2012/09/05 8:42 am
You have got to like the aggression you see from Dana Holgorsen.
After dispatching alleged rival Marshall in expected fashion, 69-33, on Saturday, one would expect the second-year coach to be pleased with his offense's output. After all, the No. 11 Mountaineers have now combined to score 139 points in their last two games.
In fact, West Virginia scored on seven of its 9 possessions with the starters still in the game, but Holgorson made no bones about his the points that got away. Specifically, he was critical of himself after WVU was unable to convert a 1st-and-goal after four straight plays, as the coach chose to go for TD rather than the surer bet with kicker Tyler Bitancurt.
“I should have kicked the field goal there,” Holgorsen said in this article from wvmetronews.com. “That was stubborn and was a bad call on my part. … That was me being stupid and stubborn.
“We took three points away from that team.”
WVU's 69 points totals as the most ever scored in a season-opening game. That total was three points better than the previous record of 66, which was posted against Richmond in 1958.
The loss drops Huntington Community College to 0-12 against West Virginia, with the hapless Herd losing those games by average of 30 points.
West Virginia finished the game with 655 yards of offense, more than any total posted in a record-filled 2011. The offensive output was split nearly down the middle, with 331 yards on the ground and 324 passing, and WVU scored on nine of 10 touches and didn't commit a turnover.
“I guess that is about as balanced as you can be,” Holgorsen said in this article. “We spread the ball around to a lot of people.”
Not recommended for pregnant women, disabled persons, persons with with post-traumatic stress disorder, or persons who may explode from too much awesome.
The Mountaineers' sudden rushing prowess was all the more impressive when compared to the pitiful 42 yards rushing it managed against Marshall last year.
West Virginia ran 101 offensive plays and had six scoring drives of less than two minutes. Eight different players scored touchdowns for WVU.
Smith completed 32-of-36 passes for 323 yards with four touchdown passes, including two to former high school teammate and frequent target Stedman Bailey. The senior also ran the ball eight times for 65 yards, including a 28-yard TD run on a broken play.
The career records also continue to pile up for Geno, as he passed Marc Bulger with a new record of 650 career completions and 60 touchdowns. Smith needs just 374 more yards to best Bulger in career passing yards.
"Really pleased with how Geno played," Holgorsen said in this AP article from espn.com. "He's done a great job of taking care of the ball, a great job of leading the team."
For his part, Smith said the offense is becoming second-nature to him, which should just about scare opposing defensives silly at this point.
"We understand our offense a lot better and we're more comfortable," Smith said in the same article. "We trust in one another and we know if we do that we can score and put up points."
Bailey caught nine passes for 104 yards, posting his eighth 100-yard game - which is just one shy of David Saunders' WVU school record. J.D. Woods added a TD reception, while Tavon Austin had 10 catches and a touchdown, which he set up with his own 70-yard run. The senior finished with 173 all-purpose yards.
But all of the “Air Raid” offense was expected. What surprised the Gold and Blue faithful most was the emergence of that recently dormant ground game.
WVU put forth a meager 122.7 rushing yards on average last season, compared to a much more robust total of 331 on Saturday.
Newly minted starter Shawne Alston battered and bruised the Herd defense with his combo of speed, agility, and smash-mouth style. He ran for 123 and two touchdowns and announced himself as a force for future opponents to contend with.
"I think I'm the baddest dude on the field," Alston said in the previously-cited AP article. "It's just an attitude that you have to have. Any game that I go into, I just feel that they can't stop me.
“I know what I can do on the field and I don't think that anybody can stop me."
Action shot of Shawne Alston.
While the top rusher from last season, Dustin Garrison, seems certain to be heading for a medical redshirt, Alston's backup Andrew Buie showed some impressive flashes as well. The redshirt frosh added a TD run to go with 80 yards rushing and 31 receiving.
Buie helped break the game open with a 21-yard scoring run on a delayed draw that caught a pass-watching Herd defense completely by surprise.
Keeping defenses honest with the run will be key for the offense this season, Alston said.
"I think it's very important, especially for our passing game and Geno," he added in this WV Gazette article. "If people want to back up for passing, me, Buie and Ryan Clarke are ready to go."
WVU's defense gave up a boatload of offense to MU, but made up for its porous nature by forcing two turnovers that led directly to scores. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Bruce returned a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown, and Doug Rigg ran an interception 46 yards to the Marshall 3 to key another TD.
Bruce led all tacklers with 16, while Terence Garvin provided 12 stops.
Another first-year player, true freshman safety Karl Joseph, posted seven tackles - two for a loss - in his Mountaineer debut.
But first-year defensive coordinator Joe DeForest can't be pleased with how his newly installed defense allowed the Herd to gain 545 yards, including a 98-yard scoring drive in which MU converted three 3rd-down opportunities.
Rakeem Cato completed 38-of-54 passes for 413 yards and two touchdowns, while Travon Van added two rushing touchdowns. The output was even more off-putting for the 'Eers because Marshall was ranked 102nd in the country with an average of 333.4 ypg in total offense in 2011.
"They played hard,” Holgorsen said of his defense in this article from the WV Gazette. “They gave up some plays, but they also got two turnovers.
“As far as how many yards we gave up, I'm not going to worry about that.''
Austin and Alston both lost fumbles that could have been costly, but a Gold and Blue jersey managed to fall on it each time.
Alston impressed early, showing why his power and size earned him the starting nod. The senior bulled and shoved his way for extra yardage, taking three to four hits before the Herd could bring the big man down.
