Gold and Blue Nation

Mistakes doom WVU football in season opener vs. rival Maryland

Gold and Blue Nation

Mountaineers lose turnover battle, game in frustrating start to 2021 campaign

Neal Brown wanted his team to make a statement on the road in its opening game of the 2021 season.

The Mountaineers went winless on the road last season, and had an opportunity to knock off a nonconference rival to begin a new campaign. 

But instead of making a statement, WVU produced more of the same, falling to Maryland 30-24 after surrendering a one-point lead in the fourth quarter. 

WVU committed four turnovers in the game, including two in the final period that led to 10 Terrapin points. That was enough to doom head coach Neal Brown’s Mountaineers.

“The biggest stat in football that tells whether you win or lose is turnovers,” Brown said. “We had four, they had zero. It’s not complicated.”

Late in the third quarter, WVU began a drive in enemy territory after a punt out of bounds, leading 21-20. But running back Leddie Brown fumbled on a third and short, eliminating a prime opportunity for West Virginia to add to its narrow lead. 

That lead soon vanished. Maryland booted a field goal with 9:16 remaining in the game, gaining a 23-21 advantage. 

A very similar scenario unfolded on West Virginia’s ensuing possession: return man Winston Wright gave West Virginia great field position near midfield after a 48-yard kick return, and then the Mountaineers marched into the red zone, where they had been 3-3 with a trio of touchdowns to that point. 

But they couldn’t cash in on their fourth red zone trip. Instead, quarterback Jarret Doege tossed his second interception of the game in the end zone, marking West Virginia’s fourth turnover of the day. 

It took Maryland five plays to go 80 yards for another touchdown that sealed West Virginia’s fate. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa hit wide receiver Rakim Jarrett for a 60-yard touchdown strike, giving the Terps a 30-21 lead after the extra point. 

That touchdown was Maryland’s second scoring play of at least 60 yards. The other came in the first quarter when Tagovailoa hit Dontay Demus for a 66-yard completion, the longest play from scrimmage of the game. 

West Virginia responded to the Jarrett TD with a field goal, making the score 30-24. They never regained possession.

Tagovailoa passed for 332 yards and three touchdowns against WVU, which sported the top total defense and passing defense among Power 5 programs last season. He completed 26 of his 36 throws. 

Meanwhile, Doege, who received praise from teammates and coaches alike throughout the preseason for his improvement, went 24-40 for 289 yards. While he completed nine passes of 15 yards or more, he threw two interceptions compared to just one touchdown. 

Neal Brown classified the first of Doege’s two interceptions, which came in the second quarter, as a “really bad decision.”

Leddie Brown was the bright spot of the offense for WVU, racking up 120 yards of total offense — 77 rushing yards on 16 rushing attempts and 43 receiving yards on four catches. He also logged three total touchdowns. 

But after scoring three touchdowns on its first four possessions, West Virginia went scoreless on its next eight drives, mustering just three points in the final 41:30 of the game. 

The Mountaineers also failed to force a turnover, finishing the game with a minus-four turnover margin.

On defense, safety Sean Mahone led the Mountaineers with 11 total tackles, and linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo made 10 stops. Defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor also logged nine tackles, including one and a half tackles for loss. 

West Virginia (0-1) drops its first season opener since 2017, when it lost to Virginia Tech by a touchdown. The Mountaineers play their home opener Sept. 11 vs. Long Island. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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