PREGAME RUN THRU: HOPE FLOATS EDITION
by: Brandon Priddy : @abpriddy Welcome to the PRE-GAME RUN THRU – not to be confused with a “walk-through.” You don’t have time for that and neither does Coach Holgorsen! We’re hitting you with info as fast as you can take it…..we want TEMPO, TEMPO, TEMPO! Let’s get it rolling!!! It's finally here. 273 days after we last saw these Mountaineers slink off into the Morgantown night as a defeated team finding themselves on the wrong side of an overtime loss to Iowa State, they will finally return to take the turf in Atlanta's Georgia Dome to face the most intimidating football power of the last decade. Do they have a chance? Do they have a prayer? Is there any reason to nurture a flame of hope in our little blue and gold hearts? Of course there is...........and you came her 'cause you knew I'd be the guy to help you grab that little flame, hold it steady............AND TURN A FRIGGIN' SPRAY-PAINT CAN ON IT!! LET'S BURN THIS SUCKER DOWN Y'ALL!! (DISCLAIMER: kids, I was just kidding, absolutely nothing cool happens when you turn a spray-paint can on a flame and you should never do it ever.) So what would it take to pull off perhaps the biggest upset college football will have seen in several year? Well, you start at the beginning: Opening Games Are Funny Interesting things happen on the opening week of the season. An offseason of conjecture based on practice reports and spring games takes the place of game-proven fact and as a result it's not uncommon to have no friggin' idea what to expect. Sometimes Stanford only beats San Jose State by 3, or Wisconsin beats Northern Iowa by 5 (2012). Or Eastern Washington beats Oregon State (2013), or South Florida beats Notre Dame (2011), or Auburn beats Utah State by 4 (2011). And of course the granddaddy of 'em all, Appalachain State's 2007 upset of Michigan. Point being it's a loooooong offseason and sometimes the rust can get pretty thick. Opening week has proven to be a nice equalizer for teams, so you have to think that works in WVU's favor. While we're on the subject, I wonder how Alabama has done in opening games the last few years. (looks up scores). Oh. Well, I guess let's talk about that now. Survive the First Quarter Have you ever looked at Alabama's stats in season-openers under Saban? If you're reading this and you're hands aren't shaking probably not and frankly I wouldn't recommend it. Luckily I did it for you, so take another shot of courage and look at this: 2013 : vs. Virginia Tech W 35-10 (14-7 in 1st Q) 2012: vs. Michigan W 41-14 (21-0 in 1st Q) 2011: vs. Kent St. W 48-7 (21-0 1st Q) 2010: vs. San Jose St. W 48-3 (14-3 in 1st Q) 2009: vs. Virginia Tech W 34-24 (9-7 in 1st Q) 2008 vs. Clemson W 34-10 (13-0 in 1st Q) 2007 vs. Western Carolina W 52-6 (14-0 in 1st Q) What is truly frightening is how the Tide starts fast and never looks back. They've scored first in every single opening game under Nick Saban. They average 15.1 points in the first quarter. They've scored 2 1st quarter TDs in all but 2 of those games and 1 TD all but once ('09 vs. VT). Compare that to the 17 total first quarter points they allow for an average of 2.4 - less than a field goal. Four times they've tossed first quarter shutouts and only twice did they allow touchdowns - both times to Virginia Tech, one a 98 yard kickoff return (in '09) and the other a 77 yard run (in '13). That means Alabama has never allowed a team to drive for a touchdown in the first quarter under Nick Saban. That's impressive. The Tide take the momentum they build in that opening quarter and ride that wave to victory (see what I did there, aren't I clever?). In seven openers under Nick Saban they have only trailed twice - both times by a point as they traded TDs in the second quarter of that '09 meeting with Virginia Tech. The Hokies scored a late TD to take a single point lead into the locker room, the Tide answered 2.5 minutes into the second half and that was that. So that was the bad news.....but I have some good news. Seriously. If you're WVU, you can sharpen your focus - all you need to do is win the first quarter. And to win it you don't even really need to win it - you just need to SURVIVE it. If the Mountaineers can simply come out of that first quarter without giving up the farm, you've gotta believe they have a fighting chance. And if they can somehow find a way to drive the football and get a field goal or even *gasp* a TOUCHDOWN they it's a huge sign that they'll be able to move the ball on the Tide and that's a big, big deal. Holgie's Choice One of my compatriots at the Smoking Musket posed this question in an email earlier in the week and it's been nagging at me for the last several days: If WVU wins the toss and you're Dana Holgorsen, do you defer to the second half or do you take the ball to start the game? Personally in my vast coaching experience playing Tecmo Bowl and Sega Genesis College Football '96, I always defer to give myself the chance to start the second half fast. Always. Without fail. My formative years were spent at the altar of Don Nehlen and I learned my lessons well. Having said that I'm also the same guy who typed those previous few hundred words up there and it's pretty clear Alabama thrives on jumping on an opponent and pummeling early. So if you can take the ball, establish your offense and possibly forestall that onslaught, don't you have to take that chance? What The SignalCaller Sees: Now we'll turn it over to the man himself, Mr. Jed Drenning. His 'Hot Reads' column over at WVUSports.com is chalk full of good stuff - a WWII reference, a Mike Tyson quote, a Tommy Boy reference......need I say more? You need to give it a look. Here's a taste: Third down For the 2013 West Virginia offense, third down was a calamity. The Mountaineers finished 113th nationally by converting just 31.9 percent of their tries, marking the first time since 2004 WVU failed to move the sticks at least 40 percent of the time. This was in large measure due to West Virginia’s average third down situation involving an unwieldy distance of 7.8 yards needed to move the sticks – a figure that ranked 115th in the country. Third and three gives you options. Third and eight gives you nightmares. That’s why winning on early downs will be key for a Mountaineer offense that’s looking to rebound. But exactly what kind of alignment will West Virginia face on those key third downs this weekend? Pass Bama, Pass! In the much chronicled losses the last two years to A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma, the Tide threw for 309, 277 and 387 yards respectively. In Bama’s 24 wins during that time frame starter A.J. McCarron averaged just 209 passing yards per outing. The moral of the story? Imperative number one against the Crimson Tide is corralling their ground game enough that they’re forced to put the ball in the air more than they intend to. To Jed's point, I'll toss out this tweet that even further demonstrates Bama's struggles with pace: bama And finally, who REALLY has the edge? Who do you think has a bigger chip on their shoulder? The team that faded down the stretch to finish 11-2 less than twelve months after winning the national title . . . or the team that went 4-8 less than 24 months after winning the Orange Bowl? Exactly. There's reason to hope folks. Give Jed's article a look and be sure to tune in to the pregame show starting Saturday at noon! Parting Shot Well that's all I got folks. Need to get some rest for the trip down to Atlanta tomorrow morning. It's a tall task in front of us, but if you've been around the Blue and Gold for awhile you know this is where WVU lives. The 27 point spread is about as large a one as we've seen around here in awhile. Last one was Baylor last year (we won't talk about that) but the time before that WVU was 28 point dogs when they traveled down to play the Miami Hurricanes in 2003. They gave the 'Canes all they could handle and Quincy Wilson became a part of Mountaineer lore. It could happen again. So as a great man once said when a Mountaineer squad was again a prohibitive underdog, "anything can happen in football....on any given night......on any given field it can happen.......and they want it to happen tonight!" You gotta believe. Let's GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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’m a staff writer.