PRE-GAME RUN-THRU: Texas Edition
By Brandon Priddy
Welcome to the PRE-GAME RUN THRU where we're in such a hurry we even shortened the last word. Walk-throughs are for Pitt fans. You don’t have time for that and Coach Holgorsen doesn’t have time for that! We’re hitting you with info as fast as you can take it……..we want TEMPO, TEMPO, TEMPO! Let’s get it rolling!
On October 28, 2011, West Virginia University accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference. It was a move made for myriad reasons, none of those holding more primacy than football. From the moment the change became official in that press conference, there has been one game at the forefront of every WVU fan’s mind. One game that would mark their true arrival onto the biggest stage at the highest level of football. One game that would mean they BELONGED.
The Texas game.
And now it’s here.
It’s an amazing moment in the history of Mountaineer football for a variety of reasons. Aside from being the first time a West Virginia team will play in front of 100,000 people, it’s a historic trip to the home field of college football’s upper, upper, upper crust. This isn’t a quick series that will earn a little air time, i.e. those against LSU or Notre Dame. It’s not a one-time event like the Ohio State and Nebraska games. This is the Mountaineers going toe to toe with the second winningest program in college football history, and doing it as conference foes. As equals.
There has been no shortage of hyperbole thrown about in the lead-up to this week’s game and while fans debate its place in WVU history, that’s not what’s important. This is yet another opportunity for the Mountaineers to put a large crack in that glass ceiling that perpetually separates them from the college football elite. To further cement their place in the forefront of the consciousness of the college football opinion-makers who shape it’s sacred polls. To get on the radar of the type of recruits necessary to stay in the forefront of that consciousness. This is that moment and while there will be others, but there’s no time like the present.
It’s worth noting that in the parade of college football royalty I mentioned above, WVU came off on the short end every single time, often decisively. In fact, if forced to name the last time WVU beat one of the marquee names of the sport in a regular season game, I would have to say Penn State in 1988 (which is a stretch – Penn State isn’t really on that level) or more likely Oklahoma in 1982.
That was 30 years ago. The time has come for WVU to make a statement and validate the positive press they’ve enjoyed in this young season and back up the style of gaudy numbers with the substance of meaningful wins. Mountaineer fans are fond of saying that their team is just as good as any USC, Michigan or Texas and the team has made their case time and time again in BCS bowls. The next step is to demonstrate that same high level of play not simply in the singular moment of a bowl performance, but as a part of a regular season that forges the true character of a program.
Gus Johnson is on the call, all of America is watching and the stage is set. We’ll see if they’re ready.
This Week in ‘Geno Smith is an Alien From Another Freaking Planet’
Here is a prop bet where you can wager Geno will toss more touchdowns than incompletions. You would have been paid out three times this season.
And then there’s this stat that my buddy Don dug up:
This speaks to what I think is a major overlooked point about Smith’s season. Because of the numbers that Holgorsen has overseen in the past and the seeming ability to plug anyone into his offense and get the same results, some label Geno a “system quarterback.” It’s dismissive and diminutive all at once and does a disservice to the truly special talent that we are watching. System quarterbacks operate in offenses built chiefly around short passes – basically extended running plays – that are easy to make and fill up the stat sheet. Obviously the WVU playbook contains plenty of these plays (doesn’t get much easier than the flip-pass) but it is Smith’s ability to drop balls in a bucket downfield that separate him from everyone else. He possesses an uncanny sense of timing and touch that is simply uncommon among quarterbacks. Reason #2,483 that he is a special, special player and we should relish every single play.
In Defense of the Defense
How’s this for a bold prediction: West Virginia’s defense will play better than people expect on Saturday night. A lot better, and here’s why.
The narrative has taken hold that this is an abysmally awful defense and as is often the case with simplistic narratives, it’s based on a few high profile pieces of information but tends to break down under closer examination of the wider picture. When you take an objective look at the game by game performance of the unit however, you get a more complete picture of their true performance.
Marshall: 3 solid quarters of football where they gave up 2 touchdowns and 2 field goals as well as forced 2 turnovers, one which was returned for a touchdown and another which was returned to the three yard line.
James Madison: Mounted a pair of goal line stands and became the first FBS team to notch a turnover against the Dukes since 2008. The only meaningful points they gave up were a pair of field goals – the lone JMU touchdown was with 49 seconds left in the game.
Maryland: A frenzied blitzing defense gave up a few big plays on screen passes but made some too, scoring the games first touchdown. Gave up a pair of long gains to immensely talented freshman Stephon Diggs, but after all the dust had cleared they gave up only three touchdowns.
Then there was the Baylor game, where West Virginia cornerbacks were everything short of ritually sacrificed as they gave up big play after big play to a talented Bears receiving corps. There is no sliver lining, but consider what they were working against: a quarterback among the national leaders in passing and a quartet of physically gifted and experienced wide receivers, all led by a coach in Art Briles who has an impressive track record of offensive production.
You know what I see? Three solid efforts and one terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. It happens. But was it an outlier or an indicator? Remember, this was a WVU defense that entered the season with questions on the line and and at linebacker but relative experience in the backfield. Are we to believe they became terrible overnight? Did you know that the WVU defense is 7th nationally in tackles for loss a game? And if you want another surprise about the defenses, take a look at the tweets below that focus not on WVU’s 108th ranked PER GAME defense, but their 79th ranked PER PLAY defense. (teaser – there’s a very well known
Here’s another thing - these guys just spent a very long week hearing nothing but how terrible they are. The national media is falling all over themselves to praise this explosive offense and its Heisman front-running leader. Certainly the attention is justified, but I’m sure it’s frustrating to be swept to the side. Daron Roberts is a talented young coach – one bad game doesn’t change that. I’m thinking he works on his guys and gets the absolute best out of them under the Texas Saturday Night Lights.
