By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
When West Virginia plays its final nonconference game and its only regional rivalry game of the season at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Maryland, the challenge will be tougher than it has been in recent years.
WVU has won the last seven meetings between the longtime rivals, but this time a friend — and foe — Randy Edsall from Connecticut brings in a talented, high-powered team driven by quarterback C.J. Brown throwing to the dangerous Stefon Diggs that WVU coach Dana Holgorsen compares to Tavon Austin and Deon Long, a one-time promising WVU recruit.
“Tavon (Austin) and Diggs are pretty similar,” Holgorsen said during his weekly Tuesday press conference. “They’re both from Baltimore and receivers and returners. He’s proven to have big play potential. He’s probably a little better at downfield play than Tavon. Tavon didn’t have just the downfield potential. His thing was to get the ball and go score.”
That is high praise, coming from the man who coached the electrifying Austin.
“The thing with Stefon is, he can hurt you in so many different ways,” Edsall said following a big game a week ago against Connecticut. “We can throw him the ball. We can hand him the ball. We can fake like he’s going to get the ball and it takes the safety out of the middle of the field. He’s a decoy.
“... I just love being around him because he’s a competitor. He’s on the sidelines getting guys going, doing the things you want players like him to do. He’s special.”
So is Long, who has had an interesting career.
Long signed with the Mountaineers in 2009 but wound up at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. In 2010 he enrolled at WVU, staying only three months because he was “feeling out of place socially.”
WVU allowed him to transfer but limited his choices, even making Maryland off limits.
So he wound up at New Mexico, sat out 2010, and played in 2011 for Mike Locksley, now Maryland’s offensive coordinator.
After leading New Mexico with 46 catches he is transferring again to Iowa Western Community College, where he became the first junior college player to catch 100 passes in history, gaining 1,625 yards and scoring 25 touchdowns.
Off he went to be reunited with Locksley at Maryland.
This will present a huge challenge for WVU’s revamped defense that this week will be without backup cornerback Brodrick Jenkins, who started last year but whom Holgorsen revealed was no longer with the team.
“We haven’t seen the throwing threat that we’re going to see this week,” Holgorsen admitted. “They’ve got big play potential. Look at Diggs, who has 400 yards in three games and three touchdowns, and Long, who’s got almost 200 yards and a touchdown — this will be a different challenge for us. I’m excited to see how our guys react to it.
“Keith (Patterson) has done a great job. Coaches (Tony) Gibson and (Brian) Mitchell have done a great job. Technically, the scheme is the same as last year and they’ve been playing pretty well, but they haven’t been challenged like they’ll be challenged this week.”
Holgorsen says he enjoys the idea of playing in M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens, as a neutral site, even though it is located in the state of Maryland.
Considering how close it is to the eastern side of West Virginia and that it is a pro stadium with all the extras that it brings, he expects a lot more Mountaineer fans than if the game was played at Maryland.
There will be more “Mountaineer energy” in the stadium is the way he put it.
Speed is everything in the college game and, according to Holgorsen, it is where quarterback Ford Childress has to step up.
“He needs to improve his sense of urgency,” is the term Holgorsen used. “The speed of the game will increase and he is going to have to make his reads quicker.”
After missing last week’s game, injured linebackers Doug Rigg and Jared Barber are expected to move forward and play against Maryland.
Cornerback Brodrick Jenkins, a starter last season who lost his job this year, is no longer with the Mountaineers. No reason was given.
Terrell Chestnut was promoted into the backup job that Jenkins had held while freshman Daryl Worley has been made the nickel back.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.