COLLEGE PARK, Md. –The last time West Virginia played a road game, the Mountaineers suffered one of their worst performances in two seasons from Neal Brown, falling to Iowa State 42-6.
He wrapped up a winless 2020 season on the road to West Virginia, which seeks to exorcise those demons when the 2021 campaign kicks off Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Maryland at Capital One Field.
The first meeting between the Mountaineers and the Terrapins since 2015 will air on ESPN and provide Brown with an opportunity to build confidence at the start of the season in the locker room after last year’s struggles away from home.
“I’m glad we’re on the right track to start. I really am, ”Brown said. “We had some difficulties there last year. We’re looking to play a lot better than a year ago on the road.
Maryland, who finished 2-3 last season, will feature Taulia Tagovailoa as quarterback. A junior, Tagovailoa is the younger brother of former Alabama star and Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He had 1,011 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2020.
“We absolutely have to make sure with Taulia that we continue to get him to make good decisions,” said Maryland coach Mike Locksley. “He’s at a very comfortable level with the receivers now after being here a year and a half with these guys and this summer doing things with player-led practices and developing the chemistry. We’ll see this Saturday if all the hard work and things he’s done pay off and get him to come out and play really well for us.
Tagovailoa has dangerous weapons, including Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakim Jarrett. In the shortened five-game season, the duo combined 41 receptions, 617 yards and six touchdowns.
“As far as the receiver goes, maybe as talented as anyone we’re going to play with this year,” said Brown. “They’ve probably got four to six quality guys on the receiver. It starts with Demus and Jarrett and these guys are NFL players.
Tayon Fleet-Davis will be a star hatchback. He played an expanded role in 2018 and 2019, but only played one game last season for disciplinary reasons.
The Terrapins will look to move the ball against a unit that sends back several key contributors to what was college football’s best passing defense last season.
Defensive linemen Dante Stills and Akheem Mesidor anchor the forward, while Josh Chander-Semedo is the most experienced linebacker.
The secondary lost two strengths last season against the transfer portal to Tykee Smith and Dreshun Miller, but returned a wealth of safety experience Alonzo Addae and Sean Mahone, as well as cornerback Nicktroy Fortune. Senior safety Scottie Young could be a big factor after he was transferred from Arizona and sidelined last season until the Liberty Bowl win over Army.
“They were one of the top ranked defenses in the country and they were really well trained,” said Locksley. “They do a great job creating turnovers and had the number one pass defense in the country. Very high in the defense of the scorers, so they will present a very good challenge on this side of the ball. “
For WVU, senior quarterback Jarret Doege will be hoping to show more mobility and precision in what will mark his third year with the Mountaineers and his second in a row as a season opener.
Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Winston Wright, Sam James and Sean Ryan lead a group of wide receivers who stressed the importance of helping Doege by preventing lost passes.
Tailback Leddie Brown, a 1,000-yard return rusher, appears to be the focal point behind an offensive line that moved Zach Frazier from guard to center and added guard Doug Nester, a transfer from Virginia Tech.
A year ago, WVU had only managed 59 points in four road competitions.
Now he will face a team from Maryland with new offensive, defensive and special team coordinators as Locksley, like Brown, enters his third season as a head coach.
“If you don’t have a tendency, personality, and belief system in what you’re doing well, then you’re probably not doing much,” said Gerad Parker, WVU offensive coordinator. “Neal and I both believe that you have to come in and do what you’re doing to a great extent because if you don’t your guys fail to build trust on what we’ve got building blocks on.” . With our spring through summer installations so far, you hope your guys have a strong sense of confidence in the games we’ve chosen to build our offense.
Casey Legg will take care of the field goals, while Evan Staley kicks off and Tyler Sumpter strikes for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia is one of four teams facing 11 opponents in the Power 5 Conference, although a win over Maryland is a big step towards a good start.
FCS Long Island, which lost to Florida Atlantic 48-10 in Thursday’s opener, will travel to Morgantown next week. The Mountaineers then host Virginia Tech before starting the Big 12 Conference game in Oklahoma.
“We have to get rid of the bad taste from the mouth,” Brown said. “We weren’t as good on the road. This has not been the case historically. We played our best road football of 2019, winning at Kansas State and TUC. Historically, for our staff, we have really played on the road. I don’t think that’s a problem, but we still have to go out and win on the road, which we didn’t do a year ago.