West Virginia football fittingly embarks on its 130th season by reigniting one of its oldest rivalries with the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
As each program enters the third season under their respective head coaches, they are both looking to an important 2021 campaign to show marked signs of improvement after a trying 2020. WVU notched its first winning season under Neal Brown last year, earning a 6-4 mark capped off by a win in the Liberty Bowl over Army. Maryland played a truncated season due to COVID-19, finishing 2-3 for the team’s best winning percentage under Mike Locksley.
The two relatively new coaching staffs will renew an age-old clash between the Mountaineers and the Terrapins as the teams meet for the first time since 2015. WVU and Maryland have squared off a total of 52 times since 1919, with the Mountaineers leading the all-time series 28-22, with two ties. In fact, recent trends greatly favor West Virginia, as it has taken nine of the last 10 meetings with its regional rival.
Of course, Brown and his team have much more on their mind than historical box scores and old recruiting battles. The Terrapins will be the first time WVU opens its season with an FBS opponent since Brown put on the headset in Morgantown, and it will be the first time they start the season in enemy territory. The head coach is looking forward to this challenge, as it gives him and his team the opportunity to recoup after going winless on the road in 2020.
“I’m excited about starting off the season, I’m glad we’re on the road to start off, I really am,” Brown said. “We had some struggles there last year, so we’re looking to play much improved than we did a year ago on the road.”
Here are some of the top storylines heading in to week one:
Maryland is bringing back an astounding 86 percent of its offensive production from a year ago. This is headlined by the return of starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, giving Locksley a luxury he hasn’t had as a head coach.
Tagovailoa — yes, the brother of Tua Tagovailoa, a former Locksley pupil and current Miami Dolphin — gets to line up with all of his receivers from a year ago, so it might seem like the scouting report is easy for the Mountaineers. On the contrary, they’ll have a new offensive coordinator in Dan Enos making the calls, leaving Brown and company to make their best guess on what they’ll see from the Terps.
Similarly, WVU is bringing back its biggest playmaker in running back Leddie Brown, and quarterback Jarret Doege. The Mountaineer coaching staff has been vocal about Leddie’s indispensability to the team’s offense, saying that the scheme will flow through the Philadelphia native. Doege has likewise been touted as new-and-improved after a rough ending to his first full season as a WVU starter — he spent the offseason working to improve timing with his receivers, better his pocket presence and change his body with the hopes it will pay off in 2021.
“I think I had a really good camp, to be honest,” Doege said. “I wanted to accomplish some things that we talked about, a little pocket movement and the deep ball, and I think that I showed through fall camp that I could move around in the pocket, get some yards when I needed to, and that my deep ball was on point as well.”
Some young faces at WVU primed for playing time
While the Old Gold and Blue core will largely resemble the squad from 2020, Brown says he will be calling on a lot of new names to make some plays this fall.
Right guard Doug Nester will be the most prominent name on that list. A native West Virginian himself, Nester joined the Mountaineers in the offseason as a transfer from Virginia Tech. He will line up against another newcomer — freshman tackle Wyatt Milum — at some point during the game, as he is listed as a possible starter on the team’s depth chart.
There will be plenty of new names in the rotation on defense, including transfer linebackers Charles Woods and Lance Dixon. This experience is critical, however, in the secondary, as Brown’s staff hopes to get some much-needed playing time for the team’s depth defensive backs.
“The only spot that we’re really young is in the back end, our second group in the back end is inexperienced,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to get them playing time. It’s important. These first three games of non-conference play, we’ve got to get them experience by the time we get to Oklahoma.”
Kickoff between the Terrapins and the Mountaineers is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, and the game will be shown on ESPN. Be sure to start your Saturday with The Neal Brown Show and Mountaineer GameDay, airing on AT&T SportsNet and Nexstar stations across West Virginia — be sure to check your local listings.