'As inept as we can possibly be'
BALTIMORE - Given the debacle that was much of West Virginia's 2012 football season, Saturday's loss to Maryland doesn't exactly stand out as particularly unusual or historic.
After all, the Mountaineers lost games by 41 and 34 points a season ago, the worst of those actually in a home game, a loss to Kansas State.
Still, losing 37-0 to Maryland, which the Mountaineers did by committing six turnovers at rainy M&T Bank Stadium, was a defeat of rather epic proportions.
Consider that it was West Virginia's first shutout since a 35-0 loss to Virginia Tech in 2001, Rich Rodriguez's first season. It was the school's worst shutout loss in 38 years, dating back to a 39-0 loss to Penn State in 1975, and the third-worst in school history. Only a 41-0 defeat at the hands of Virginia in 1965 was worse than that Penn State loss.
It was easily the Mountaineers' worst offensive performance of the Dana Holgorsen era. At the end of the third quarter, the Mountaineers had four first downs, four turnovers and 109 yards of total offense. By game's end they had just 175 total yards and six first downs.
It also came against a team that had lost seven straight times to West Virginia and is coming off of a 4-8 season. The Terps are 4-0 now, while West Virginia fell to 2-2 heading back into Big 12 play with a home game against Oklahoma State next week.
Afterward, it was Holgorsen who summed it up the best. He did so without mincing words and by echoing the thoughts of almost anyone who saw the performance.
"We're as inept as we can possibly be in college football,'' Holgorsen said.
He got no arguments.
The odd thing about the lopsidedness of the loss, though, was that it didn't start out that way. In fact, it was nothing but bad breaks that set the Mountaineers off on the wrong course - a muffed punt and one bad throw, to be precise.
"Nothing went our way today,'' Holgorsen said.
Well, bad breaks and an even worse offense, that is.
Not since a 2003 loss to Maryland has a West Virginia offense produced fewer yards than the 175 generated Saturday. First downs? That was really ugly. The Mountaineers had one each on the first two drives of each half, then put together two on the same drive in the fourth quarter after the score was already 37-0.
That was it. The ineptitude was balanced, too. West Virginia passed for only 62 yards and, save for Dreamius Smith's inconsequential 51-yard run in the final minutes, ran for just 62.
Holgorsen, while repeatedly shouldering the blame for the poor performance, also pointed to the obvious issues with the offensive line.
"That's as poor as I've ever seen the offensive line play,'' said Holgorsen, who has seen some pretty poor offensive line play at times during his three seasons. "When you can't run the ball and they have [only] five in the box, and you can't protect the passer when they're only rushing four, you've got some problems.''
Holgorsen refused to point fingers at redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress, pointing out how little help he had. But Childress finished his second college game 11 for 22 passing for 62 yards and two interceptions. He also was responsible for one of WVU's four fumbles when, as he was being sacked, he decided to lateral the ball to Charles Sims, who wasn't ready for it.
Add it all up and it was simply a disastrous day. Maryland scored after a muffed punt and on a pass interception, picked off another pass that set up a touchdown and added three field goals, rolling to a 30-0 lead at halftime. The Terps added a fourth-quarter touchdown drive for the final points.
The defense actually did not play that poorly, giving up only 330 yards to Maryland, but was victimized by awful turnovers that gave Maryland the ball in scoring position. Several times the Mountaineers held up or forced turnovers, but the offense would simply give the ball back. On consecutive second-half series WVU got the ball deep in Maryland territory on turnovers and within a couple of plays had given it back.
The Terps scored their first touchdown when everything seemed to be going WVU's way. The offense was moving the ball relatively well and the defense was dominating. But then Ronald Carswell fumbled a punt, Maryland's A.J. Hendy recovered and three plays later tight end Dave Stinebaugh caught a pass from C.J. Brown that was tipped by linebacker Jared Barber. It was the second pass that Barber had tipped and the game was only a few minutes old.
But that began the long slide for the Mountaineers. Three plays later, Childress was intercepted by Hendry on a sideline throw to Daikiel Shorts. Hendry returned the pick 28 yards for a 14-0 lead.
And that was it for the West Virginia offense. The Mountaineers got a first down on the first play of the game and another on the second, but that was it. They went six straight series without a first down to end the half. It got only slightly better in the second half, when West Virginia managed a single first down on each of its first two possessions, but then fumbled the ball away the next three times with the ball.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.