By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Rumors were still spinning everywhere across America on the morning of Oct. 18, 1919, that the World Series won by the Cincinnati Reds over the team that would come to be known as the Chicago Black Sox had been fixed.
On that date, though, no one in Morgantown seemed to care about the World Series, about whether not Shoeless Joe Jackson would say it ain’t so or that future Canadian Premier Pierre Trudeau would be born in Canada.
Not with West Virginia University and Maryland about to launch a border war of their own, the Mountaineers winning Game No. 1 of it, 27-0.
Today, at 3:30 p.m. in M&T Bank (Ravens) Stadium in Baltimore, they will engage in the 51st renewal with WVU leading, 25-21-2.
It is as important a game as the Mountaineers play this year.
“This is our border war,” said WVU defensive end Justin Rose, trying to sum up the meaning of the game. “They are ready to beat us, and we are ready to beat them. It’s going to be a good game, going to be a physical game. I’m excited for it. Let the better team come out on top.”
Ah, but which is the better team in this last of the regional rivalries that WVU engages in on a regular basis?
WVU has dominated, winning the last seven, but, as Rose notes, Maryland is ready to win.
Coach Randy Edsall, a one-time Big East rival and once closely tied to WVU and the state for its reaction when one of his players, Jasper Howard, was knifed to death on the UConn campus just before the two teams were to play, of Maryland believes this is its year.
“We’re going to go in there and play our game. We’re going to go out there prepared to win and kind of put on a show,” quarterback C.J. Brown said.
Back from a couple of years of fighting injury, Brown is having a big year with a pair of solid receivers in Stefon Diggs, who last year burned WVU for a pair of TDs in three catches good for 113 yards, and former WVU recruit Deon Long.
“C.J. is a young man who has had tremendous confidence in his own ability through his hard work and preparation, and what happens is, the people around him see how he handles himself, how he goes about his business,” Edsall said.
“I think it brings a sense of calmness, a sense of confidence to everybody else. And then to have him perform at the rate he’s been performing also brings a tremendous amount of confidence. It just seems like the game is very slow for him. He’s got everything under control. He’s operating at a level that is outstanding, just very smooth. Hopefully that will continue.”
WVU is well aware of what Maryland can do offensively.
“They’ve got big-play potential,” said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. “This will be a different challenge for us, and I’m excited to see how our guys react to it.”
WVU’s defensive coordinator states that potential better, using the names of a pair of last season’s WVU stars who are now in the NFL.
“It kind of reminds me of Stedman (Bailey) and Tavon (Austin),” added Keith Patterson. “There are a lot of similarities in the way they use them, a lot of similarities in the way they try and get them the ball.”
Defense alone is not enough for the Mountaineers.
“It’s a team effort. We feed off each other,” Rose said. “We have a thing – team, toughness, effort. All three of those aspects go into a winning mentality. Defense can’t win a football game. Offense can’t win a football game. It’s a team effort. We have a lot of pride in each other and we have a lot of confidence in each other.
“It seems like this year’s group is a lot more unified,“ Rose concluded.
With the defense playing much better but being challenged by an exciting Maryland offense, it is going to be up to the WVU offense to continue to improve under freshman Ford Childress, whose debut against Georgia State was satisfactory but not All-America-like.
It will be his first road start and first start in a professional stadium.
“He needs to improve his sense of urgency,” Holgorsen explained. “He’s night and day better right now than he was a year ago. That said, his sense of urgency needs to pick up because the speed of the game is going to increase. Maryland has great team speed. He needs to make reads quicker, and his footwork and release need to be quicker. That just comes with experience.”
Almost as important is that Charles Sims and the running game show marked improvement as Maryland held WVU to just 25 rushing yards last season.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.