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Ludwig: It Was More of the Same From West Virginia Against Maryland

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Have you ever known someone who is constantly working on themself? It’s promises of an improved this, a better that, but it’s never actually fulfilled. Self-improvement is always nice, but when it’s an empty promise, it’s more harmful than anything.

All offseason, West Virginia football promised improvement, but against Maryland, it was the same old Mountaineers.

What problems have plagued WVU in the past? Quarterback play, wide receiver drops, red zone efficiency and connecting on deep plays. What did WVU need to prove? The defense that didn’t lose too much talent last season and subpar secondary.

Against the Terps, none of the preseason promises were kept. Redshirt senior quarterback Jarret Doege was erratic at best, the wide receivers dropped four footballs, the Mountaineers were unable to consistently find the back of the end zone and Maryland junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa torched the WVU secondary.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of WVU’s gut-punch loss to Maryland Saturday — besides the brutal meme’ing at the fingers of the UMD football Twitter account — was the play of Doege. A 24-for-40 effort with 277 yards and a touchdown was negated by two bad interceptions and -25 rushing yards in showing he couldn’t evade the fierce Terps’ pass rush.

The WVU offense line was porous, but Doege’s foot speed and quickness are still basically statuesque. He offers nothing on the ground, and his passing prowess does not make up for it. Doege’s 60% accuracy against the Terps jumps to 70% if the four drops are negated, however, his ability to drive the ball down the field is still not where it needs to be.

WVU’s offense relied almost exclusively upon Leddie Brown and a steady dose of bubble screens and slants. Doege’s lone touchdown was a dump-off to Brown, who did all the work himself.

And, of course, we need to touch upon Doege’s interceptions. His first interception, a wild throw into double coverage off his back foot was the antithesis of his steady, risk-free play last season. And his second interception, a high lob into double coverage in the back of the end zone — while a good play from the cornerback — was another unnecesary risk.

This isn’t to dump on Doege. He’s just not where he needs to be, and he’s not alone on the Mountaineers.

While junior wide receiver Sam James led the Mountaineers with 65 yards, he also dropped a ball or two and fumbled. He wasn’t alone, with four drops plaguing the receiving corps. With junior wide receiver Winston Wright Jr. showing off his electric return performance, it almost feels unfair to harp on him, but he did fumble a punt return that could’ve been disastrous if the defense hadn’t made a stand in the second quarter.

Even Brown was unable to put together a perfect game, fumbling a carry that led to a Terps’ field goal in the third quarter.

Speaking off the WVU defense, there were highs and lows. The defense made some timely stops at points throughout the contest, but missed tackles, shoddy coverage and just being worn down spelled the end for the Mountaineers.

Even if you were to disregard the missed tackles, the WVU defense basically allowed Tagovailoa to look like prime Tua. He threw for 332 yards and only missed on 10 throws. In 2020, WVU’s defense only allowed 200 yards in the air twice — Iowa State passing for a season-high 247 yards last November.

Tagovailoa is likely going to be one of the better quarterbacks that WVU faces this season, with the Maryland receiving duo of Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus Jr. serving as one of the best in the nation, but it’s clear the Mountaineer secondary will likely need a lot of seasoning to reach anywhere near last season’s level.

With a strong defensive front, led by senior Dante Stills and sophomore Akheem Mesidor, the WVU defense should still be a good unit, but it’s fair to wonder just how good an overall unit that is as the season wears on. Missed tackles, blown defensive assignments and a 150 yard rushing day helped by a late 53-yard rumble from Terps’ halfback Tayon Fleet-Davis shows just how much there is to improve.

However, that pales in comparison to the offensive woes. Doege isn’t going to magically grow into a quicker, stronger version of himself during the season, and as good as Brown is, Doege’s deficiencies will hold the offense back. Without a stronger offensive line in front of him, it’ll only get worse.

Perhaps the most discouraging stat from Saturday’s loss though was the turnover margin. With four turnovers to Maryland’s 0, it’s not surprising the Mountaineers lost. It would have been shocking if WVU had won, and while WVU could have won, tangible results at this point are the only meaningful statistic.

“WVU could’ve won,” means nothing with an 0-1 start to a highly-anticipated season. With LIU Post up next on the ledger, there’s virtually no chance the Mountaineers lose. However, a Virginia Tech squad that looks better than expected and Oklahoma on the road could realistically leave WVU with a 1-3 record entering week five.

It’s not all doom and gloom with WVU, as much as it seems like it is, but the Mountaineers must show marked improvement both offensively and defensively to have anywhere near as good a season as hoped. If this is the best WVU has to offer, it’s going to be a long season.

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