By BRIAN WOODSON
MORGANTOWN — A rivalry develops over time. It can’t be created.
When West Virginia played Marshall earlier this season, it was a man-made rivalry without any hint of a true conflict between bitter adversaries.
That changes tonight. Earlier this week, West Virginia linebacker Kevin McLee said it best: “We don’t like each other.”
West Virginia vs. Maryland at Mountaineer Field. The matchup oozes of blood, sweat...rivalry. It’s been remarkably close, as evidenced by the 21-21-2 record in the series.
“The history of the series between West Virginia and Maryland has been very physical, very close and has been a great rivalry,” West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Nothing has changed, it is very, very intense and I’m sure it will be Thursday night.”
Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen had the option at one time to drop the West Virginia series, but refused to make that move.
“I think it's very important; the relationship and rivalry we have with West Virginia is great for both programs,” Friedgen said. “I had a choice not to play West Virginia when I first got here and I didn't want that.
“I wanted to play West Virginia so we would have that rivalry. It's a great college football game, it always is. It's good, tough, hard-nosed football from both teams. Hopefully we can go in there and get a win.”
Both teams enter 2-0, but neither has met much resistance. No. 5 West Virginia has hammered Marshall and Eastern Washington by a combined 94-13, while Maryland defeated Middle Tennessee State (24-10) and William & Mary (27-14).
While West Virginia has won the last two meetings between the clubs, Rodriguez is just 2-4 against Maryland.
“We felt really disappointed the first few times we played them even though they clearly outplayed us and were the better team,” Rodriguez said. “We made a lot of mistakes and we weren’t giving them our best shot.
“Two years ago, when we first beat them finally, I told the guys whatever you do, just play hard. I told them we’re going to make mistakes, but let’s make sure they get our best shot and at least the last couple of years we’ve been able to do that.”
If anyone is looking to play big in this one, it’s West Virginia’s Steve Slaton. In two games, Slaton has rushed for 308 yards. He was originally committed to play at Maryland, but had his scholarship offer revoked because the Terrapins needed to fill other positions.
“We liked Steve from the first time we saw him and we always thought we had a chance,” Rodriguez said. “He was committed to Maryland, but it was kind of a soft commit anyway so I really don’t know all the details and I really don’t care.
“Honestly, until you sign, you’re not for sure where a guy is going to go. We felt comfortable in our recruiting process, we had a great visit with him and his family and fortunately for us he decided to be a Mountaineer.”
While Slaton and Pat White have led the offense, the Terrapins are paced by quarterback Sam Hollenbach, the tailback combination of Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball, and a huge offensive line that averages 315 pounds. Rodriguez has been impressed with the improvement in Hollandbach.
“He’s got command of the offense, he’s a big, strong guy, and he made some nice plays against us last year,” said Rodriguez, of last year’s 31-19 WVU win. “I think he’s running Ralph’s offense the way he wants it to be run and he’s obviously one of the big keys to their offense.
“They’ve always had great success when their quarterback has played well and they’ve won two games because Sam’s played pretty well.”
Neither team has had much time to prepare, but in a rivalry like this, there aren’t too many secrets. Other than who is going to win game.
“The players understand what a big game this is each and every year,” Rodriguez said. “It has a long history of being an outstanding rivalry, both teams have short weeks and it should be a great atmosphere here Thursday night.
“Our players, and I’m sure Maryland’s players are excited, it’s going to be a great challenge.”
—Contact Brian Woodson