West Virginia's Air Raid offense will test Maryland pass defense
By By Matt Zenitz
Baltimore Sun Media Group|
Sep 10, 2014 | 7:11 PM
COLLEGE PARK — Through two games, Clint Trickett's numbers look like those that Geno Smith posted during his final season as a West Virginia quarterback in 2012.
Trickett has thrown for an average of 365 yards per game, completed 75 percent of his passes and has helped the Mountaineers score 77 points through those first two games.
Maryland beat West Virginia 37-0 in Baltimore last season. However, the Terps' pass defense is going to be challenged by Trickett and an improved Mountaineers passing game Saturday.
There could be issues if the pass defense isn't better than it was against South Florida last week.
"Any week's a test, but this week's a different test because of how explosive they can be on offense and how much their offense is predicated on Air Raid and getting the ball out there," Maryland outside linebacker Matt Robinson said.
The numbers for the Terps' pass defense are actually pretty good so far.
James Madison quarterback Vad Lee, a Georgia Tech transfer, was just 16 of 37 for 141 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions during the Dukes' 52-7 loss to Maryland in Week 1. South Florida quarterback Steven Bench was then just 14 of 36 for a modest 162 yards, no touchdowns and an interception vs. the Terps last week.
But Bench's numbers are deceiving. Bulls coach Willie Taggart estimated after the game that South Florida pass-catchers dropped around eight passes.
Even with the drops, Bench completed six passes that went for gains of 15 yards or more, including three that went for gains of 21 yards or more.
That has to be a concern considering Bench is a backup quarterback who completed just 41 percent of his passes last season.
South Florida was also playing without its top wide receiver, Andre Davis, who missed the game because of a sternum injury.
"I think we're playing hard on defense, [but] we're still giving up too many big plays," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said.
That's not a good thing going into a game against West Virginia.
Trickett hasn't completed a pass longer than 32 yards. However, he had seven completions that went for gains of 19 yards or more against a typically stout Alabama defense in Week 1, and he finished that game 29 of 45 for 365 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Trickett was then 35 of 40 for 348 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in less than four quarters during the Mountaineers' 54-0 win over Towson last week.
Trickett, a Florida State transfer, threw nine interceptions and just nine touchdowns while completing only 53 percent of his passes in eight games last season. However, Maryland coaches and players say he has looked good on film during West Virginia's first two games.
"I think Trickett's right on time," Terps defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. "I think he's doing a good job. He has this offense operating at a high rate and fast speed."
Trickett doesn't have the weapons that Smith did in 2012, when West Virginia had future NFL draft picks Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey at wide receiver.
However, senior Kevin White is a returning starter who has 19 catches for 244 yards and a touchdown.
Wide receivers Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson also have double-digit catches.
"Last year, those guys were learning the offense and learning to catch the signals on the run," Stewart said. "But they have a whole full year of that, a whole spring. And now, everybody's hitting it on all cylinders."
Quarterback Ford Childress was just 11 of 22 for 62 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for West Virginia during that 37-point loss to Maryland last season. But Trickett is the man in charge now, and he has the Mountaineers' passing game looking as potent as it as since Smith, Austin and Bailey last stepped on the field.
"I just think the main thing we've got to do is play our defense," Stewart said. "We're a 3-4 pressure defense. We've got to make sure that we put pressure on the routes, put pressure on the QB and — no matter who he's throwing to — [make sure] we're there that we can contest the catch."