By Tony Viola
MORGANTOWN - Once a regular occurrence, it's now on a limited basis the West Virginia Mountaineers get to face a rival.
Today, WVU will get the chance to for the first and only time this season as the Mountaineers travel to Baltimore to take on long time rival Maryland.
"I can't tell you how excited our team is to play Maryland this week," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We got going on Sunday and immediately put the Georgia State game to rest. It's something our boys are looking forward to. We don't have many regional rivalries left - this is the only one that we play this year."
Today's game will mark the 49th meeting between the two schools since 1919.
"Our guys are familiar with Maryland, and we're excited to play them," Holgorsen said. "They're a different team than they were the last couple years. You can see offensively that it's a different unit with (senior quarterback) C.J. Brown. He's had a good year so far and brings balance to the offense. He's very athletic and has athletic guys around him. They want to be balanced in the run and the pass."
Through Maryland's first three games, the Terps' offense has totaled over 500 yards and has outscored it's opponents 138-33.
Brown missed last season with a knee injury he sustained in preseason camp, but has bounced back to throw for 833 yards, while completing 67 percent of his passes and has a 6-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Brown's arm isn't his only weapon that can hurt the Mountaineers as he's one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation and has totaled 257 rush yards along with five touchdowns.
When Brown isn't running wild outside the pocket, he'll look for sophomore receiver Stefon Diggs, who ranks 13th nationally with 177 all-purpose yards and is coming off a five catch, 110-yard performance in Maryland's 32-21 victory against Connecticut.
One of those five catches was for a 12-yard touchdown, making it five out of the last seven games, dating back to last season, Diggs has a receiving score.
As a freshman, Diggs set the ACC Freshman All-Purpose Yardage record as he averaged 172 per game, a mark that had not been broken in more than 20 years.
"Tavon (Austin) and Diggs are pretty similar," Holgorsen pointed out. "They're both from Baltimore and receivers and returners. He's proven to have big play potential. He's probably a little better at downfield play than Tavon. Tavon didn't have just the downfield potential. His thing was to get the ball and go score.
"We haven't faced the passing attempt like this yet. Do we feel better about where we are defensively? Yes, absolutely. Do we have it all figured out? No. Maryland is going to bring some bigger challenges. They have the ability.
Oklahoma State and Baylor, our next two opponents, are also going to have a lot of ability. So this will be the game where we see where we are at."
Speaking of defense, the Terps are pretty sound there, too.
Maryland's D totaled six sacks, forced two interceptions and held the Huskies to 25 rushing yards last week. On the season, Maryland has held its opponents to 96.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the ACC and is tied for 14th nationally.
The Terps also rank first in the nation with 15 sacks led by linebacker Marcus Whitfield, who has accounted for a national best 5.5 of them.
"They're going to pressure," Holgorsen said of Maryland's defense. "One of the things we didn't do well last week was identifying the zero blitz. We need enough time to get rid of the ball. (Georgia State) did it six times, got to us twice and hit us twice, and we did the right thing twice. That's not good enough. Maryland will zero blitz us and pressure us. They might do it every single snap. If they do, we have to handle it. They played back against Old Dominion because they don't run the ball. I think we've shown that we can run the ball and I think they'll play up."
That could pose a problem for Mountaineers quarterback Ford Childress, who will make his second career start at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.
"He needs to improve on sense of urgency," Holgorsen said of his redshirt freshman quarterback. "He's night and day better right now than he was a year ago. That said, his sense of urgency needs to pick up because the speed of the game is going to increase. Maryland has great team speed. He needs to make reads quicker and his footwork and release need to be quicker."
A key advantage for Childress is his 6-foot-5 stature which gives him the ability to look over the linemen and find the receivers down field.
Another key for the Mountaineers is the fact that, despite having to travel, the game will be played at a neutral site instead of College Park.
"It's easier," Holgorsen said. "The facilities are good and it's not a 100 percent home crowd. It's much like the Big East was. When you went to Pitt, West Virginia had a lot of people. When I went to South Florida, there were a bunch of West Virginia people. Facility wise, we know it's going to be great. We know that from last year at Fed Ex Field. Our guys get jacked up about that. It's a big stage. Much like Mountaineer Field is, the other nine opponents in the Big 12 have 95 percent fans from their own team. I don't view this as an away game, it's more like a neutral site game. I know it is a home game for Maryland, but I feel like we'll travel pretty well and there will be some Mountaineer energy there."