THE WATER COOLER: TAVON EDITION
by: Brandon Priddy : @abpriddy
That was frustrating. Exceedingly, overwhelmingly frustrating.
To be honest I had a pretty angry rant typed up Saturday night. Was gonna completely ignore the same old concerns and explanations for the defensive backfield, the same old concerns with the kicking game, the same old stuff about the brave new Big 12 – just throw it away and concentrate on Tavon Austin. He deserved it. But first I was gonna say some pretty mean things about the frustration of watching the same mistakes week after week with no fix in sight. How this team finds more ways to win than to lose and how it’s just not worth discussing anymore. I was pretty mad.
But a six pack of beer and six weeks of frustration isn’t very good fuel for writing and it honestly wouldn’t be fair. Not to a team that left their guts on the field and certainly not to several other guys in addition to Tavon who all played outstanding football. Make no mistake we’ll get to Tavon because that was one of the truly amazing performances not just for WVU and not just in the Big 12, but in the entire history of the sport, but I also wanted to talk about a defensive line and linebackers that played out of their minds. About a quarterback and receiver who torched a passing defense that was trending towards greatness. Don’t let the loss obscure the many good things about Saturday night – and there are plenty.
But we’re starting out with Tavon. For 5 games now we’ve been too caught up in all the things this team doesn’t do well and have given short shift to a player who may be the most gifted young man to ever don the gold and blue.
I made a decision on Saturday night: Tavon was the best open-field runner I’ve ever seen. Ever. As far as WVU players go he’s different from anyone I can remember. Noel Devine and Amos Zereoue were guys who ran exceptionally well in closed quarters, strong runners who ate arm-tackles for dinner. Steve Slaton was an acceleration guy who managed to hit holes with amazing speed. Pat White is probably the closest thing we’ve seen to Austin with his ability to cut and accelerate when he hit the second level, but as quick as Pat moved laterally Tavon manages to be QUICKER. Considerably.
It’s otherworldly to see a guy make the cuts that he does. Cuts where he moves laterally and then pops backwards before jetting forward again, having inexplicably never lost momentum. His little ‘ole’ moves on the sidelines are downright goofy to behold – it’s the type of things grown men do when playing with small children. He’s just BETTER than everyone on the field. By a lot.
Aside from his considerable physical gifts, he follows his blocks and finds open running lanes with alarming consistency. He doesn’t run the wrong way and he exposes every angle that the defense gives him. It’s what makes him such an exceptional kick returner and it’s what made him untouchable as a running back. When asked about the running plays he had learned in the off-week Austin responded with comedic simplicity ”Two plays. To the left and to the right.” That’s all it took. Give him the ball and a little space and he takes care of the rest.
The play that stood out was his speedy and shifting 54 yard run that keyed WVU’s final touchdown. First he explodes through a very nice hole created by his offensive line. Then he hits the second level and his special talents are on full display. Recognizing there are several Sooners down-field who will have the angle to catch him, he doesn’t hit the sideline like so many would but instead angles subtly to the middle of the field and works his way to the left hash where he’s heading straight at Sooner DB Tony Jefferson (who opened the season on the Jim Thorpe watch list). Now he makes this potential all-American look foolish with a devastating stutter-step, shifts left and suddenly finds himself with four Sooners around him. He shifts backwards and actually allows two of them to overrun him before heading to the right sideline (picking up another 5-10 yards) but then slowing, frantically waving for blocking help before a streaking J.D. Woods ran ahead and cleared out a defender for another 10 yards.
It was amazing and it’s going to be over soon and that’s why I’m making the long trip in for the Kansas game and senior day. You only get so many chances to watch a talent that special and shame on any fan (student or otherwise) who lives within easy driving distance and didn’t make the trip.
He’s climbing the mountain of all-time WVU greats faster than I realized. He might even be at the top before it’s all said and done.
For some quick numbers I’ll turn it over to a couple pieces I really enjoyed. First Chris Anderson over at WVU’s 24/7 Sports site put up some good stuff.:
- With just one game where he primarily played running back, Tavon Austin is now tied for the most 50+ yard runs (four) by any BCS player in the nation.
- On the evening, he had five plays from the line of scrimmage that went for 40+ yards – runs of 74, 56, 54, and 47, plus a reception for 41. He’s now tied for the national lead in that category. Last night alone would have put him in the Top 25.
- Tavon Austin had 572 all-purpose yards on the evening. That shattered the old Big 12 record of 432 and obliterated the previous Mountaineer mark of 356 set by Garrett Ford Sr. back in 1965.
- That 572 total is the most by any BCS Conference player ever and second-most in NCAA history, behind only Utah State’s Emmett White and his 578 back in 2000. Those two are on an island of their own, though, as No. 3 on the list is Brian Pruitt with 435.
Only thing I’d add to that is White’s performance in 2000 came against New Mexico State, which was decidedly not the #12 team in America that year (they finished 3-8).
Over at the Oklahoman.com, Berry Tramel gave some great perspective on where Tavon’s night fit within the rich tradition of Oklahoma Football:
* Tavon Austin broke the individual rushing record against OU by 109 yards. Austin had 344 yards; Kansas State’s Darren Sproles held the record of 235 yards in the 2003 Big 12 title game.
* We can talk about Austin all day. In the whole history of OU football, the tradition of Vessels and Owens and Little Joe and Billy Sims, only one time has a Sooner had two 100-yard rushing quarters in the same game. Adrian Peterson had 110 yards in the third quarter and 100 in the fourth quarter of Bedlam 2005.
Austin had 157 yards rushing yards in the third quarter, then 107 yards in the fourth quarter.
