Jeff Braun hasn’t forgotten the 2004 Gator Bowl.
West Virginia’s senior offensive guard still remembers watching former Terrapins football wide receiver Steve Suter return a second-quarter punt for a touchdown. He remembers quarterback Scott McBrien throwing for a career-high 381 yards. And he remembers the Terps leaving Jacksonville’s Alltel Stadium with a 41-7 blowout win over the No. 23 Mountaineers.
So as Braun prepares to face the Terps for the third straight year Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium, he isn’t taking anything for granted. Never mind West Virginia is a four-touchdown favorite. Never mind his team has won its past six meetings against the Terps. He knows better than to take the bordering state’s flagship university lightly.
“You know, they got the best of us around here, too,” said Braun, who followed Ralph Friedgen’s Terps while growing up in Westminster. “I mean, it’s not like around here we think it’s not a rivalry anymore. Because we really do consider it one.”
It’s a rivalry steeped in tradition. The Terps and Mountaineers have played 48 times since 1919 — the longest ongoing series for either school. And although West Virginia has dominated in recent years, the Terps are just four wins shy of evening the all-time tally.
Of course, that means little to the team’s seniors — a group that has yet to beat the Mountaineers.
“I don’t have no fond memories about playing up there because we lost,” defensive end A.J. Francis said Tuesday. “They kicked our ass every game we played. So there’s not many fond memories. You get tired of losing for sure.”
They’ve also grown tired of West Virginia fans. Tight end Matt Furstenburg said he’s had children clad in Mountaineers gear give him the middle finger. Francis recalled an elderly woman spitting on him before the Terps’ 31-17 loss at Mountaineer Field two years ago. Even coach Randy Edsall got nostalgic, describing a time during his days playing quarterback at Syracuse when Mountaineers fans pelted him with oranges.
“They’ve got some fans up there that are crazy,” Francis said. “Saturdays in the fall are what they live for the whole year. So you’ve got to be able to come forward because their fans are ready and their teams are ready.”
And then there’s the noise. When the Terps made the four-hour trek to Morgantown in 2010, Friedgen’s squad had three delay-of-game penalties and one false start on its opening drive. Center Paul Pinegar simply couldn’t hear quarterback Jamarr Robinson yell, “Hike!”
That volume could prove troublesome for freshman quarterback Perry Hills, who has four turnovers through three games and has yet to play before a capacity crowd.
“He needs to come in tomorrow and put [the mistakes] behind him,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. “That’s going to be our best way of doing things around here. Win or lose, we have 24 hours to get over it and make the necessary adjustments we need to make.”
But all the adjustments in the world won’t make containing the Mountaineers’ biggest weapon — wide receiver Tavon Austin — an easy task. The Baltimore native, who earned first-team All-America honors last season, has terrorized the Terps since choosing West Virginia over his home-state school just days before the 2009 signing day.
Austin has totaled 228 receiving yards and two touchdowns in two games against the Terps — providing yet another painful reminder of the Mountaineers’ success recruiting the state of Maryland in recent years.
West Virginia has 10 Marylanders — including key contributors Austin, Braun, running back Ryan Clarke and linebacker Terence Garvin — on its roster. And with the exception of Clarke, the Terps heavily recruited each starter.
“West Virginia, it’s only like four hours away,” said Garvin, who stymied the Terps with nine tackles and a pick-6 last year. “But you come up here and you just see a lot of things that people might not have seen back at home. It’s just a different atmosphere than how it is back there, which is why I think it attracts people.”
Still, local recruits aren’t always given the option to don the red and gold. Steve Slaton committed to the Terps in 2004, but bolted for West Virginia when Friedgen found out he had too many running backs and pulled the scholarship. Slaton rushed for nearly 4,000 yards and led the Mountaineers to two BCS bowl victories.
Owen Schmitt also wanted to play for Friedgen, and sent the Terps’ staff his tape when he decided to transfer from Wisconsin-River Falls in 2004. The Terps didn’t consider Schmitt a Division I prospect, though, and the fullback landed in Morgantown. He went on to rush for more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“There are so many players in this area and this region and state, we’re not going to get them all,” Edsall said. “There’s some that we might not recruit based on different variables in the recruiting process.”
Though that’s true, stories like Slaton’s and Schmitt’s — as well as those of Austin, Braun, Garvin and others — only intensify the Terps’ bitterness toward their southwestern neighbor.
“There’s some teams that when they come on the field, you just don’t like,” Francis said. “They feel that way about us, we feel that way about them. That’s just how it is.”
So don’t tell the Terps their rivalry with West Virginia is dead. Don’t bother asking the Mountaineers, either.
A six-game winning streak can hardly wipe away 93 years of disdain.
“Of course this is a rivalry game,” Garvin said. “Why wouldn’t it be?”