Terps freshmen Hills, Diggs shine in 31-21 loss to No. 8 WVU
- Maryland quarterback Perry Hills (11) hands the ball off to Brandon Ross (45) against West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday. (AP Photo/Christopher Jackson)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Career-best games by freshmen Perry Hills and Stefon Diggs couldn't give Maryland a lift.
Hills threw three touchdown passes, but the Terrapins' offense didn't take advantage of a solid effort by its defense in a 31-21 loss to No. 8 West Virginia on Saturday.
Maryland (2-2) limited West Virginia to 363 yards, which pales in comparison to the 56 points and 612 yards the Mountaineers averaged in its first two games against non-BCS conference opponents.
Hills went 20 of 29 passing for 305 yards, all season highs, and had some success moving the Maryland offense with misdirection plays and screen passes. Maryland had more yards at halftime (212) than it did all of its last game, a home loss to Connecticut, and only trailed by 10.
But Hills was sacked five times and had little luck in the second half. With Maryland facing fourth-and-21 from its 32 with four minutes left in the game, Hills was intercepted by Wes Tonkery at the West Virginia 28 and the Mountaineers ran out the clock.
"I thought he went out and for the most part did a good part of executing the game plan," said Maryland coach Randy Edsall. "We have to protect him better. I thought he did a good job, but there are things he needs to do to get better."
Diggs had a 42-yard scoring catch in the first quarter and a 56-yarder midway through the fourth. He caught three passes for 113 yards and had 63 yards on kick returns and 25 yards on punt returns.
"It was an all right day for me, but you can always do better," Diggs said. "Big players make big plays in big games. They were a great team, and that tells us that we're not far off. We just shot ourselves in the foot a little bit."
Maryland running back Brandon Ross, who was coming off a hamstring injury, saw his first action of the season. The redshirt freshman had 52 yards on 20 carries.
Maryland couldn't match the output of West Virginia's Tavon Austin. The Baltimore native accounted for half of West Virginia's offense, catching 13 passes for 179 yards and setting a school record for career receptions.
"It was my last time playing Maryland," said Austin, a senior. "So there was a little bit on the line for me."
Despite scoring two early touchdowns, West Virginia (3-0) looked flat at times. The Mountaineers punted on four of their first five possessions of the second half but wouldn't let Maryland cut into a double-digit lead in beating the Terrapins for the seventh straight time.
"We didn't play our best offensively," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "But it was enough."
Leading rusher Shawne Alston was limited by a thigh bruise and didn't get a carry. West Virginia was held to 25 yards on the ground.
Geno Smith often threw into tough coverage and had as many incompletions in the first half (nine) as he did in the first two games combined. He spent a lot of time getting knocked on his backside and finished 30 of 43 for 338 yards.
But Smith found a groove just before halftime, throwing for 64 yards on a drive capped by a 24-yard pass to Austin alone in the end zone for a 24-14 lead.
The game was billed as a matchup of all-purpose talent, and Austin and Diggs didn't disappoint.
Austin now has 208 career receptions, breaking the mark of 206 set by Jock Sanders from 2007-10. In three games against Maryland, he had 31 catches for 407 yards.
"This was Tavon's best game," Holgorsen said. "He played fast. His energy on the sidelines was tremendous. He was the one guy offensively who played his best game. I can't say that about the rest of them."
Austin said he went up to Diggs after the game "and told him that he was a good player - but I couldn't let a young guy outshine me."
On Maryland's second series of the game, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook slipped through the middle of the line unblocked and knocked the ball from Hills. Linebacker Doug Rigg scooped up the loose ball and went 51 yards for West Virginia's second defensive touchdown of the season.
It was a role reversal of the key play of January's Orange Bowl, when Rigg forced a fumble that Cook returned for a TD - and famously knocked over the Orange Bowl mascot - in a rout of Clemson.
Late in the first quarter, Austin caught a pass up the middle, bounced off a defender and went 44 yards up the right sideline to put the Mountaineers ahead 14-0. Austin capped West Virginia's scoring with a 34-yard reception midway through the fourth.
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