challenge against a hurry-up Mountaineers offense that spread the field and found creative ways — a behind-the-line touch pass in one instance — to get the ball to former Dunbar star Tavon Austin (11 catches, 122 yards), who burned Maryland for the second straight year.
The Terps, again wearing new uniforms (black this time) and playing in front of another sellout crowd, applied more pressure in the second half on Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith (388 passing yards) and turned a critical third-quarter interception into a touchdown.
"We had all the momentum in the first half, and for them to have every bit of momentum in the stadium and for us to finish with a field goal and then an interception said a lot about us," first-year West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "It's probably our best game … obviously."
Trailing 37-31, Maryland faced fourth-and-1 on its 35-yard line with about three minutes left. Short-yardage specialist D.J. Adams, back after a one-game suspension, converted on a 5-yard run. The Terps moved deep into West Virginia territory, but free safety Eain Smith got the angle and intercepted O'Brien's third-down pass.
O'Brien, a redshirt sophomore, was proud last season of not throwing a single interception in Maryland's five ACC wins. This season, he has been intercepted four times.
He has also passed for a combined 637 yards in two games. He was working Saturday without suspended senior wide receivers Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree — both big contributors in the opening-week win over Miami. Tyler is accused of punching a man in an off-campus fight. It's not clear why McCree, who was with Tyler at the time, was suspended.
With Tyler and McCree out, Maryland used an assortment of replacements — including punt returner Tony Logan, former quarterback Devin Burns and true freshman Marcus Leak — as wide-outs. "Missing those two receivers didn't mean a thing," Edsall insisted. "We just turned the ball over."
O'Brien's voice was flat and his expression unchanging after the game. "You can't turn the ball over three times from the quarterback position," he said. "This is the worst feeling in the world. Next week [against Temple] can't come fast enough. We feel like this team can be really good."
Edsall said O'Brien could have run on the decisive third-and-8 from the West Virginia 35. That way, Maryland could have had a fourth-down shot even if he came up short.
"I love Danny O'Brien," Edsall said. "I thought maybe he tried to put a little too much on himself. We tried to get him settled down. Danny is not going to play perfect. I know all of you want him to and we want him to."
On the sideline, Maryland defensive tackle Joe Vellano said he could almost visualize a final score of Maryland 38, West Virginia 37.
"Everybody was feeling it. It was right there in arm's reach," Vellano (three tackles) said.
Smith, the quarterback, had thrown for 232 yards through two quarters. West Virginia did not punt in the first half. At halftime, Maryland defensive coordinator Todd Bradford told players not to be hesitant in their blitzes, according to Vellano. The Terps were being cautious so as not to get burned by screen passes.
"Coach Bradford said if we're going to blitz, then blitz," Vellano said. The Terps held the Mountaineers to three fourth-quarter points.
The border-state rivalry game was played between schools from conferences whose membership could be shifting. At least two Big East schools — Pittsburgh and Syracuse — could depart for the ACC. Big East commissioner John Marinatto was at Maryland's game, but could not be reached for comment. Asked about the possible shifts, Edsall said he was focused on his own team.
Maryland trailed 34-10 before Davin Meggett's 20-yard touchdown run made it 34-16 in the third quarter. The Terps capitalized after an interception by Dexter McDougle on a tipped ball — West Virginia's third turnover. Adams followed with a 6-yard touchdown run, cutting West Virginia's lead to 34-23 with 1:20 left in the third quarter.
With the announced crowd of 53,627 (the largest since 2005) back in the game, Maryland drove 66 yards and made it 34-29 on Adams' 2-yard run with 10:29 remaining. Meggett ran in the 2-point conversion to make it 34-31.
Vellano said Edsall had challenged the Terps to raise their games in the second half and the players responded.
He said Edsall told them after the game: "If you played like [you did] in the fourth quarter, it would have been a different game."
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