The Terrance West of old would have reacted to a pair of fumbles with a few choice words directed at anyone who happened to be nearby.
But after two early turnovers last Saturday, No. 3 Towson's junior running back channeled his rage into redeeming himself. For West, redemption was 28 carries for 238 yards and thee touchdowns in the Tigers' 44-28 victory over then-No. 19 New Hampshire.
"It surprised me a lot because I don't know what happened," said West, who had not lost a fumble in his previous 12 games. "The first two quarters, a lot of things were going through my head, but I just came to the conclusion that I'm bigger than that and I'm stronger than that. I just had to fight through it. Any obstacle that is thrown my way, I've overcome. I knew that this team depended on me and I had to come up big. The game is never won in the first, second or third quarter. It's all about playing all four quarters and finishing strong."
The Baltimore native and Northwestern graduate figures to play a key role Saturday when the undefeated Tigers welcome No. 15 Villanova to Johnny Unitas Stadium at 7 p.m. in a matchup of Colonial Athletic Association preseason favorites. The Wildcats (3-2, 2-CAA) were picked to capture the conference title, while Towson (6-0, 2-0) was expected to finish second.
Villanova coach Andy Talley called West, who leads the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing touchdowns (15) and ranks second in rushing yards (886 yards), the best running back in the nation.
"A pro prospect and a guy that when you play against him, you don't think about how you're going to stop him, because I don't think you can stop him," Talley said. "You do hope to slow him down, and the challenge is that their play-action passing game off a lot of the run stuff to him is the other thing that keeps you honest and keeps you balanced. So it's really hard."
Andy Gresh, a college football analyst for Comcast SportsNet New England, said West ranks among the CAA's best running backs all time, a group that includes former Philadelphia Eagle Brian Westbrook (Villanova) and former Chicago Bear Jerry Azumah (New Hampshire).
"The funny thing is, people always say that you have to take away the best player, you have to take away this or take away that. People load up for Terrance West, and they still give him the rock and eventually, he ends up getting his yards," Gresh said. "He's got a nose for the end zone."
West's athletic accomplishments — he is already the program's all-time scoring leader (354 points) and ranks second in rushing (3,226 yards) — are well known, but it is his emotional growth that has impressed coach Rob Ambrose.
Ambrose said West has learned to forget his last play, whether it is cause for celebration or concern.
"To be successful, it's got to be a next-play mentality," Ambrose said. "If you score on a 100-yard run or you fumble the ball and give up six [points] and you're hanging on the last play, we're not going forward. He's a much more intelligent, game-savvy player, and he understands how we act is almost as important as what we do. As a coach, the goal is to win games so that you keep getting paid, but the real fun of the job is watching them grow up, and he's a joy."
West's maturation might have been spurred by a controversial, since-deleted tweet. After he did not play in a loss to Old Dominion last Oct. 20, West tweeted, "It's been good Towson !!!!!," seemingly indicating that he was leaving the school. While saying he did not regret anything he has done in the past, West insisted that he has changed.
"I just matured a lot," he said. "I just realized that it's bigger than me and it's more about my teammates. I would do anything to get a win. I'm just a better person."
Senior left tackle Eric Pike said he has noticed that West has adjusted his approach to game preparation.
"He's more focused, he's become a better team player, and he's become a fuller running back in pass blocking and running the ball," Pike said. "And he's starting to look at film and look at how defenses are trying to stop the run. So he's doing what he can do to set up his blocks and help the team out."
West is well on his way to eclipsing Jason Corle's school record of 3,601 career yards, and he has a chance at shattering his own single-season mark of 29 touchdowns. But those accolades won't mean much to West if the Tigers aren't competing for a national title in the postseason.
"I forget how many touchdowns I've gotten," he said. "What's most important is having that 'W' at the end of the game. Everything takes care of itself. I'm happy with my 15 touchdowns. Who wouldn't be happy with that? It feels good. But looking at the bigger picture, we're 6-0 and we're getting our wins. Whatever I'm bringing to the table and contributing, it's not just me. It's not like I'm getting 15 touchdowns and we're losing. So the big picture is winning."
Villanova (3-2, 2-0 Colonial Athletic Association) at Towson (6-0, 2-0)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Site: Johnny Unitas Stadium
Series: Villanova leads, 5-4
What's at stake: The crowded mass of teams at the top of the Colonial Athletic Association was winnowed down to three, and two of the teams with unblemished league records are Towson and Villanova. The Tigers, ranked No. 3 in the The Sports Network’s latest Football Championship Subdivision poll, overcame a 20-3 deficit in the first quarter last week to outlast then-No. 19 New Hampshire, 44-28. Towson has won 10 straight games, relying on the play of junior running back Terrance West (886 yards and 15 touchdowns) and a defense that ranks 12th in the country in yards allowed per game (301.8 yards). The Tigers have won the past two meetings, but the teams have split their four games played at Johnny Unitas Stadium. This game will be Towson’s last at home until November. After a 0-2 start, Villanova has won three straight.
Key matchup: Both teams boast stingy defenses. The Wildcats rank fifth in the country by allowing opponents to average just 15.8 points per game. During its three game-winning streak, Villanova surrendered just 28 points total. The Tigers are just one spot behind the Wildcats in the national rankings, permitting an average of 16.3 points. Both defenses will try to make moving the ball a difficult chore.
Player to watch: The Tigers defense should worry about Villanova’s John Robertson. The sophomore quarterback has connected on 67.5 percent (77-of-114) of his passes for 882 yards and five touchdowns, and he also leads the team in rushing with 76 carries for 443 yards and five scores. Last season, Robertson completed 17-of-23 passes for 216 yards and a season-high four touchdowns and rushed 21 times for 27 yards (including sacks) and one score in a Towson win.