The methodical opening drive moved the Mountaineers down the field with efficiency, but it's most important task seemed to be getting Marshall to keep the box full. Stedman Bailey made them pay, getting behind the secondary for an over-the-shoulder 32-yard touchdown from his former high school teammate Smith.
Tyler Bitancurt missed the point after, leaving WVU up 6-0. Geno went 5-for-5 to key the opening possession which took the Mountaineers 94 yards in 9 plays.
Missed extra points- the very epitome of facepalm.
The offense continued to hum along as if in midseason form on the second drive. Geno picked the defense apart with four straight completions for 44 yards, while Alston slammed his way through for a first down.
Smith's first incompletion came when he overthrew an open Bailey on a play-action pass, but soon after Alston made up for it with a hard-nosed 3-yard TD run. After the PAT, which found its way through this time, WVU was up 13-0.
After humoring Marshall by letting them try some offense, WVU soon had the pigskin back and again looked unstoppable in driving into Marshall territory. This time, though, the Herd defense managed to dig in its heels and stop WVU.
Despite earning a first-and-goal, West Virginia came up empty on four straight plays to turn the ball over on downs.
The MU offense took its cue from the D, finally getting in gear and moving 98 yards in 14 plays to get on the scoreboard. Marshall converted a trio of 3rd down opportunities to keep their drive alive, and Van was the one to finally break through with a 3-yard touchdown run.
The series was in stark contrast to MU's first three touches, which went a paltry 28 yards combined.
After the PAT, WVU found its lead cut to 13-7.
The Mountaineers took the punch and fired right back with ease. Buie got in on the action, providing two runs for 42 yards, including a 24-yard scoring run on a delayed draw from Smith. The TD came after a five-play, 68-yard journey to make the count 20-7.
The Herd cut its deficit back to 10 with a field goal, but Austin quickly negated the points. The senior broke a 70-yard run on the next play from scrimmage to set up his own 6-yard TD reception two plays later.
The series lasted just 41 seconds, going 83 yards in three plays to move the count to 27-10 in favor of the homestanding 'Eers.
The rout continued with Smith finding new starter Woods for a 9-yard TD on the next drive, which took just 1:40 for the team to 74 yards in 9 plays.
The most telling first half statistic was that Marshall actually held the edge in time of possession, 16:09 to 13:51, but WVU led by 24 and outgained the Herd by 249 yards (403 yards to 254). WVU's balance on offense was impressive too, breaking down the output to 200 yards rushing and 203 yards through the air.
WVU had 21 first downs to 13 for Marshall.
The fireworks kept coming in the third quarter, with WVU driving with relative ease for another score. This time it was Alston, making up for the earlier denial in the red zone, slamming his way through defender after defender before breaking loose for a 22-yard score.
A rare WVU punt attempt was blocked by the Herd, setting up a Van TD run to make the score 41-17.
That served only to anger the Mountaineers, who answered right back with Smith's 28-yard breakaway score on a broken play. The senior QB showed how dangerous he can be on his feet, quickly aborting a botched handoff, spinning away from defenders, and taking it all the way to paydirt.
Garvin stripped Cato on the second play of the Herd's ensuing possession, and Bruce returned the loose ball for a score to make it 55-17.
MU mounted a respectable drive to follow, but missed out on two sure touchdowns due to penalty. The Herd instead opted for a field goal in lieu of going for it on 4th down, cutting the team's deficit down to a more manageable 35 points at 55-20.
West Virginia kept the pedal to the metal, coming out immediately after with Geno still throwing deep. He found Ivan McCartney deep for a big gain before connecting again with a Bailey on a short fade to make it 62-20.
Then the wheels came off completely as Cato threw an interception, which Rigg nearly returned for a score. Instead, Paul Millard made his first appearance of the season at QB and promptly threw a TD to K.J. Myers for the wideout's first career score.
It was the first pass and reception for each player respectively, and the TD made it 69-20. If you're counting at home, that's back-to-back games for WVU with a combined 139 points against opponents.
West Virginia (1-0) has a bye week before the Sept. 15 trip to FedEx field in Landover, M.D. to take on James Madison.
2012/09/05 8:19 am
Well, it happened again.
Last year's season predictions, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, and with the full understanding that Couchers haven't exactly looked back fondly on their predictions of undefeated season after undefeated season after undefeated season, after undefeated season (at least we mixed in one season where the worst we could imagine was one loss), featured predictions for a season that ranged from undefeated to the unimaginable outcome of losing 2 games.
We take our roles as homers very seriously.
So it is that once again, we find ourselves at the start of the football season, and the need for our prognostication is at a fever pitch.
(Ideally, shouldn't these predictions have come before WVU's first game? Details, details. But if you honestly thought that anyone on this site would predict anything less than the outright slaughter of Marshall, you are probably a spammer trying to find the comments section to sell us some boner pills, anyway.)
Remember folks. Don't just take these things with a grain of salt. Get the whole shaker.
The ride is usually a little bumpier than we expect, folks.
I’ve gone on record with lofty, unreasonable, season predictions in the past. I’ve unfairly eschewed our recent history while squinting through my blue & gold glasses as I’ve picked double-digit win season after season.
West Virginia hasn’t gone unscathed in their conference play since Pat White was under center as a redshirt freshman in 2005. And this was in the BIG EAST which gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield at an Aretha Franklin concert. So I must’ve learned from my past mistakes, right? My prognosticating skills surely have improved given the letdowns my previous predictions have provided me, right?
Nope, not this year! Sure, WVU is in new conference territory, facing new foes in new hostile environments. No matter, this is a different coach. A different offense. A different team. A different program even.
