THE WATER COOLER: FOUND EDITION
Welcome to THE WATER COOLER. For all you newcomers this is our weekly postgame feature here at TheSignalCaller.com. The idea is we take in everything we saw on Saturday, marinate on it for awhile while everyone else is in a rush to throw their recap at you, and then provide our thoughts for you to read Tuesday (sometimes Wednesday), hoping to provide some insightful nuggets that you can drop on your buddies around the water cooler (see what I did there) and look all educated. With introductions out of the way let’s get it going.
First we have a special sponsor this week. Today’s WATER COOLER is brought to you by bad ass WWII vets who “stormed” the WWII Memorial at the Washington Mall. Don’t worry, I have no intention of getting political here (I love sports blogs as one of the few places you can be free of political bickering) but I think we can all agree that government shutdowns suck but WWII vets demanding that whippersnappers get the hell out of their way so they can pay their respects is equally awesome. I mean, if there were ever a bunch of 90 year olds who would open up a can, it would have to be the Greatest Generation, right? Those folks are national treasures.
Let’s get to some football.
For all the frustration last year, there was only really one game that mystified me – Kansas State. All the other losses could be explained away – flat one week (Texas Tech), outmatched the next (Oklahoma State), unlucky after that (TCU and Oklahoma) uninspired at the end of a dismal year (Syracuse). They sucked, but they all made some sort of sense and fit into my construct of WVU football, built over 26 years of fandom.
Not Kansas State. WVU doesn’t mail it in two weeks in a row like that. I’d never seen a WVU team (at least not a decent one) get destroyed in back to back weeks the way they did against Texas Tech and Kansas State. WVU was always scrappy, ESPECIALLY at night and at home. That one didn’t make sense. That doesn’t happen.
It was armed with this knowledge that I entered WVU’s game against Oklahoma State not necessarily confident, but not at all as devoid of hope as I should have been after watching my team get obliterated 37-0 by the Maryland Terrapins. In fact, I even wrote this in my game wrap-up at this site a few days before:
It takes time for things to happen in football and it takes a little luck and it takes a little belief. The frustration is with how quickly the center can disintegrate and things can spin off out of control, how an historic win in front of 100,000 Texans can be rendered meaningless in two short weeks. But the beauty of this game is that things can come together with equal speed. An average blowout loss to Louisville can become a transformative moment in a program’s history, a quarterback buried on the depth chart can become a legend and a whole can become far greater than the sum of its collective parts.
As a man once said “it can happen, and we WANT it to happen.”
We’ll learn a lot about this team on Saturday.
And then I sent out this tweet right before kickoff:
Going on record:
#WVU might not win, but they’re going to show up and make this a very good game. I foresee massive improvement from last week
If you really looked hard, the pieces were there. This was a good defense and it was an offense with talent. All it needed was a couple more elements to help pull it all together. We got those on Saturday. The first of those elements was:
Clint Freaking Trickett
Trickett was nothing short of outstanding in his first start on Saturday. Not outstanding in the sense that he played a flawless game or didn’t make his share of mistakes (those interceptions were both ugly, ugly throws), but outstanding in that for the first time all season WVU had a signal caller who LOOKED like a quarterback.
Whether he was handling erratic shotgun snaps from Pat Eger or moving in the pocket to create space, Trickett looked 1005 in control at all times. Time after time he set up behind an offense ready to go and time after time I’d look at the playclock and see 15 or 20 seconds left – this was not something I was accustomed to seeing. They even went tempo a couple times. In fact, the only delay of game I remember is when he stubbornly refused to take an injury timeout after hurting his shoulder. But we’ll talk more about that later.
Trickett may not know every play in the playbook – hell, for all I know he had no idea what was coming in through his headset. But he looked the part. I never saw saucer eyes, never saw him turn to hand off to empty space and never saw a flustered coaching staff shouting to get a play in on time. It’s by Trickett’s own admission that he’s got a lot of room for improvement, but he made huge strides on Saturday by simply providing a calming center for what is often a frenetic offense.
So he was the first element we needed. The second was:
We were right back in that bad place on Saturday. Oklahoma State’s Josh Stewart had just popped a tunnel screen for a 73 yard touchdown for the game’s first score and then Trickett compounded the problem by throwing an ill-advised pass down the sideline that State’s Justin Gilbert plucked out of the air. The Cowboys were in business at midfield and poised to pile 7 more points on a Mountaineer team that hadn’t ever shown much interest in digging themselves out of holes.
Then Ishmael Banks happened.
Sometimes things go so bad for so long you just expect it to stay that way. You know the 50/50 replay call is going to go against you before they ever call it down from the booth. You know the ball is going to bounce away at that critical time. You know you’ll drop the momentum-swinging pass. This is where WVU has been for most of the past year. Even when they put together a decent string of plays, it seemed that one crack in the dam would bring the onslaught from the opposition.
