All-purpose runners get billing for Md, No. 8 WVU
Both wear jersey No. 1 and went to high school an hour apart in Maryland. And there's a good chance that West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Terrapins freshman Stefon Diggs will be difference makers in their teams' rivalry game.
Austin, last year's all-purpose yards leader in the Football Bowl Subdivision, will be looking for his third straight solid effort against Maryland (2-1) when the Terrapins play at No. 8 West Virginia (2-0) on Saturday.
Austin is a Baltimore native who played running back at Dunbar High School before switching to wide receiver in college. The senior will cap his career against his home-state team that lost out to the Mountaineers in the recruiting war for him.
With family watching and his grandmother's annual teasing of ''whatever you do, don't lose to Maryland'' hanging over his head, Austin has some extra incentive, as do nine other Maryland natives on West Virginia's roster.
''I try to approach every game the same,'' Austin said. ''But the coaches trust me and they give me the opportunities, so I try to take advantage of them.''
Austin is averaging nine catches for 114 yards in two games against Maryland and is closing in on West Virginia's career receptions record. He needs 12 catches to surpass Jock Sanders, who set the record of 206 receptions from 2007-10. He's also on pace to break Noel Devine's school record for career all-purpose yards.
Diggs was the consensus top recruit in Maryland last year out of Olney's Good Counsel High, and he picked the Terrapins from among 40 scholarship offers.
He was one of the few bright spots for Maryland last week in a 24-21 loss to Connecticut, accounting for 223 all-purpose yards, including a 29-yard TD reception.
Diggs ranks 26th nationally in all-purpose yards at 154 per game, a few yards behind Austin, who is 22nd.
''He's definitely doing some things that remind me of myself,'' Austin said.
Heavy favorite West Virginia is going after its seventh straight win in the series and will be pressed to keep up the frenetic pace of averaging 55 points and 612 yards per game.
Coach Dana Holgorsen likes to spread the wealth and get as many opportunities as he can for his best athletes. That starts with quarterback Geno Smith, but it also means having several do-everything ball carriers, with three ranking among the top 50 in the country in all-purpose yards.
Receiver Stedman Bailey, boosted by some kickoff returns, is averaging a few yards more than Austin, while running back Andrew Buie also returns kicks and is averaging 13 yards per reception. Buie's 121 receiving yards are more than he had all of last year.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall is 1-7 against the Mountaineers with his lone win coming as Connecticut's coach in 2010. His hope is that West Virginia will be forced into long drives and will eventually wear down.
Maryland is giving up just 124 yards through the air per game but hasn't faced a team that slings the ball like the Mountaineers.
''It presents a tremendous challenge,'' Edsall said. ''We just have to make sure our guys do their job and play as hard as they can.''
Through two games, Smith has thrown for as many touchdowns as incompletions - nine. He's averaging 367 passing yards and this year he's already set school career passing marks for completions, touchdowns and yards.
''He knows where to go with the ball,'' Edsall said. ''He throws the ball on time. He's athletic. He can also beat you with his feet. The thing that I've been a little bit more impressed with having the opportunity to play him for the last few years is he's gotten a lot stronger. He's tougher to get down in the pocket.''
West Virginia's Big 12 opener is Sept. 29 at home against Baylor, something the Mountaineers have looked forward to since announcing last year that they was leaving the Big East.
Smith wants that excitement to hold off until next week.
''We understand that Maryland is a really tough team,'' Smith said. ''Pretty much any team can be beaten on any given Saturday. We have a goal that we want to achieve and we don't want anything to deter us from that.''
Maryland is one of the few schools from the eastern part of the country that West Virginia still plays regularly. The Mountaineers no longer face teams it enjoyed longtime series with, including Penn State, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Pittsburgh, although WVU has indicated it wants to renew the series with the Panthers.
Maryland is on West Virginia's schedule at least through 2017.
''I think from a fan base that this one is pretty important,'' Holgorsen said. ''It's going to mean a lot to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. From a regional standpoint, it's very important.''