Holgerson and the boys will finish 11-1 with their lone loss at conference foe and lesser opponent Iowa State on 11/24. Hey, the more things change, the more things stay the same, right?
This is the toughest season ever to predict and we are finally going to answer the question that has repeatedly been asked over the past decade: How would a Big East team fare in a real conference? The thing is, WVU hasn't been a Big East team for a long time, which is why we are always at or near the top. And with our current coaching staff and offense, we certainly more closely resemble an Oklahoma State than Pitt.
All that being said, I foresee a 9-3 season. I feel like we are as good as any team in the league, however I am buying into the dramatic increase in strength of schedule. I have no idea who the 3 loses will be, and I think those losses will come in games we are favored in. Still, 9 wins will be more than respectable for our first year in a for-real conference, and it will be fun watching records fall every week. Also, 9-3 might still be good enough to get to another BCS game as none of the Big 12 teams stand above the rest.
Mountaineers go 10-2 with losses against Texas in an ugly game that we should have won, and a late loss to Oklahoma at home in a battle of Top 5 teams.
WVU places second in the Big 12 and earns an at large BCS berth.
10-2. Losses at Texas (despite the fact that we'll be geeked to play there) and at home to Oklahoma.
The defense will be better than people think despite the loss of Casteel, and will eventually gel.
With all these predictions of a loss in Austin, apparently we all need to get the Mountaineers some t-shirts with this logo.
One good thing about beating the everloving dogshit out of a conference champion in a BCS Bowl is that for the remainder of the offseason, it erases the memory of everything that came before it.
70-33 became a rallying cry, an internet joke, a score printed on thousands of WVU t-shirts flying off the shelves.
And it certainly had an impact on voters in both polls, who bumped the Mountaineers from #23 in the rankings to #17, then up to #11 in this year's preseason rankings, and now to #9 after blowing out Marshall Clemson-style in the first game of the 2012-2013 season.
But while Mountaineer fans bask in the glow of WVU's 69.5 points per game in the 2012 calendar year, it's easy to forget that the Mountaineers had to win out their regular season (and get some help along the way) just to make it to the Orange Bowl last year, and they won their final 3 Big East games by a combined 7 points despite playing competition that wasn't exactly SEC caliber.
So while I certainly understand how people might consider the Mountaineers to be an unstoppable juggernaut (even Mark May has WVU in his top 5 at this point), I do think a healthy dose of "Hold on folks" is in order. ESPECIALLY considering that in their inaugural season in the Big 12, the Mountaineers will be facing a level of competition on a week-to-week basis they've never seen before.
As always, let's go pros and cons.
- Conveniently, if ever there was a year for WVU to be making this transition, this is the year. Senior leadership at QB, RB, WR, and O-line, and some youth sprinkled in with veterans on the defense. Young, up-and-coming offensive mind capable of diagramming some crazy mess these Big 12 fools haven't ever seen before.
If this was next season and the Mountaineers were going into their first year in a new, far superior conference, with a first-year starter at QB and question marks all over the field, this would be a very different tone of a preview article. As is, if anyone should be prepared, they should.
- Geno Smith is set to be the most prolific QB in Mountaineer history with an insane arsenal at his disposal in Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, etc. His near-perfect game against Marshall should be put on film and preserved for anyone that ever wants to see the quarterback position played as well as it can be played. If he keeps this up, WVU has a legitimate Heisman contender.
- Shawne Alston looks like he might be the real deal at running back, trucking over fools like the second coming of Quincy Wilson. Andrew Buie is a more-than-capable back who has his own burst as well. If the Mountaineers can achieve balance in play calling at the same time a full air raid is in effect, this could be the best offense in school history.
- The offensive line should be VASTLY improved over last season, when it looked like a jailbreak nearly every time Geno dropped back to pass. The return of Josh Jenkins at the left guard spot allows Quintin Spain to move to a natural left tackle position and shores up a line that desperately missed him last season.
If the first game against Marshall was any indication, what was a weakness last year should be one of the strengths of the team this year.
- While the d-line will surely miss Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, who were single-handedly responsible for over half of the team's sack production last year, they should also be a little more stout against the run than last year. While Irvin is an all-world pass rusher, he could also be a liability in the run game.
- While some view the departure of Jeff Casteel as something that I should be putting in the "Cons" category, I don't. There was apparently a decent amount of friction last year between the holdovers from the Stew era on the defensive side of the ball and the new regime under Dana Holgorsen. That division is gone, and the team has one cohesive message at all times this year.
Combine this with the fact that quite honestly, the 3-3-5 is a gimmick defense that got by on smoke and mirrors in much the same way that John Beilein's 1-3-1 defense was in basketball. Spit all the statistics that you want at me about WVU's national defensive ranks in the last few seasons. It won't change the fact that teams moved the ball against the Mountaineers at will for 8 years and even the vaunted defenses of the past few seasons gave up 49 points to SYRACUSE, 39 points to Louisville, 31 points to a Maryland team that won 2 games last year, and 23 points to NC State in the bowl game in 2010 where our defense was allegedly the strength of the team.
Those teams ain't exactly Oklahoma and Texas, folks.
Obviously the defense had its issues on Saturday, but give them time to gel under new defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson.
- WVU generated little to no pressure on the Thundering Herd on Saturday, which exposed the secondary as being the held-together-with-tape-and-glue unit it is. With Big 12 offenses on the horizon, the pass defense needs to improve drastically or WVU is going to need every bit of the 69.5 points per game they're averaging in 2012.