Often the only thing that can break that chain of negativity is a lighting bolt. Sometimes you just need to get lucky – or more accurately you just need a small opportunity to make your own luck. When J.W. Walsh dropped back and lofted an errant pass over the head of his receiver, Banks saw that chance land right in his arms.
The importance of what happened next cannot be overstated. Banks zigged, zagged, deftly followed his blockers and went airborne for the last 12 feet to break what had been a scoreless 8 quarters against BCS level competition. In one fell swoop he stymied one of the nation’s most explosive offenses, ignited a crowd that was just dying for a reason to matter, completely validated everything his coaches had been screaming about turnovers for months and – oh – completely changed the complexion of the ballgame.
For good measure, they even needed to win a replay review to make it official.
After that the smaller breaks began to line up and while WVU played far from a flawless game, they put forth the most spirited effort we’d seen in quite awhile. There’s still a chance for 2013 to be a nice little season for the old gold and blue, and if it is you can all but guarantee it turned with 7:10 to go in the first quarter on September 28th.
A Little Help From His Friends
The best part about WVU’s win on Saturday – they weren’t great. They were very, very good and some very, very timely moments, but there were a ton of yards left on that field. Trickett said as much after the game: “We just beat the #11 team in the nation and we didn’t play our best game at all.”
But here’s the deal – Trickett is a good but not great talent and he’s going to have to get some help. The obvious target here is the offensive line, but it goes wider than that. The running backs need to make plays. One or two times Charles Sims popped through the hole and found himself matched up one on one with a safety – but was taken down after only a modest 10 or so yard gain. That play is designed to create that matchup and Sims has to exploit it. If you watch his tape from Houston, you see a player capable of winning one-on-one matchups in space. He’s gotta make those plays.
And wide receivers – come on. Certainly Kevin White made a nice play on the ball to snag Trickett’s first TD pass as a Mountaineer and Jordan Thompson made a fantastic diving catch on 3rd down to keep the game-clinching drive alive, but this teams needs a lot more of that. The effort by Ronald Carswell on Trickett’s first interception was lazy. Sure the pass was underthrown, but Gilbert simply muscled him out of the way as Carswell attempted to run his route. As a result he was bumped out of position and Gilbert was able to make the play that could have been huge if Ishmael Banks doesn’t swing the game.
These guys need to fight for space. Maybe they don’t come down with every jump ball, but they have to make sure nobody else does, either. Aside from that they’ve got to make catches. Ivan McCartney and Carswell both wiffed on touchdowns. Neither of them would have been the easiest catch in the world – both had defenders right on top of them – but Trickett put the ball in a place for them to make a play. Would it have been an easy play? No – but if it were easy anybody could do it. These guys need to develop and edge and some swagger and make plays to help their QB look good. In games that will almost certainly be down to the wire, every single play matters.
What The Signal Caller Sees
Shaw Rowell was a man possessed. One one first quarter play in particular his athleticism and fire were on full display. On first and 10 from their own 30, OSU’s Desmond Roland took a draw handoff from Walsh. Rowell had already penetrated two yards by the hand-off and forced the play outside. So he’s done right? Not by a long shot – he spins and sprints 22 yards upfield where he bear hugs Roland to the ground. Man, he’s tired. Time for a breather? I don’t think so. On the very next play Rowell held his spot and made a tackle of a runner for a 2 yard gain. Should be interesting to see how Shaq plays in Waco this week – I’m guessing Baylor hasn’t seen his like against Wofford, Buffalo or Louisiana-Monroe.
Coach Holgorsen was visibly miffed at quarterback Clint Trickett for drawing a delay of game penalty by refusing to stay on the turf after he was injured in the fourth quarter. Trickett took a nasty shot from an OSU rusher and landed badly on his throwing shoulder. After writhing in pain on the ground for several seconds, he arose and attempted to get a play off but the play clock ran out. Holgorsen should take heart. That five yard penalty was worth its weight in gold. On the sideline you could see every Mountaineer gawking incredulously at Trickett, baffled at why someone who had just taken that shot would get back up for more. You were reminded of the look on Apollo Creed’s face when Rocky staggers up from his stool and beckons the champ on. The offense spent the month of September looking for a leader – they found him.
The headliners on the WVU D – Darwin Cook, Brandon Golson and Shaq – are getting a lion’s share of the attention, but there are a boatload of emerging stars, too. K.J. Dillon sets the edge like a linebacker and freshman (FRESHMAN!) Marvin Gross is at times unblockable. Add into the mix guys like Jared Barber and Darryl Worley, who was an absolute monster on Saturday and you have a deep and talented defense that should be able to handle a lot of what it sees in Big 12 play – and they’ll face their biggest test of the season this week.
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.