Maryland-West Virginia Preview
With two blowout wins and a quarterback with as many touchdown passes as incompletions, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen hasn't had much to criticize.
However, one area where he'd like to see improvement is in closing out opponents - something his team struggled to do last season against Maryland.
The eighth-ranked Mountaineers go for their seventh consecutive victory over the Terrapins on Saturday in Morgantown.
In its first season in the Big 12 after winning the Big East title in 2011, West Virginia (2-0) has defeated Marshall 69-34 and FCS opponent James Madison 42-12.
Senior Geno Smith has nine incompletions in 75 attempts and has thrown for 734 yards and nine touchdowns, leading the nation's third-ranked offense (612.0 yards per game).
Smith hasn't been sacked, and Holgorsen has praised him for being "perfect on turnovers."
However, Smith and the Mountaineers have some second-half flaws to fix before opening conference play Sept. 29 versus Baylor. West Virginia holds a 64-13 scoring edge in the first half, but that advantage is just 49-33 after the break.
"We need to start faster in the second half and we need to finish people," said Holgorsen, whose team outscored the Dukes 14-9 in the second half last Saturday at FedEx Field.
West Virginia had a similar problem in a 37-31 victory in College Park last Sept. 17, getting outscored 21-10 in the final 30 minutes.
Maryland (2-1), though, is a much different - and younger - team this season. Coach Randy Edsall already has played 12 true freshmen, including starting quarterback Perry Hills, who earned the job last month after C.J. Brown suffered a torn ACL.
Hills completed 10 of 24 passes for a season-low 109 yards in last Saturday's 24-21 loss to Connecticut. He's been sacked 10 times over the last two games, and the Mountaineers have every intention of maintaining that pressure and Holgorsen plans to give "looks to try to confuse him."
"He's a good looking kid that is trying to figure things out," said Holgorsen, whose team had four sacks last Saturday. "What they're going through is what we'd be going through if we had to start (freshman quarterback) Ford Childress."
The Terrapins have been solid against the pass - they rank sixth in the nation with 124.3 yards allowed per game - but they haven't faced a quarterback like Smith or a wide receiving corps with the talent of Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
Bailey caught a career-high 13 passes for 173 yards and a career-best three TDs against James Madison, while Austin had 11 receptions for 113 yards and a score.
"Anyone can tell you that I don't have a favorite receiver, I don't have a go-to guy," Smith said after throwing for 411 yards and five TDs. "It's just I'm going to find the guy who's open and I'm going to get him the ball."
While Harris tops the Terrapins with 38 rushing attempts but averages 1.2 yards per carry, Holgorsen also can expect to see the ball in Stefon Diggs' hands a lot. The Maryland freshman is tied for the team lead in receptions with nine and he's posting 147.0 all-purpose yards per game, ranking among the top 25 in the FBS in both kickoff and punt return average.
"It's about our coverage units," Holgorsen said. "We spend a lot of time on kickoff coverage, we spend a lot of time on punt coverage and we gotta get people down the field and we've got to make tackles."
The Mountaineers are 74th in the FBS in kickoff return yardage defense (21.3) and 96th (13.0) in punt return defense.
West Virginia has won six straight in this series, including three in Morgantown, since a 41-7 Gator Bowl loss to the Terps to close the 2003 season.