- The defense is young, too, starting a true freshman (phenom though he may be) at free safety in Korey Joseph and a redshirt freshman at linebacker in Isaiah Bruce. As many as 8 true freshmen could see the field at some point this season. Hopefully that says more about the quality of defensive recruiting than it does the depth issues that the Mountaineers may have.
- Special teams are still terrible. A missed extra point and a blocked punt were the only two really embarrassing moments against the Herd on Saturday, and the Mountaineers have to do something to shore up those units. Kick coverage was good, but special teams have been a concern for the Mountaineers for at least 5 years now, and we can only hope that first-game jitters were responsible for the mistakes so far.
- Overconfidence and hubris. All offseason, Mountaineer players have been hearing how unstoppable they are, how highly ranked they are, hearing words like "Heisman contender" for 2 players and being predicted to win the Big 12 in their first year of entry into the league.
They seemed to have their heads screwed on straight against Marshall, but little things like going for a TD on 4th and 3 from the 3-yard line when you're already up by 13 (and then running a how-could-you-think-that-was-going-to-work QB sneak) embolden the opposing team and could eventually come back to bite the Mountaineers.
The Mountaineers might be a tad overconfident going into the season.
So all that said, here's my game-by-game breakdown.
Marshall- W 69-34
Man, this prediction stuff is much easier if you just wait until after the games happen.
James Madison- W 54-24
An unfamiliar environment at FedEx Field shouldn't deter the Mountaineer attack.
Maryland- W 48-17
This team is horrible. Remember when these games were competitive? That was fun.
Baylor- W 30-21
Things start to get a little more interesting for WVU as they enter their first-ever Big 12 regular season. I'm just glad this game is in Morgantown.
at Texas- L 38-35
While Texas wasn't up to par last season, it's hard to believe they're going to have two down years in a row, and the Moutaineers' first ever trip to Austin could be asking too much for a young defense to handle.
at Texas Tech- W 42-17
There won't be many easy games in the Big 12, but this should be one of them.
Kansas State- W 45-38
And thus beginneth WVU's slate of shootouts. Hopefully we're on the right side of this one.
Another barn-burner in Morgantown. WVU's going to need everything they can get out of that offense. Fortunately, they'll have a week off after the KSU game to get ready.
at Oklahoma State- L 53-48
The Mountaineers' young defense will have to hold up to be able to slow down Oklahoma State. I don't think they get it done.
Oklahoma- W 38-35
Another high scoring affair in Morgantown, WVU finds just enough to move past the Sooners in their first ever visit to Touchdown City.
(An important sidebar is going to be what happens if the Sooners are #1 when they roll into town and lose to the Mountaineers? Does that warrant a couch-burning? The Couchburning Committee may have to convene to consider the matter beforehand.)
at Iowa State- W 24-21
Closer than anyone thinks it will be after the Mountaineers are exhausted following the Oklahoma game on Saturday night, then fly out to Iowa State for a game on Friday night.
Kansas- W 35-28
WVU closes out their inaugural Big 12 season with a win at home against a surprisingly frisky Jayhawk team.
Final record- 10-2, appearance as an at-large in a BCS game.
Enjoy the season everyone.
2012/09/04 6:53 am
Editor's note: Click here for part 1 of the 2012-2013 WVU Football Season Preview- Offense. This preview was a joint effort from longtime WMITC contributor Dan and Jude.
“Ah changes are taking the pace I’m going through.”
– David Bowie
What a transitional year for the WVU defense and program as a whole. No longer will be the team be busing up to Piscataway, NJ but rather flying cross time zones to Middle of Nowhere, TX. No longer will the team be a 12 NOON “Big East Game of the Week” on some online-only content provider for which nobody has access, but will be on national broadcasts on both East and Gulf Coasts.
A new era is dawning on WVU Football. And one of the most challenging changes to absorb is the Big XII offensive landscape and powerful offenses that come with that. Championship-winning offenses. Heisman-caliber quarterbacks. All-American roster 2-deeps, it almost seems.
With that change in conferences comes a complete shift from a 3-3-5 odd stack (“smoke and mirrors”) alignment to a more basic 3-4 / 4-3 (“tried and true”) alignment. Coach Jeff Casteel was a consistent rock on the defensive side of our program since Rich Rodriguez was still dragging a comb across his head. But following Casteel's departure to Arizona to join Richrod, the Mountaineers turn to a been-there-before co-defensive coordinator arrangement of Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson.
The good news is there is some familiarity with WVU's opponents’ offensives already established. But that is in the past and can only take former Oklahoma State defensive assistant Joe DeForest so far. Change is inevitable, change is constant. The question is, can WVU as a defensive unit handle the pace?
Co-defensive coordinator Joe Deforest is familiar with Big 12 defenses, plus he has a gold whistle, so you know it's good.
“What’s my age again? What’s my age again?” – Blink 182
One thing we can all agree on is that the Mountaineer defense is going to be young. This age and inexperience may take some adjustments while installing the defense, but it also provide less “unlearning” of the previous 3-3-5 defense, or aged not-so-good habits that the coaches will need the players to break.
There have been some reports of up to 8 true freshmen seeing the field this season. That's a lot of fresh-faces to be trotting out against offensives that routinely put up 40 points and 300+yard passing games. Friday night lights of the high school fields will be replaced by Saturday afternoons in stadiums packed with as rabid fans as you find in a conference not named the SEC.
(Looking at WVU's depth chart 3-deep at every position, you'll find 10 true or redshirt freshmen and only 6 seniors.)
