Occasionally during training camp, Maryland football players couldn't help but smile as they sprinted through plays at a pace that was tiring just to watch.
The Terps (1-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) were laughing at their own predicament — at being asked to speed up their offense until their chests heaved and they were drenched in sweat.
Maryland's defense had to follow at the same speed.
"At practice, all Coach Crow [offensive coordinator Gary Crowton] is saying is, 'Go fast, go fast!'" wide receiver Kerry Boykins said. "You never can go too fast for him."
As it prepared to face No. 18 West Virginia (2-0, 0-0 Big East) on Saturday, Maryland's tempo was the most obvious difference between this season's team and last.
"We'll run about four plays in 50 seconds," cornerback Cameron Chism said.
The no-huddle offense is not as fast as the one Oregon used in advancing to last season's national championship game. Crowton is a former Oregon assistant who says his "inner nature" is to be "exciting and open and fast-paced."
But Maryland's offense has a similar intent — to wear defenses down. It can make it tough on opponents to bring defensive packages into the game. And by increasing its number of plays, Maryland maximizes its chances of springing a receiver or running back for a long gain.
Last season, Maryland ran an average of 63 plays a game. In five of their 13 games, the Terps ran 60 or fewer plays.
In its 32-24 opening-game victory over Miami on Sept. 5, Maryland had 78 plays and gained 499 yards. It was the program's highest offensive output since totaling 524 yards against North Carolina in 2005.
As quickly as Maryland hustled to the line against the Hurricanes, it moves faster in practice. It's particularly challenging when a player has raced far downfield and must sprint back to the line before the next snap.
"We're still getting used to it," said quarterback Danny O'Brien, who compared the style to a fast break in basketball. "People are still hurting out there in practice. The tempo during practice is ridiculous."
But O'Brien sees the value in it.
"It's making us better," the redshirt sophomore said. By the time Saturday arrives, he said, the game can seem "kind of slow" by comparison.
Conditioning will figure prominently in the offense's success or failure as the season progresses.
"I'm in a different kind of shape than I've ever been in — Little League, high school — and I'm sure I'm not the only one," said running back D.J. Adams, who returns Saturday from a one-game suspension for an unspecified rules violation.
O'Brien believes the offense — which he describes as "pro-style stuff but we get the ball out quickly" — will appeal to recruits because of its number of plays and relentless motion.
"It's an explosive offense," O'Brien said . "If you're a high school kid, it really offers you an opportunity to showcase your skills."
Maryland will be tested by a West Virginia team that took a 28-0 lead last season in winning, 31-17, in Morgantown, W.Va.
The Terps struggled with the speed of wide receiver Tavon Austin (Dunbar), who had seven catches and two touchdowns. This season, Austin has a 100-yard kickoff-return touchdown. He injured a finger last week in a win over Norfolk State but was expected to play.
West Virginia's offense is "very similar to what we do here at Maryland," coach Randy Edsall said. "It's up-tempo. It's a lot of three wide receivers, four wide receivers in there,"
The Terps were off last Saturday and have had 12 days to prepare.
Maryland must play without wide receivers Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree — both suspended Thursday by Edsall.
Tyler had allegedly punched a man near an off-campus 7-Eleven store late Wednesday night, authorities said. "Our officer was out near the 7-Eleven on Knox Road in College Park," said Marc Limansky, spokesman for the University of Maryland Department of Public Safety. "He hears an argument going on and looks over and sees one guy punch another guy. He takes off and chases him. It was this guy Tyler."
The man allegedly punched was not a student. His birth year is listed as 1978, which makes him 32 or 33.
Tyler's family would not comment on the allegations.
McCree was with Tyler at the time, "but he was not involved in the altercation," Limansky said. It's unclear why McCree was suspended. McCree said in an interview last week that his classroom work had been improving, owing partly, he said, to Edsall's concentration on academics.
Saturday's is the first road game for West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen, the former "coach-in-waiting" who took over for Bill Stewart in June.
Maryland had the seventh-largest Byrd Stadium crowd for the Miami game — an announced 52,875 — and hoped for another big audience against a well-known border rival.
"We've got to learn how to be on the road," Holgorsen said.
West Virginia (2-0, 0-0 Big East) vs. Maryland (1-0, 1-0 ACC)
Time: Saturday, Noon
Site: Byrd Stadium
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM
Series: West Virginia leads 24-21-2.
Maryland offense vs. West Virginia defense: Maryland comes off a 499-yard outing against Miami and regains suspended RB D.J. Adams, an important short-yardage specialist last season. West Virginia's defense has yet to be tested in wins over Marshall and Norfolk State. The defense has not surrendered a touchdown, although the Mountaineers yielded a punt-return touchdown against Marshall.
Maryland defense vs. West Virginia offense: Maryland was burned last season by WR Tavon Austin (Dunbar) and QB Geno Smith. Smith has a 66.7 percent completion rate this season with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. But West Virginia fans have been concerned about the running game, which has 144 yards through two games. With 2010 leading rusher Noel Devine gone, Vernard Roberts leads with 76 yards and a 3.2-yard average.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun