COLLEGE PARK -- The Maryland football team had a chance to measure itself against one of the top five teams in the nation last night, and while the Terps were not embarrassed - and showed improvement over a year ago - they simply could not stop one of the most potent offenses in the country.
Despite the loss, Maryland's defense redeemed itself from last season's 28-0 first-quarter deficit to West Virginia, which left the team embarrassed.
Early in the game, Maryland proved the Mountaineers aren't infallible, despite their two Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton.
What the Terps couldn't do was muster much offense beyond the steady production of senior running back Keon Lattimore, or stop West Virginia from making long, game-changing plays.
Still, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said he was not discouraged.
"We've got to take this game and we've got to grow from this game," Friedgen said. "We're playing the fourth-best team in the country, and it's 14-7 at half, and we gave them that seven. ... We spotted them some points, and yet I think we can still play better than what we played, I really do."
Since their 2004 upset of No. 5-ranked Florida State, the Terps are 1-3 against teams ranked among the top five by the Associated Press.
The past two of those losses have been to border rival West Virginia - a series that will go on hiatus for the next two seasons, as Maryland has added California to its schedule instead.
Maryland's defense did what it could until it finally wore down. The Terps were held to just 89 rushing yards, though (80 of them by Lattimore), and were hurt by five penalties for a total of 58 yards.
"I don't see a moral victory here," offensive lineman Andrew Crummey said. "We had a great opportunity. I think we're a great team. I think we could've played better today. ... There are some positives, of course; there are always positives in a loss, but it's a loss, and it's one we shouldn't have lost. We shot ourselves in the foot in key moments."
White and Slaton combined for four rushing touchdowns. Slaton had 26 carries for 137 yards and three touchdowns. They weren't the only ones giving Maryland headaches.
Late in the third quarter, West Virginia backup running back Noel Devine escaped for a 76-yard run and was stopped 1 yard short of the end zone. It was the Mountaineers' longest run of the year and tied the school record for the longest nonscoring run.
Slaton ran it in for the score with 1:53 remaining, putting the Mountaineers ahead 28-7. Devine finished with five carries for 136 yards.
"I didn't realize he's as fast as he is," Friedgen said. "He's as fast as Slaton. He's pretty elusive, too."
In the second quarter, West Virginia's bruising 6-foot-3, 260-pound fullback, Owen Schmitt, rumbled 44 yards to Maryland's 23-yard line, but the Mountaineers were forced to try a field goal and Pat McAfee's 32-yard attempt went wide left.
With about 10 minutes remaining in the game and the Terps trailing 31-7, many of the students clad in their black T-shirts for the "blackout" had filed out.
They might have missed Maryland quarterback Jordan Steffy throw his first touchdown pass of the season - a 22-yarder to Danny Oquendo in the fourth quarter - but by then the game seemed out of reach.
"We're never going to give up, regardless of what the score is," said Steffy, who completed 16 of 23 passes for 180 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. "Obviously there are still things we have to work on as an offense. We have to come out and play a full game. The good thing about that is we still have nine more opportunities to come out and get better and continuously progress. ... All of our goals are still there."
Darrius Heyward-Bey, the team's top receiver, caught the ball three times last night for 56 yards. But the Terps again relied on Lattimore, who finished with 80 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries, and also led the team with four receptions.
"Would we like to open it up a little bit more? Sure, but there's a reason behind everything he does," said Steffy, who was sacked five times. "I'm definitely no one to question what Coach does."
Steffy fumbled in the first four seconds, leading to a quick West Virginia touchdown off a 22-yard run by White. It could have been a scary start for the Terps, considering last year's first-quarter debacle, but Steffy quickly regrouped.
He returned to the sideline and proceeded to take a few practice snaps with center Edwin Williams. He also got a few pats of encouragement from Williams and Lattimore, and when the Terps took the field again, it was as if it fumble had never happened.
Steffy led Maryland on a 75-yard scoring drive, which was highlighted by a 33-yard pass to Heyward-Bey, and punctuated with a 4-yard touchdown run by Lattimore. The Terps had tied the game at 7 with 9:53 left in the first quarter.
"They way we started again, I was concerned," Friedgen said. "I thought, 'Here we go again.' But our kids didn't do that."
>>>Maryland @Wake Forest Sept. 22, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU, 105.7 FM, 1300 AM