Thankfully the young defense can rely on the fact the offense should be finding the end zone as many times as Coach Holgorsen has a sugar-free Red Bull tilted over his head. This should allow them to become comfortable with the new schemes and force enough turnovers to make up for defensive breakdowns. The defense can’t afford to play like the 18-and-19-year-olds they are, and must forget how young or inexperienced they may really be. Instead, they must focus on their assignments and ability to get after the ball and put the offense in the best position to make the refs put their hands in the air like they just don’t care.
“Yo, you best protect ya neck” – Wu Tang Clan
In the event you have never looked up the Urban Dictionary meaning of “protect ya neck,” besides the first definition of “what you need to do when the Wu comes for that ass,” you will see it means you must “respect/re-examine your vulnerability and that of other people.”
One thing top defenses are known for is exploiting another offense’s weaknesses. Whether it’s disguising a blitz against a weaker side of the line, double-teaming the best receiver and forcing the QB to look for less reliable options, or deviating from their usual defensive game plan and throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the opponent that wasn’t in their game tapes.
Although this year’s team doesn’t have the unusual odd-stack defense to catch teams off guard, it does have some savvy coordinators eager to put a mix of youthful and experienced players in the right position to defend some of the most electric offenses in the country.
2011 stalwarts Bruce Irvin, Julian Miller, Keith Tandy, and Najee Goode aren't walking through that door. But here's who is:
Losing Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller from the defensive line means that the Mountaineers are losing the players responsible for almost half of their team sacks last year. If the game against Marshall on Saturday was any indication, pressuring the quarterback may be an issue for this year's defensive line, as the Mountaineers got little-to-no pressure on the quarterback as he amassed over 400 yards of passing.
On the flip side, while Irvin was a master of creating havoc for quarterbacks, the one knock on his game was his ability as a run-stopper. The Mountaineers may improve that area of defense this season, and already showed promise by holding Marshall to just 2.9 yards per carry on Saturday.
Juniors Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell joined senior Jorge Wright as starters on the d-line. Clarke and Wright will be responsible for creating pressure from the ends, while 310-pound Rowell will try to occupy blockers and create havoc from the nose tackle position to free up WVU's stable of linebackers to make plays. Early reviews of Rowell's play have been extremely positive, while Clarke and Wright have more experience and reps along the defensive front and should provide stability to a defense needing all the stability it can get.
Those 3 starters will rotate with true freshmen Korey Haris and Christian Brown, as well as redshirt senior J.B. Lageman. Brown drew high praise from Rowell in the offseason, as reported in this wvusports.com article:
"That kid is showing me some stuff that I haven’t seen from another freshman. He’s impressed me a lot. He’s still got to get some things down, but physically, that kid is ready to play and I think he can play in any conference.”
Nose tackle and Official Large Person Shaq Rowell hopes to fill up a lot of space on the defensive line while squeezing through to make some plays in the backfield from time to time.
The main difference between the 3-3-5 and the 3-4 is that the extra defender in the box will now be a linebacker instead of a defensive back.
Senior Terence Garvin is a former safety that will be expected to create pressure off the edge for the Mountaineers and should be a disruptive force. While the Herd did keep him out of the backfield for the most part on Saturday, he still recorded the team's only sack and had 2 tackles for loss.
In a bit of a surprise, redshirt freshman Isaiah Bruce (Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce) started in front of junior Doug Rigg as the strong-side linebacker on Saturday, and rewarded the coaches for that decision by recording a team-high 16 tackles and a rumbling fumble recovery for the team's first defensive touchdown of 2012. Rigg himself chipped in with an interception later in the game.
Redshirt junior Tyler Anderson starts at the buck linebacker spot while sophomore Jared Barber mans the weakside linebacker spot.
The Mountaineers will rely on a steady rotation of linebackers throughout the game. Redshirt sophomore Wes "Honky" Tonkery (thank you, Chris Berman) backs up Garvin while sophomore Shaq Petteway plays behind Barber, and senior Josh Francis backs up Anderson.
The linebackers made a strong showing on Saturday, scoring a TD and creating another turnover while holding the Herd to limited success in the rushing game. They may be a welcome respite from a building process in the condition of most concern for the Mountaineers...
The position with the most questions for the Mountaineers sure didn't do anything to quell those concerns against the Thundering Herd, giving up over 400 yards passing to a quarterback not exactly heralded as the next coming of John Elway.
Redshirt junior Brodrick Jenkins and senior Pat Miller start at corner for the Mountaineers. Both have seen extensive snaps on the defensive side of the ball for WVU over the past few years, and should provide veteran leadership to a backfield that is young in several places. Pat Miller does occasionally create a turnover, but is seen far too often as the back of a jersey chasing some receiver that is 10 yards behind the Mountaineer defense. (Indeed, he was 4th on the team in tackles against Marshall with 8 tackles. When you're a corner and recording beaucoup tackles, that is, and please forgive the extremely technical football terminology, "not good.")
Freshman sensation Karl Joseph starts at the free-safety spot, and is known already for his thunderous hits in the secondary. Joseph turned down offers from South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, and Cincinnati to join the Mountaineers. Head coach Dana Holgorsen views him as an uncommonly mature freshman capable of playing right away.
"I'm not saying he doesn't make mistakes or miss tackles or any of that - he does - but from a demeanor standpoint, the effort and the maturity and the physical capabilities of being able to handle it, he is the guy that is going to be fine," Holgorsen said in this article from the Charleston Daily Mail. Joseph rewarded the coaching staff with their decision on Saturday by making 7 tackles, including 2 for a loss.
