Sept. 17, 2011
COLLEGE PARK, MD. (AP) - Once down by 24 points, Maryland had the ball in the closing minutes with a chance to take the lead against No. 18 West Virginia.
Needing a touchdown, Danny O'Brien moved the Terrapins into position to complete the improbable comeback.
Then came one final mistake, one that sealed a 37-31 defeat Saturday.
O'Brien completed 34 of 52 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown, but he threw three interceptions. The last one, with 1:13 remaining, came after Maryland reached the West Virginia 35.
"You can't turn the ball over three times at the quarterback position and expect to beat a ranked team," O'Brien said. "That's really what it comes down to."
It wasn't all O'Brien's fault. The Terrapins (1-1) were penalized seven times for 75 yards and the defense yielded 480 yards in offense.
But the quarterback position is the most important one on the field, and on this day West Virginia's Geno Smith outperformed O'Brien.
"I love Danny O'Brien. Danny played hard," said Randy Edsall, who absorbed his first loss as Maryland's head coach. "Danny isn't going to play fine all the time even though everyone, including myself, wants him to."
Smith threw for a career-high 388 yards, and the Mountaineers needed every one of them to hold of the Terps.
One week earlier, West Virginia (3-0) trailed Norfolk State at halftime before pulling away. The Mountaineers addressed that deficiency and built a 27-10 lead at the break against the stunned Terrapins.
The margin swelled to 24 points before Maryland rallied, closing to 34-31 with 10:29 remaining.
"We kind of let off the gas, not intentionally, but I just think we came out fired up," Smith said. "We didn't put together four solid quarters. We did good in the first half. We moved the ball. They responded. They stopped us. We need to come back and show more effort and play harder."
Fortunately for the Mountaineers, Maryland never found a way to shut down Smith. He directed a 14-play, 65-yard drive that produced a field goal with 4:42 left, leaving the Terrapins no choice but to score a touchdown.
O'Brien gave it a go until his final pass landed in the arms of West Virginia's Eain Smith.
"I thought we made too many errors out there," Edsall said. "We didn't get it done today because West Virginia is a good team and we made some mistakes."
Both teams used the no-huddle offense with uncanny efficiency. West Virginia averaged six yards per play and Maryland amassed 477 yards on a whopping 87 snaps.
Smith had 232 yards passing in the first half to help the Mountaineers take a 17-point lead. The junior then threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey on West Virginia's first possession of the third quarter to make it 34-10.
The Terrapins scored three straight touchdowns to cut the gap to 34-31, thrilling the sellout crowd of 53,627. But Maryland couldn't complete the comeback.
"It's still a loss, but I thought the team showed a lot of heart coming back at the end," Terps tackle Joe Vellano said. "I think that was the biggest thing to take out of this game."
Smith went 36 for 49 with a touchdown, a suitable encore to a 371-yard, four TD performance against Norfolk State. Unlike that game, the Mountaineers' best half was the first.
"They played harder than we did for the majority of the second-half," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They got some momentum, and it's a game of momentum. We had all the momentum in the first-half and they had it for the majority of the second.
It was the first road game for West Virginia under Holgorsen, who successfully stamped his name on a rivalry that began in 1919. The Mountaineers have won the last six.
Tavon Austin had 11 catches for 122 yards for West Virginia and Terence Garvin returned his first career interception 37 yards for a score. Austin and Garvin both played high school ball in Baltimore.
After wearing uniforms patterned after the state flag in their opening game against Miami, the Terrapins went with all black against the Mountaineers. They were as gaudy, but Maryland didn't play as well, either.
"We didn't come out with the result we wanted," linebacker Kenny Tate said, "but we definitely have shown growth."
Note: Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic will show a replay of the ESPNU telecast of the Maryland-WVU game at 7 p.m. Sunday.