COLLEGE PARK -- So what if West Virginia was without its top offensive threat.
So what if precipitation that began as a mist and ended as a downpour made running hard and passing harder.
The plain truth at soldout Byrd Stadium last night was that Maryland's defense dominated West Virginia and set up a 31-17 victory that meant the Terps have a chance to match their best start in 17 years.
A soggy gathering of 48,055, the largest at Maryland in 10 years, saw the Terps improve to 3-0 for the first time since 1986. They haven't begun a season with four straight wins since the 1978 team started 8-0, and coach Mark Duffner's team will surely be favored when Duke comes to Byrd next Saturday.
The Terps turned off the lights on the Mountaineers, literally and figuratively, as the power to the light towers went out as the jubilant Terps were making their way through thousands of fellow students on their way to the locker room.
Here's the scorecard for a defense that two years ago set an NCAA record for yards allowed in a season:
* With tailback Robert Walker out with a sprained ankle, the Mountaineers mustered 211 yards total offense, the fewest the Terps have allowed in the three-plus seasons under Duffner.
* West Virginia committed seven turnovers, and six of them were caused by Maryland's defense.
* The Terps kept West Virginia out of the end zone for 40 minutes, as the Mountaineers' first touchdown was provided by their defense in the form of a 49-yard interception return by Aaron Beasley that kept the visitors in the game.
The pivotal juncture came with three minutes to go in the third quarter. Two minutes earlier, West Virginia had crept within 24-17 with its only offensive touchdown. When the Maryland offense exited after three plays, the Mountaineers were another drive away from tying the game or going ahead.
On first down, sophomore defensive end Eric Ogbogu separated quarterback Chad Johnston from the ball, and linebacker Ratcliff Thomas had his second fumble recovery of the game.
In quick order, sophomore quarterback Brian Cummings completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Lewis, and the lead was back to two touchdowns.
It was a milestone play for Lewis, as he set Maryland records with his 135th career catch and 19th touchdown reception. Sophomore superback Buddy Rodgers rushed for 112 yards, but on a night when the offense committed its first four turnovers of the season, it was the defense's turn to crow.
The Terps also got another boost from their special teams, as the punt return unit harassed West Virginia's Brian West into several feeble efforts; junior Joe O'Donnell stroked the longest field goal of his career, a 47-yarder, and the Mountaineers' fumbled away one of his kickoffs, which led to the Terps' second touchdown.
The ball-hawking was necessary, as the offense struggled after moving ahead 14-3, but awoke in time to join in the fun.
Ahead 14-10, Maryland moved 55 yards on its first possession of the second half, as junior wide receiver Mancel Johnson turned an outside screen into a 24-yard touchdown with 12:11 to go in the half. On their next possession, O'Donnell got the lead up to 24-10 with his 47-yard field goal.
As the second quarter began, the Terps appeared on their way to a comfortable win. West mishandled a snap and had his kick measure minus-nine yards. Maryland took over at the Mountaineers' 35-yard line, but then the Terps offense began making the mistakes it had avoided in the first nine quarters of the season.
Outside receiver Lewis took a reverse from Cummings and ran 34 yards untouched into the end zone for an apparent 20-3 lead, but right tackle John Feugill was flagged for an illegal block.
Three of the Terps' four possessions in the second quarter ended in turnovers, allowing West Virginia to trail 14-10 at the half.
Three plays after Lewis' run was wiped out, Cummings threw over the middle to slot receiver Richard Roberts, who tipped the ball into the hands of linebacker J. T. Thomas, who returned it 38 yards to the Terps' 33-yard line.
The Mountaineers handed the ball right back, when a bad handoff between Johnston and tailback Jimmy Gary resulted in a fumble, which was recovered by Thomas.
After a Terps punt and an interception of Johnston by A. J. Johnson -- his fourth of the year -- Cummings was burned on a sideline route by Beasley, the Mountaineers' All-America cornerback.
Beasley stepped in front of Cummings' pass to freshman Bruce James and returned the interception 49 yards to cut the Maryland lead to 14-10 with 7:01 left in the half. It was Beasley's 16th career interception, and the third he's returned for a touchdown.
The Terps drove 57 yards to the Mountaineers' 8-yard line with less than two minutes to go in the half, but on first-and-goal, Cummings fumbled the snap in shotgun formation.
That turnover negated Maryland's first solid drive since the first quarter, when it needed just 76 seconds to turn a 3-0 deficit into a 14-3 lead.
Rodgers put the Terps on top with a rambling 54-yard touchdown run that featured a huge block downfield from 321-pound tackle Darryl Gilliam, who had a full head of steam going and a 130-pound advantage when he leveled free safety Vann Washington.
West Virginia's Wilkie Perez fumbled O'Donnell's kickoff, and Andre Hentz recovered on the Mountaineers' 23-yard line. On first down from the 11, Cummings faked to Brian Underwood up the middle and ran around the right side, where he beat two defenders to the corner for a 14-3 lead with 3:29 left in the half.
There were seven turnovers in the first half, four by West Virginia and three by Maryland.