I believe I am going to enjoy the Karl Joseph era at WVU.
Redshirt junior and Orange Bowl Mascot Abuser Darwin Cook starts at the other safety spot again for the Mountaineers, providing some stability in the secondary, although he too was seen chasing after wide-open Marshall defenders a time or two on Sunday.
He will be backed up by true freshman K.J. Dillon and Joseph will be backed up by redshirt sophomore Ishmael Banks. True freshman Nana Kyeremeh may see time at safety as well as corner this season, while sophomore Avery Williams and redshirt senior Cecil Level will back up Miller and Jenkins.
Fortunately for the secondary, a bye week and then games against JMU and Maryland give the Mountaineers some time to gel before their first-ever Big 12 games appear on the schedule. Hopefully they will have repaired the gaping holes before Big 12 offenses smash them open.
While the offensive firepower of the Mountaineers should ease the pressure on the defensive side of the ball, a propensity for high scores could leave the secondary exposed if the game turns into an air raid shootout. WVU will need to create pressure with its d-line and rushing linebackers to keep opposing QB's from sitting back in comfort while picking from an array of wide-open options in the secondary.
Again, the Mountaineers have some time to figure it out. But if they don't, expect to need every bit of the 70 points per game WVU is averaging in 2012.
2012/08/31 7:49 am
Editor's note: Every year, Wemustignitethiscouch.com provides a season preview that combines all the in-depth analysis you'd hope for from a college scout with a snarkiness usually reserved for the least mature among us. This year is no exception, as Dusty provides us with a preview of the offensive side of the ball in Part I, while Dan and I will team up to get you up to speed with the defense.
If you've been avoiding all the other hype-inducing coverage of the Mountaineers over the past 8 months and just want to get to the season, we understand. Here's the basics.
West Virginia has got offensive muscle in spades. That much is obvious.
Just look at the records not just set but destroyed last season. The team returns a bevy of talented players, including national sweethearts Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, and has an extremely talented second-year head coach/offensive guru in Dana Holgerson.
But this side of the football is a lot more than just Geno, although he gets plenty of ink in the following preview. Let's take a look at how where the offensive fireworks will come from, starting with....
Despite all the considerable hoopla surrounding his senior season, including frequent mentions as a Heisman candidate in national publications, third-year starter Geno Smith acknowledges he has plenty of room for improvement. "I made poor decisions in a lot of situations," Smith said in this AP article, bringing to mind key interceptions in losses against LSU and Syracuse.
"That's really where I've improved the most, my decision making and being able to get us in and out of good plays, taking care of the ball a little bit more and just overall being a better quarterback."
WVU finished the year No. 6 nationally in passing yards per game under the new spread offense. The QB position provided 4,509 yards total, breaking the 1998 record of 3,700 yards by more than 800 yards total.
Reports are that Smith has added upwards of 10 pounds of muscle to his frame to supplement having his nose in the books and in front of the film screen constantly studying opponents and himself. Despite all the accolades from last season, the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year has plenty of chances remaining to pad his resume.
Smith needs 697 yards take over the top spot on the WVU career passing list, while he needs but 12 completions to become the school’s all-time leader in that category, and he needs just four TDs to take over that category as well.
A third-year starter, Smith has played in 31 games, including 26 straight for the Mountaineers. The signal-caller finished last season with 4,385 yards passing, the first WVU quarterback to surpass to break the 4k milestone in breaking Marc Bulger’s single-season record from 1998.
Smith led the way to 33 touchdowns setting a WVU record, breaking the previous mark held by Bulger (1998) and Pat White (2006) at 31 TDs. His junior campaign included eight games with more than 300 yards passing, setting both school and Big East records.
The backup spot belongs to Paul Millard, who saw limited action in four games last year. He managed an unimpressive 7-of-15 passing for one touchdown and two interceptions. But all reports from camp are that Millard has progressed considerably and will show a steadier hand when given the chance this year.
Millard took exclusive reps with the first team with Smith missing the last two days of fall camp, earning rave reviews from teammates and coaches alike.
The third spot on the depth chart belongs to true freshman Ford Childress, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound up-and-comer who will pose more than just a passing threat to Millard for the top spot next season.
Reports are that Childress has improved greatly since struggling in the spring but will still redshirt this season to continue to learn and develop in the Holgorsen’s system. Childress and Millard will then battle next spring to determine the heir to Geno’s throne.
Let it fly, Geno. Just let that sweet thing fly.
Helping Geno to pile up another stellar offensive season will be a returning cast of familiar faces. Chief among them will be all-world candidate Tavon Austin, who is coming off no less an impressive 2011 campaign.
Austin led the nation in all-purpose yards, totaling a single-season school record with 2,574 yards with an average total of 198 yards per game. Just as dangerous as the main kickoff and punt returner, Austin was No. 6 nationally in punt returns (14.1) and No. 20 in kickoff returns (26.1), taking two kickoffs to paydirt last season. He collected a 100-yard return against Marshall and a 90-yard return for a score against USF.
Impressive numbers to go along with a school record of 101 receptions while racking up 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns in his junior season. He was ranked No. 8 nationally in receptions per game and No. 23 in receiving yards per game while pulling in 10 or more catches in four games last year. He finished with 100 or more yards in five games, including a season-high 12 receptions against Clemson in the Orange Bowl and a season-best 187 receiving yards against LSU.
Austin had six all-purpose performances of 200 yards or more, including a season-high 287 yards against LSU, which included 187 yards receiving and 100 kick return yards. He offered another extremely impressive performance with 280 yards in the Orange Bowl demolition of Clemson. He also finished with 150 yards or more in all-purpose yardage in 10 games.