* Austin is the 10th player to crack 200 yards rushing against OU. It’s an impressive list. Sproles (235), Ricky Williams (223), Wisconsin’s Alan Thompson (220), Barry Sanders (215), Missouri’s Brad Smith (213), Marcus Allen (208), Mike Rozier (205), Arkansas’ Roland Sales (205) and Texas’ Hodges Mitchell (204).
Four Heisman winners on that list. Nice club you’re leading, Tavon.
* Austin’s 572 all-purpose yards missed by six the NCAA record held by Utah State’s Emmitt White. Austin broke the OU opponent record, previously held by Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard, by 207 yards. Austin had 395 all-purpose yards in the second half.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the greatest individual performance in college football history to me – at least top 5. Amazing.
In Defense of the Defense
Obviously this WVU defense has taken a lot of heat but I think it only fair that the heat be divided and distributed as appropriate. It’s important to delineate between the WVU defensive line and linebackers, who for all intents and purposes played an outstanding game and the defensive backs, who were awful. Oklahoma ran the ball 31 times for 108 yards. Decent numbers but when you take away Damien Williams’ 48 yard blast (where he ran past several WVU DBs who took awful angles and broke a couple more of their tackles) it was 60 yards on 30 carries for a 2 YPC average. Pretty impressive. They didn’t miss tackles, they provided a push and they kept Oklahoma from being able to settle into a spirit-crunching run game when that lead extended to double-digits. Like so many on Saturday night, this unit played to win and deserves respect for that.
Back in Business
It was great to see September Geno and Stedman back to their old selves, and given who they were lining up against you’d have to call that their best show to date. Consider that Oklahoma hadn’t had a 300 yard passer all season and total completion percentage against them was under 50%. Then remember that they had given up only 3 passing TDs ALL SEASON and were on pace to challenge 2005 Maryland for the all-time record (5).
Now look at the numbers.
Geno: 20/35 : 57% for 330 yards and 4 TDs Stedman: 13 catches for 205 yards and 4 TDs
You want the key to WVU’s defensive failings on Saturday? Big plays. Oklahoma ran 84 offensive plays. 8 of them went for over 20 yards. Oklahoma’s total yardage – 662. Yards on those 8 plays – 324; roughly half of their total yards. If you take the other 338 yards and divide it by 74 plays you get a 4.75 yards per play average. Not too bad. This defense is close and the front played great – it was guys running after the catch and breaking tackles and exploiting a wildly unathletic and inexperienced secondary that killed WVU. And I have no reason to think it won’t continue to kill them for 2 (3?) more games.
Jed’s Signals From The Sideline
- That final touchdown looked maddeningly simple – a quick slant to the best wide receiver on Oklahoma’s roster. It was even more frustrating when you consider that the standard default for coverage in that situation is to take away the inside break for the receiver, forcing him outside for a fade. You may be wondering how cornerback Ishmael Banks got beat the way he did – unless you hit rewind and realize that he had already been beat on the fade not one but two times for scores. In taking away something that had worked twice, perhaps Banks was attempting to push the action towards the middle of the field where more things – a tipped ball – can happen. Unfortunately the calculation didn’t quite pay off.
- The offensive performance of the Mountaineers was impressive by any measure – 778 total yards including 458 yards rushing – but was all the more so when you got an up close view of the personnel Oklahoma was trotting out on the field defensively. Big, fast athletes and lots of ‘em, shuttling in and out in the 2 deep all night. If the Mountaineers want to compete in the Big 12 defensively, this is the type of personnel they need to bring in.
- After seeing some of the sideline emotions of Coach Holgorsen in the first half, you might have expected him to explode on his team in the halftime locker room – not so. Instead the tenor of his locker room comments were positive and he reminded his team that they were “only one or two plays away” from winning the game. Further he told them to embrace the atmosphere, energy and experience of taking on one of football’s biggest names in prime time. He wanted them to not be intimidated but rise to the moment. Final score notwithstanding, they certainly did.
No excuse for the students dressed up as bleachers on Saturday night. None. Don’t be shocked to see their allotment drop – Oliver Luck is pretty good at math.
Amazing. Just amazing. He’s flying up the list of all-time Mountaineers faster than any of us realize.
And on the other side of the coin there’s this. Unreal.
It says a lot about guys like Irvin, Chris Nield, Pat White and Rasheed Marshall that they stepped up when this team needed them. Just another reason that the loss was so painful – this team and program went all in and to lose like they did is just….ugh.
For a crowd that took its share of criticism for the numbers on Saturday night this is worth mentioning. WVU fans don’t need a sellout to affect the game, and that’s pretty damn impressive.
Again, we’re entering WVU G.O.A.T. territory with Tavon.
This made me happy. For a team that has given uneven efforts throughout the year the effort from Tavon has never been anything less than top-tier grade A. He’s done everything he could possibly be asked to do and about 50% more – that makes him unique on this squad. Maybe he won’t get another BCS bowl ring, but I hope he makes a truckload of money here in a few months.
See, I’m smart! Darryl Talley says I’m smart!! But really, that was pretty cool – I’ve always been a big Talley fan and it was one of those neat moments you only get on Twitter. If you’re reading this and not on it I can’t suggest it highly enough.
Shots from the Sideline
Have a Happy Thanksgiving and we’ll see you back here on Black Friday for a preview of the battle to end this gawd-awful losing streak as the Mountaineers travel to Ames. While the family is away shopping, you can hang out with us. We’ll bring the beer, it’ll be great.
Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to hit me up with ideas or suggestions on how to make these pre and post-game wrap ups better and more informative. We’re here for you. Shoot me an email at email@example.com and follow me on Twitter: @abpriddy. I tweet throughout the game and love a little back-and-forth. Also check out some more of my work over at SmokingMusket.com where I was fortunate enough to become one of the newest staff writers.