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Loss to Terps could deal death blow to WVU

by Chris Errington

SPORTS WRITER

MORGANTOWN -- Heading into today's game against Maryland, West Virginia's football players must feel like contestants on the old game show "To Tell The Truth."

WVU's opponent could be the Terrapins team outrushed in an ugly home victory over Division I-AA James Madison. Or, it could be the one that had No. 10 Virginia in trouble before finally losing 31-19.

Which Maryland team will stand up at Mountaineer Field?

"Regardless, we'll have respect for them," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "We expect to win, and that's the type of attitude we need to have on the field."

No matter which team Maryland brings, the situation remains the same for WVU -- win or else.

Thanks to the opening loss to No. 1 Ohio State, West Virginia's season in the sun has turned into a week-by-week battle for survival.

"When you think about being 1-1 compared to 0-2, you realize this is a must win for us," WVU center Eric de Groh said. "In order to get to where we want to go, we have to get this one in the win column."

In a game usually viewed as the barometer for the season, WVU needs to answer a host of questions before it can even begin to worry about Maryland.

Can redshirt freshman Mark Thurston become an adequate replacement for injured pass-rushing specialist Gary Stills?

Can the Mountaineers' offense figure out its new four-wide set in time to eliminate the costly mistakes it suffered against the Buckeyes?

Can WVU's offensive line open holes and give Amos Zereoue room to run against a defense that is sure to stack the line of scrimmage like Ohio State did?

And most importantly, can the Mountaineers regroup from the OSU loss in time to salvage what can still be an outstanding season?

"I know the Ohio State game is going to eat at me for the rest of the season," inside linebacker Barrett Green said. "I don't know about the other guys, but it will definitely motivate me."

WVU's defense will need motivation after surrendering a Mountaineer Field-record 549 yards to Ohio State. Last Saturday, Maryland backs rushed for 210 yards against a defense that had shut out Auburn a week earlier.

"I didn't realize (Maryland) had the running attack they have," WVU coach Don Nehlen said. "You better believe they're going to run the ball at us."

Powerful sophomore LaMont Jordan leads the Terps. In 1997, he led all ACC freshmen running backs in yards (689), carries (159) and all-purpose yards (920).

"LaMont Jordan is a big-league tailback," Nehlen said. "He can do it all. And with (5-foot-7, 178 junior tailback Harold Westley), they have a pretty good tandem at tailback."

The Mountaineers will also be facing Maryland junior quarterback Ken Mastrole for the first time since 1996. Mastrole, who became the first Terps quarterback in school history to start as a redshirt freshman when he did it in the '96 WVU game, was pressured throughout by a furious Virginia rush. West Virginia says it will need to do the same with a depleted pass rush to even its record.

"We've got to get some heat on the quarterback, no question about it," defensive lineman Kevin Landolt said. "That will be a major factor in the game."

Defensively, Maryland has one of the nation's better linebacking duos in seniors Eric Barton and Kendall Ogle.

Ogle is the ACC's leading returning tackler, with 138 stops a year ago, while Barton was second with 134.

"They're solid, they've got speed and they're experienced," said WVU center de Groh. "They'll present us with a big challenge."