Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming Power 5 showdown in our West Virginia vs. Maryland preview and Prediction.
2:30 p.m. CST, Saturday, September 4th, 2021; Maryland Stadium, College Park, Maryland
Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network by Learfield
Spread: West Virginia -3.5
Fun Fact: WVU is 76-94-6 in games against Big Ten Conference schools. The last meeting with a Big Ten school took place in 2015 in the last meeting with Maryland.
RB Leddie Brown
Brown is coming off a huge season where he ranked No. 14 nationally in rushing yards (1,010) in 2020, No. 26 in touchdowns (11), No. 27 in rushing yards per game (101.0) and No. 31 in rushing touchdowns (9). Brown was a First-Team All-Big 12 running back last season and will be the focus of every defense WVU plays this season. Getting started on the road against a Power 5 opponent, Brown is WVU’s best bet to get the offense going early and then open things up for QB Jarret Doege and the passing game.
DL Dante Stills
Stills returns for his senior season and was selected as a preseason Associated Press All-America Second Team selection was named to three preseason All-America teams as well as the media’s Big 12 preseason team. Stills led WVU in tackles for loss (10.5) in 2020 and had two sacks and two pass breakups.
QB Taulia Tagovailoa
Tagovailoa had an impressive first year with the Terps, completing 75-of-122 passes for 1,011 yards while throwing seven touchdown passes. Tagovailoa led the Big Ten, averaging 13.48 yards per completion and stood second in the league in passing efficiency (138.5) and third in passing yards per game (252.8). The former Alabama transfer was a consensus four-star prospect and is looking for 2021 to be his breakout season in College Park.
DL Mosiah Nasili-Kite
Nasili-Kite was the engine to Maryland’s transformation on the defense line in 2020. As a team, in just five games in 2020, Maryland had more sacks than it did in nine Big Ten games the year prior, racking up 14, the second-best per-game mark in the Big Ten. Nasili-Kite led the Big Ten and ranked 23rd nationally in 2020 with 0.80 sacks per game, recording four in Maryland’s five games last season. Last season was his first in College Park after transferring in from Independence CC, and now has landed on the Athlon Sports Preseason All-Big Ten, along with the Pro Football Focus All-Big Ten team.
Win the line of scrimmage. Sure, you can say this about any team in any game. But for WVU, opening the season on the road, the offensive line needs to hold off a Maryland defensive line that is loaded with seniors and juniors and anchored by Nasili-Kite and nose tackle Ami Finau. The good news for WVU is that according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) College, five returners on the Mountaineer offensive line posted a pass-blocking-efficiency grade of 96.2 or better last season. QB Jarret Doege needs to make a big jump this season for WVU to get into contention and getting off to a decent start against a solid defensive front would go a long ways for his confidence.
Can the Terps’ experience win out? Maryland returns 85% of its total production from 2020 to the team in 2021, the 10th-highest returning production of any team in the country and the highest total returning production of any team in the Big Ten, according to ESPN.
But ultimately, if Tua’s little brother, Tau, lights up a WVU defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation in pass defense,
allowing just 159.1 yards through the air per game, then it could end up being a long afternoon for the Mountaineers.
Prediction: West Virginia 27, Maryland 24
While there is offensive talent on both sides of the ball, this won’t be a barnburner. If you look back on the 2020 season, West Virginia and Maryland were two of only four teams in the FBS with a top-35 pass offense and defense. In the season opener, with fans back in the stands for the first time in two years, there will be jitters, which will favor both defenses. I believe this game will get off to a slow start, before WVU will hang on for a three-point victory late against a rapidly improving Maryland program.