If I’m on that defense I’m hitting that the Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium turf with bad intentions. I’m looking to destroy the first receiver to wander across the middle. To blitz that young quarterback as hard and as fast as I can and show the country that I’m not a punchline. To make a statement.
After as hapless a performance as can be imagined, expectations for this crew can’t get any lower. My money says that they show up and exceed them with plenty of room to spare.
What TheSignalCaller Will Be Watching
Some quick thoughts directly from the Mountaineer sideline and MSN Sideline Reporter Jed Drenning. Also be sure to check out this full commentary on the WVU defense and the reality of a new life in the Big 12.
- What is the true value of a ground game to Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense? In his time as a playcaller he’s 45-10 when his teams average over 4 yards per carry. Under 4 yards 24-16, under 3 yards 10-9 and under 2 yards 8-5. So while the inability to move the run the ball clearly makes it tougher to win, it’s far from a death sentence. Here’s hoping Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison can find just enough creases to get around the 80 yard mark and keep the Texas defense honest.
- West Virginia isnt’ the only team with big questions around their DBs. Starting strong safety Adrian Phillips has found himself in a battle for his job with a pair of sophomores as both he and safety Kenny Vaccaro missed some big tackles against Oklahoma State. If the shifty Steadman Bailey or lightning fast Tavon Austin can cause some consternation early, the psyche of this unit could quickly come apart. And if both defensive backfields cancel themselves out with struggles, the best QB wins, right?Speaking of QBs….
- By 10 PM Saturday night Texas fans and the rest of America should have a much more clear version of the real David Ash. Is he Colt McCoy redux, slinging the ball around as he leads his burnt orange army up and down the field? Or is he a shaky sophomore signal caller who has given strong performances enabled by weak opposition. Can he weather an early storm in the form of an interception or big sack? If the WVU defense can apply a little pressure, we could find out really fast.
- Can the much-maligned Pat Miller make a big play and bust things open? Don’t forget that his pick-six against South Florida came on a day when Dana Holgorsen’s offense didn’t get anything going until the final drive and his interception of Tajh Boyd was the first of two late-first half knockout blows that put Clemson on the ground for good. After the week he had you just KNOW #6 wants to come out and make something happen and it won’t take much. With expectations as low as they are something as small as a tipped ball or big hit could provide a surge of energy and enthusiasm to inspire the unit to play above their heads. You know what they say – redemption is a dish best served in front of 100,000 screaming maniacs.
Like man of you, I’m on an email chain. We discuss the world, politics, culture (fart jokes are culture, right?) but most of all we talk WVU football. On this chain are doctors, lawyers, architects, and a variety of other folks all across the spectrum coming together to trade nuggets of blue and gold wisdom. We’re buddies from grade school, high school, college and beyond. It’s a pretty unique group of sharp folks and I’m going to try a new feature on here where I drop some funny or thought-provoking excerpts from what we call The Greatest Damn Email Chain in America.
Nate: As a recent Texas transplant, I can say that for weeks now the only topic of conversation has been the WVU-UT game. I think i will be the only blue & gold in a sea of burnt orange at my local bar Saturday. of course, all the A&M fans are pulling for the Mountaineers also.
A few Tweets from around the Mountaineer universe that I found thoughtful, interesting or otherwise……and keep your eye out at the end of this section for a way to get your own tweets included as part of THE WATER COOLER on Monday morning!
Not gonna lie – I was pretty concerned when Holgorsen broke the news that Shawne Alson wouldn’t be making the trip down south – I even wondered if there were factors outside of the injury at work. Luckily @Mountaineers22 was here to pick me up. If you can’t trust an antonymous Twitter account, who can you trust!
As a WVU fan I am conditioned to be suspicious of all positive press and about the time I hear the sky’s the limit I wait for the roof to cave in. So someone, please make these guys stop with the fawning of Geno Smith. Please. It’s wierd and it worries me.
I SAID STOP IT!!
Don’t ever change Dana Holgorsen
This is a point I’ve been making all week. The WVU defense isn’t fantastic, but the yards per game numbers are skewed because of the number of snaps they see as a result of the offensive tempo. Say, I wonder what happens when you break it down to yards per PLAY as opposed to yards per GAME….
HOLY CRAP THEIR CRAPPY DEFENSE IS CRAPPIER THAN OUR CRAPPY DEFENSE DON’T TELL ANYONE!!!!
This Tweet was so great for so many reasons. Just a lot of subtext there. Yes it's the last thing that WVU fans who still have flashbacks to last year’s Big East officiating want to think about, but worth remembering. This is Texas’ conference y’all.
If you missed it there was a really, really great article on Grantland earier this week where Michael Weinreb chronicled his trip to Morgantown. For my money the quality of work on Grantland is as good as anything out there and it’s a real treat to see someone turn their talents on the Mountaineers. He talks about the game of course, but the article is more notable for its insightful description of both the counterculture bent of the WVU coaching staff and how it fits into the larger ethos of West Virginia as a program and state. Here’s a taste:
I can’t say for certain, but I like to think it’s important for Holgorsen to succeed without adhering to the conservative tropes established over decades by men like Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler and Bear Bryant. He, like Mike Leach before him, has always been perceived as an outsider, and in a state like West Virginia, where perception has long been a problem, his iconoclasm might be just what they need to break free from years of typecasting.
And for one more great read here’s about the only article published all week that actually WASN’T about Geno Smith and WVU. GIF artist @LSUFreek possesses a true artistic talent, a hilarious sense of humor and a fascinating life story. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
If you have any suggestions or comments on how we can make these posts better please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and as always follow me on Twitter: @abpriddy for in-game analysis, observations or simple wisecracks and follow Jed: @TheSignalCaller for the best WVU stats and info out there.