Tavon will move from the H receiver spot to the Y slot, which will help him continue to add his name to even more records this season. He needs 33 catches to take over as WVU’s all-time reception leader and needs just seven scores for the top spot in career TDs. Austin also needs just 485 yards to take over the career receiving throne and is 1,386 yards away for the top spot in all-purpose yardage.
All told, West Virginia finished with 15 receiving performances of 100 yards or more during the 2011 season, marking the most 100-yard receiving performances in a season in WVU history. The total is five times higher than the three times the feat was managed in 2010’s season.
Another familiar face on the field and in the record books is fellow standout Stedman Bailey, who will hold down the X receiver slot on the left side.
Bailey set the school record during the 2011 season with five consecutive games of 100 or more yards receiving. He has seven career games over the century mark, which is just two short of the school record. For the season, he finished with seven 100-yard receiving performances, also a school record, while finishing with 1,279 yards and 12 TDs, both records in themselves.
Bailey needs eight catches to earn his way onto the school’s career catches list, with 111 needed to take the top slot. With 201 yards, he will make his way onto the school all-time receiving, with 1,013 needed for the No. 1 slot, while eight more touchdowns will give him the career lead in TD receptions.
Senior J.D. Woods has reportedly taken hold of the top spot at the Z receiver, after seeing limited action in 9 games last year. Ryan Nehlen and Ivan McCartney will see plenty of action as well behind Woods on the outside. McCartney, last year's third- leading receiver, had some concerns with eligibility over the summer, and will have to rapidly make up lost ground as he doesn't even appear on the 2012 depth chart released for the season opener.
True freshman Jordan Thompson is one of two first-year players to earn his way into the starting lineup, taking over for Austin in the H receiver slot. He won’t be able to match Austin’s production, but won’t need to. He simply needs to show he can provide yet another option for the offense, which relies on giving the ball to athletes in space and watching them do their thing.
With the Mountaineers looking to throw upwards of 50 or 60 times per game possibly, plenty of wideouts will need to see the field behind the starters, and right now it's uncertain just who will step up. Look for redshirt frosh Dante Campbell at the backup Y slot on the inside, while Travares Copeland will look to provide a fresh all-purpose threat when he makes his way onto the field, which many reports indicate he will.
Freshmen Devonte Robinson, Cody Clay, and K.J. Myers are all relatively unknown but will look to step up and change that quickly.
For his part, Tavon Austin sees potential in the freshmen, as he indicated in this article from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel:
"They come in and they work hard, and they listen for the most part, they are doing what the coaches ask of them to do. One thing that I ask from them right now probably that they need to pick up their blocking a little bit."
I implore you to mute the volume on this highlight package, but another year of highlights like this one will cement Tavon Austin as one of WVU's all-time greats.
With all the emphasis on the passing game, the rushing attack was mostly an after-thought last season, finishing 92nd in the nation with a paltry 123 yards per game average.
Dustin Garrision, who led the team with 742 yards rushing, provided some bright spots but is still in recovery mode from a knee injury he suffered prior to the Orange Bowl. Reports are that he may dabble his toes in the season's first few games before the decision is made whether to redshirt him or not. The NCAA allows players to apply for a medical hardship waiver if they play in fewer than 30 percent of a team's games. That means he could actually take the field in four of the first six outings before deciding to shut it down and retain a year of eligibilty.
Shawne Alston has been named the starter this year after posting a team-best 12 touchdowns last season. "Shawne Alston will start for us," Holgerson said in this Charleston Gazette article. "He ended the season being a starter for us in the bowl game. He's a senior and had a great camp and we're looking forward to getting him out there.
"Andrew Buie's been doing some good things, as well.''
The problem with Alston and Buie has been durability. The former has been held back by knee and neck problems over the past two years, but he says he is finally healthy for the first time in Morgantown. The latter rusher missed time last year with a miriad of nagging injuries.
The depth chart contains simply a question mark after these two, as Garrison's status remains hazy and D'Vontis Arnold, a freshman walk-on from Florida's Miramar High, is the only true running back remaining after freshman Torry Clayton transferred out of town and scholarship player Roshard Burney didn't qualify academically.
Fullback Ryan Clarke has been mentioned as a possible change-of-pace back, but Holgerson seems to like him more as a blocking back. Clarke didn't touch the football once last season.
"Ryan Clarke is a guy that can do multiple things for us,'' Holgorsen said in the previously-cited Charleston Gazette article. "Donovan Miles has been a bigger guy. Cody Clay has been doing some stuff where he can do some tight end-fullback stuff. We've got quite a few bodies, but we're going to need all of them, that's for sure.''
"We've got quite a few bodies, but we're going to need every one of them, that's for sure," Holgorsen said.
Dustin Garrison emerged from the pack of WVU running backs last year, but injuries could open up the position to a number of other contributors.
With all the potential offensive dynamite, the o-line looks to finally have some quality depth for the first time in a while, returning four starters.
That lot includes three seniors, led by center-and-perpetual-Rimmington-Award-finalist Joe Madsen, who has 38 starts and is consistently considered for the award given to the nation's best center. The unit also welcomes back 24-time starter Josh Jenkins, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, at tackle and Jeff Braun at right guard. These three provide a boatload of in-game experience, while junior Pat Eger is the third returning starter at the other tackle spot.
Sophomore lineman and sometimes aircraft carrier Quinton Spain moves from guard to left tackle after playing alongside Eger in all 13 games last season.
