(Photo: USA Today)
West Virginia completed its 2015 non-conference schedule with a 45-6 rout of visiting Maryland last Saturday, a win that moves the Mountaineers to 3-0 for the first time since 2012.
Here are a few musings and observations, and one knee-jerk reaction, from that win:
1. This may be the start of something
I was originally going to put 'the start of something special', but the word 'special' is one used a little too liberally in sports. Very few things are special and those that are really, really stand out over the course of history. At West Virginia, the 1988 team was special. As was the 1993 squad. Ditto for the 2005 and 2007 teams that both won BCS bowl games.
At this juncture, I still don't think this Mountaineers team is as good as those, at least in terms of what it can accomplish in a given season. But it's hard to deny what it has been able to do through three games. Dana Holgorsen's team hasn't so much beaten opponents as it's destroyed them, winning its three games by a combined score of 130-23. The 44-0 shutout of a good Georgia Southern side was the first sign this team could be better than expected and a 39-point win against a Big Ten opponent, albeit a less-than-stellar one in Maryland, only heightens that sense.
This team's defense is as good as advertised, especially with an absolutely stacked secondary, and an offense that entered the season with question marks at major positions has quelled those doubts by averaging 43.3 points per game. The toughest challenges begin now, with a four-game slate against four ranked teams in October, but it's hard to not be blown away by the results so far.
2. The sting from the 2013 loss to Maryland was real
In the days leading up to last Saturday's game, the 37-0 loss to Maryland in 2013 was mentioned quite a bit by players and Holgorsen, the latter of whom said it was the worst loss of his head coaching career. It was fair to wonder if the sentiments were genuine. Yes, the loss undoubtedly hurt, but revenge talk like that can often be exaggerated to appease the fans, who want the players and coaches to feel the same pain they did, and by the media, which prefers that juicier storyline over a scripted 'we're just taking it one game at a time' line being repeated over and over.
From watching the game and talking with players about it afterward, the lasting impact of that loss was clear. Mountaineers players continued to cite it as a motivational tool they utilized to push them throughout the game. Though West Virginia took its foot off the pedal offensively in the second half, that lingering sting is one of the few things that could explain Holgorsen calling for a fake punt in the third quarter of a 38-point game. The Mountaineers beat the Terrapins last season, 40-37, but it wasn't the kind of thorough whipping they hoped to avenge. Saturday, they did just that.
3. The rushing attack West Virginia dreamed of may be coming to fruition
A lot was made of Rushel Shell's slow start to the season, and understandably so. It's not often you see such a highly-regarded, physically-imposing running back struggle like he was. If he's able to get back to where he was even last season, the win against Maryland may be viewed as a turning point, as Shell rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He also caught two passes for 33 yards.
Wendell Smallwood has been what many expected he would be this season, a dependable and incredibly versatile threat out of the backfield who is able to make plays both on the ground and through the air. But if Shell comes into form, the Mountaineers will have a thunder-and-lighting combination in the backfield that can complement what has been an accomplished passing attack through three games. In short, West Virginia would have as complete of an offense as it has had in some time.
My weekly overreaction
West Virginia will go 3-1 in October and will be a top-10 team by the end of the month.
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