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WVU football: Strong D has bailed out 2-1 Terps

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Maryland will arrive at Mountaineer Field for Saturday's noon game against No. 8 West Virginia as a 2-1 football team.

However, it could have been a much different story for the Terrapins in Coach Randy Edsall's second season.

Maryland beat Football Championship Subdivision program William & Mary 7-6 in the season-opener and had four turnovers and just 236 yards of offense.

The Terrapins also had All-American defensive lineman Joe Vellano and the fifth-year senior from Rexford, N.Y., affected the game early in the second quarter. With the Tribe marching for a third time in four possessions, Vellano secured his first career interception at the Maryland 26-yard line to keep the Terrapins down just 6-0.

"It was kind of crazy," Vellano said Wednesday. "We were talking all week about how they had a throw-back screen. I stepped down and saw their tackle not really blocking me that hard and trying to sneak out for the screen. I got on his hip and saw the running back leak out. I started going over there to make the tackle, but he got hit and the ball popped up and I grabbed it."

William & Mary had already kicked two field goals, though Vellano made that possible with a tackle on third-and-5 that forced the first field goal from 30 yards.

"Their kicker was kicking pretty well, so we were definitely trying to make a big play and get a turnover down in the red zone," Vellano said. "That was one of the biggest points of the game."

It kept the Tribe from taking a two-score lead at 9-0 or 13-0 and meant Maryland would need just one score to win.

The Terrapins waited a while and finally got the game-winning touchdown with 9:52 remaining in the game.

"When their guy had it, there was nobody else out there to stop him," Vellano said. "It was a good play and you could see it happen as they threw it. They could have easily made a big play there."

Vellano made 11 tackles in the game and has 18 with 4 1/2 tackles for a loss and one sack this season. Twice an all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick in his career at Maryland, he's moved to defensive end as the team has switched to a 3-4 defense this season.

"He's a guy we were concerned with last year," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said of the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Vellano. "He's a big, thick, try-hard guy who anchors their defense."

Maryland allows just 103 rushing yards per game and Vellano, a captain last season and again this season, ranks third nationally with 1.5 tackles for a loss per game. The Mountaineers have run for 331 and 121 yards in their 2-0 start and are No. 2 nationally with 7.4 yards per carry. WVU ran the ball 31 times for 92 yards in the 37-31 win at Maryland last season, when Vellano had three tackles.

"They have kind of a similar offense, but they've definitely got a whole lot of experience on the line," Vellano said. "Their center (senior Joe Madsen) has (40) starts, which is kind of unheard of.

"They've been able to run the ball with more of a downhill back this year rather than the quicker kind of back. We're getting ready to get after them and get them off schedule by stopping the run."

That's one of Vellano's skills. He's made 176 tackles in his career, despite playing just five games as a redshirt freshman, and had a career-high 20 against Georgia Tech's triple-option offense last season. The accolades run in the family. His older brother, Paul, played on the defensive line at Rhode Island from 2006-09 and has played and coached for the Parma Panthers in the Italian Football League the past three years.

Their dad, Paul Vellano Sr., was an All-American at Maryland in 1973, which makes him and Joe the fourth father-son combination in FBS history to earn All-America honors at the same school. They join Florida's Lee and Travis McGriff, Georgia's Drew and Kevin Butler and Ole Miss's Archie and Eli Manning.

"My brother and I about a year-and-a-half ago tracked down one of his tapes from the archives and had it transferred to DVD, so we finally got a chance to see him play," Joe said.

"We were asking him what game he wanted and he said he had a real good game against Duke his senior year in the Oyster Bowl, which is down in Norfolk (Va.). He had like 20-plus tackles in that game. It was something to watch. He played similar to what I do and got around the ball a lot."

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MARYLAND'S OFFENSE has struggled to get going under first-year coordinator Mike Locksley and true freshman quarterback Perry Hills, but the veteran defense has surged with first-year coordinator Brian Stewart.

The Terrapins returned nine starters on defense and match up well with the Mountaineers. They're No. 6 nationally against the pass (124.33 yards per game) and No. 8 in total defense (227.33).

They're also going to rely a lot on an offense that ranks next-to-last in total offense (258.33) and is No. 100 in rushing (110.33) and No. 116 in passing (148). Maryland is also No. 91 in third down conversions (35 percent).

"We've done a decent job of doing that with the time of possession in the first three games," Edsall said. "Even though we are in a no-huddle, it's not the hurry-up type of offense like West Virginia's. The best defense we can play is having our defense on the sideline. It's important for us to be able to possess the ball and, not only possess the ball, but make sure you score.

"If we are possessing the ball and not coming up with points, that's not going to give us the formula for victory we're looking for. We need to possess the ball, we need to score points, and we need to try to keep our defense off the field."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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