West Virginia needs win to get back on bowl track

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. — MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Was last year's perfect regular season a signal that West Virginia was ready to become a bowl regular as it was in the 1980s, or a fluke?

A hundred or so people inside the program and their thousands of followers throughout the state pondered the question this week. If they're going to get a positive answer, West Virginia must beat Maryland at sold-out Mountaineer Field today. Whether recent Mountaineers seasons ended with 11 wins or five, victory over the Terps has been a sure thing.


West Virginia (1-2) has never defeated Maryland four straight times, but that could happen today in the Terps' first nonconference game of the season. The Mountaineers figure the visitors' defensive weaknesses are just the tonic for an offense that is averaging less than 10 points.

While Maryland (0-2), the only winless team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, seeks its first September victory in three seasons under coach Mark Duffner, West Virginia is looking to reverse a 1994 that has not been good to the Mountaineers.


"Everyone's frustrated a little bit, but nobody's hanging their head," Eric Boykin said. "It's still early."

Boykin, a transfer from Michigan, has surfaced as quarterback after the departure of the Jake Kelchner-Darren Studstill tandem. Neither of those two seniors could get the offense going in the 41-7 thrashing the Mountaineers received from Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and more than nine months later, the offense is still stuck in neutral.

No. 2 Nebraska shut out the Mountaineers in the Kickoff Classic, 31-0. West Virginia needed a field goal with four seconds remaining to beat Ball State, 12-10, and the offense sputtered again last week at Rutgers, a 17-12 loss in which Boykin got his first collegiate start.

"I threw 37 passes against Rutgers and 35 against Ball State off the bench," Boykin said. "That's not West Virginia football. In order to win, we've got to run the ball better."

A fairly experienced offensive line has performed below expectations, and so has junior tailback Robert Walker, who gained a school-record 1,250 yards last year.

West Virginia is buoyed by a defense that held both Ball State and Rutgers to less than 200 yards total offense, and its memories of Maryland. The Mountaineers have averaged 37.3 points during their win streak over the Terps.

The middle leg in that stretch was a memorable 34-33 Mountaineers victory in 1992, the last meeting here. The Terps had a 33-14 lead in the fourth quarter but couldn't hold on.

That was Duffner's third game as Maryland coach, and the defensive woes were just starting. There have been numerous personnel losses on the defensive line the past two years, and the interior will include Jamie Bragg and Pat Ward, converted offensive linemen. The Terps hope the shifts don't have an adverse impact on an offense that has yet to relocate the record-setting form of the past two years.


Don Nehlen, meanwhile, still isn't happy with the Associated Press pollsters.

The West Virginia coach spent last December knocking the AP voters who denied the Mountaineers a No. 2 ranking and a spot in the Orange Bowl opposite Nebraska, the nation's only other unbeaten team.

Nine months after he said his team didn't get enough respect, Nehlen feels it's getting too much.

"We got votes [in the AP poll]?" Nehlen asked incredulously about the eight points the Mountaineers received this week.

"Does my wife vote?"