West Virginia’s 4-8 season last year had many low points. But none lower than a dismal 37-point loss to Maryland in dismal weather.
When it rains it pours, and the rain poured on West Virginia that day. The Terrapins poured it on, too.
The Mountaineers had as many turnovers as first downs. They had almost as many penalty yards as total yardage in the first half. And they were shut out for the first time in a dozen years.
Saturday in a rematch of these regional rivals, West Virginia will be out for payback. But also, after a sharp start to this season, the 2014 Mountaineers will be out to show they’re a completely different team.
"I think we're in a much better place," said coach Dana Holgorsen. "I think we're very different. I think our mentality is different. Although our players are the same, and our scheme is the same, I think our mentality is in a much different place. We're a more experienced team. We're a more confident team. We're playing with a lot more effort and energy, and that's going to hopefully make a big difference in the outcome of Saturday's game."
The outcome of Saturday’s game could prove to be a pivotal one for the Mountaineers. It was last year. After falling to Maryland, West Virginia bounced back to beat Oklahoma State the falling week in one of the biggest upsets of the 2013 Big 12 season. But the Mountaineers won only one more game the rest of the season and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2001.
"I remember we threw a pick-six and went down by maybe a touchdown at that point, and it kept getting worse and worse and worse, then the rain started coming down," tight end Cody Clay said of the Maryland loss. "That was kind of our whole season. It just kept snowballing and snowballing."
This time around, the Mountaineers have a chance to roll the snowball the other way.
West Virginia played second-ranked Alabama to the wire in the opener. Then last week, the Mountaineers crisply manhandled Towson, which played for the FCS national title in 2013. A win against Maryland could keep that momentum going when West Virginia opens Big 12 play next weekend at home against fourth-ranked Oklahoma.
"It comes down to obviously playing with great effort, being confident as coaches, being confident as players, playing with great effort, coaching with great effort, putting the product out there everybody is proud of," Holgorsen said. "I have a ton of confidence in our guys right now. When you have a ton of confidence in your guys, you're going to do things differently."
Holgorsen has reason to have a ton of confidence in his quarterback, which so far has been the biggest difference from last season.
When the Mountaineers played Maryland last year, redshirt freshman Ford Childress was making his second career start at quarterback. Childress suffered an injury, which cleared the way for Clint Trickett to take over after transferring in from Florida State. But no matter who was behind center, quarterback was never a strength. This season, it has been just that.
After completing just 53 percent of his passes last season, Trickett is connecting on 75 percent of his throws, which ranks fourth in the country. As a result, the offense has been humming like the high-octane offenses of Holgorsen’s past.
"The way I called plays last year, the way we game planned last year -- we're not doing the same things. We're a different team, and we're able to do different things," Holgorsen said. "You can just look at the tape over the last two weeks and see that it's different."
The Mountaineers will hope that translates into a different result against Maryland, which has been a game the players have had circled on the schedule for awhile after last season's debacle.
"It’s a big game for us," said safety Karl Joseph. "We owe them one."
So far, the Mountaineers have the look of a different team since that 37-0 loss. Paying back Maryland would show just how far they have come.
"It’s hard not to use it as motivation," Clay said. "We definitely have something to prove."