By Logan Hill
After only playing against conference opponents in a COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, Maryland football will open up its 2021 campaign Saturday against West Virginia.
“We welcome a big time opponent in West Virginia,” coach Mike Locksley said Tuesday. “This is a natural border rivalry, a game that’s been played a lot of years around here.”
For the Terps, the matchup with the Mountaineers will be the start of a long season in College Park. Only playing five games a season ago, Maryland returns to a full schedule with a roster that gained valuable experience during a truncated 2020.
Led on offense by junior Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland will look to attack early and often through the air, with a handful of weapons available for a team that ranked 35th in the nation a year ago with 264 passing yards per game.
“I think [Taulia] has a very comfortable level with the receivers now, after being able to be here for a year and a half with these guys,” Locksley said. “We’ll see this Saturday if all the work and the things that he’s done come to fruition and allow him to go out and play really well for us.”
The Mountaineers led the NCAA in pass defense in 2020, allowing just 159.7 yards per game. Despite losing Tykee Smith & Dreshun Miller to the transfer portal, Alonzo Addae returns for his redshirt senior season and will lead the West Virginia secondary after earning All Big-12 Honors a season ago.
Sean Mahone & Nicktroy Fortune will also be key contributors as the Mountaineers look to stifle Maryland’s passing offense.
“They do a great job of creating turnovers,” Locksley said. “They’ll present a pretty good challenge on that side of the ball.”
On the other side, Maryland’s defense will get a good first test facing a West Virginia offense that returns its starting quarterback and running Back from 2020.
Senior running back Leddie Brown, who was first team All-Big 12 in 2020, was named to the 2021 Doak Walker award watch list and comes into the season averaging 4.6 yards per carry for his career. He rushed for over 1,000 yards as a junior and was also the Mountaineers’ third-leading receiver, highlighting the kinds of fits he can give a defense.
Jarret Doege returns for his redshirt senior season after finishing third in the Big-12 with 2,587 passing yards as a senior. A competent game manager, the former Bowling Green standout led the Mountaineers to a 6-4 record in his first year as a starter in Morgantown and also West Virginia’s first bowl win since the 2015 season.
Saturday’s game will be the first true test for a Maryland team looking to take the next step in 2021. Seeking their first winning season since 2010, West Virginia will serve as a gauge for how high the Terps can fly this season.
“What a great barometer for us to start off with a team that is coming off a year where they went to a bowl game,” Locksley said. “We’re looking forward to the game this weekend.”
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