Russell Haughton-James and Brandon Jackson make the depth chart as reserve guards. John Bassler should see time behind Madsen at center, while JUCO transfer Mark Glowinski, Curtis Feigt and Nick Kindler are also likely to log time at tackle or where needed.
The returning talent here helped the Mountaineer offense average 37.6 point per game while setting the record book on fire with heretofore unheard of offensive heroics. With the glut of in-game experience returning to this unit, plus the reported play of some of the up-and-comers mentioned, it looks like the o-line will more than hold its own while the offense runs while in Year Two under Holgs.
A rare shot of the WVU offensive line pre-game.
The offense is going to put up some points, folks. Ultimately the question going into WVU's inaugural season in the Big 12 is whether or not the offense is going to be able to match touchdown for touchdown with the other explosive, pass-first attacks that the Mountaineers are going to be meeting week after week.
The vivid memories of the 70 points the Mountaineers put on the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl last year has led many Mountaineer fans to expect no less than 50-points a game from this senior-led unit. With an unproven defense and suspect special teams, the Mountaineers might need every point of that.
2012/07/31 9:42 am
As the calendar rolls over to August and another season of Mountaineer Football is nearly upon us once again, these last few weeks of waiting can drag on forever for fans of the Old Gold and Blue.
This year, the Mountaineers are coming off of a season that saw a first-year coach take the team to a Big East Championship, an Orange Bowl berth, and a thrilling 70-33 curbstomping of the ACC Champion Clemson Tigers. Expectations are sky high among Mountaineer fans for a new season in a new conference, with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, THIS is going to be the year that finally brings a national championship to the Mountain State.
Of course, these lofty and perhaps unrealistic expectations aren't anything new in Morgantown, and Mountaineer fans counting down the days to a new season and a new beginning can pass the time by checking out the book, "Waiting for the Fall: A Decade of Dreams, Drama and West Virginia University Football" by Charleston Daily Mail WVU beat writer Mike Casazza.
The book details all the exhilarating, head-scratching, drama-filled, thrilling, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and otherwise amazing events that have shaped the Mountaineer football program over the course of the past decade. It also provides a brief history of the entire Mountaineer program before going into specifics of the Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart, and Dana Holgorsen eras and all of the unbelievable highs and lows in-between.
Author Mike Casazza was kind enough to talk about the book and answer a few questions for WeMustIgniteThisCouch through a few emails.
And before we kick it off, I couldn't more strongly recommend picking up a copy of the book here. You'll get your football fix, and even the most ardent Mountaineer fan will learn a few surprising details about an amazing segment of WVU football history.
(My questions are in bold. Mike's responses follow verbatim.)
- A major theme of the book is that Mountaineer fans are conditioned to heartbreak, constantly waiting on the other shoe to drop. (The double entendre in the title of the book even suggests as much.) Do you think our heartbreak just comes from unrealistic expectations for a school that really should just be happy to compete with the big boys, or do you think it's more likely that the Mountaineers have just been extremely unfortunate?
This is probably the most important and most delicate question within the book and requires constant maintenance, but I think the answer borrows a little from both.
Expectations are unrealistic everywhere, though to varying degrees. WVU is not immune to this, but it’s not an epidemic like it is at other places. Still, people invest so much into the football here and they want so much in return. That’s just not going to happen every year here and the realization stings.
I don’t think there’s any problem with aspiring to compete with the big boys, though. Not here. WVU has showed it can do just that.
As for the extremely unfortunate part? I definitely think that exists and I don’t think you can deny it. There are way too many examples from the past to argue against it. Put the combination in a canister, shake it up and you’re left with something that is pretty potent.
- You were in the process of writing this book as last season progressed. As I read about and remembered all the different times those "other shoes" dropped on us (ie. Major Harris getting injured on the 3rd play of the national championship game, Quincy Wilson's wild scamper against Miami being immediately followed by Kellen Winslow's 4th down catch and FG, etc.), I couldn't help but think that the LSU game from this previous season was the all-time example of that for Mountaineer fans.
We had about 30 seconds to fully enjoy being in a ball game with the best team in the country before having it ripped away from us again by Morris Claiborne's TD return. I know you covered it in the book, but knowing the narrative you were telling in the book, were you dumbfounded as that play happened in real time?
Uh, no. Rather than waste words or risk hyperbole about how bad WVU’s special teams sometimes were through the years, let’s just agree to say that very rarely have they been good. I don’t want to say there was always a chance for high comedy, but Yackety Sax became the unofficial theme song for whenever a ball was kicked in a game involving the Mountaineers – and I’m serious about that … check my live game blog posts through the years.
A major concern last year, and for that game in particular, was the return game. The Mountaineers didn’t have much depth and in that game had inferior sideline talent. LSU’s special teams talent was much better than WVU’s. The Tigers had better guys and more of those better guys. Maybe WVU could match its offensive talent against LSU’s defensive talent and maybe some of the physical disadvantages on defense against LSU’s brutish offense could be minimized, but special teams was different. There isn’t as much scheming and disguising there. It’s largely speed and skill mixed with some assignments and you saw a few WVU backups blow that play up on the sideline as Claiborne got free. It was the manifestation of the special teams concern.
Now, that being said, it was just brutal to watch, knowing in the back of your head there was no coming back, but realizing you kind of suspected it might happen.
- I really liked that you didn't sugarcoat that our fans haven't always been the best supporters of their teams or coaches, from a half empty Mountaineer Field at the end of the 2007 Louisville comeback, to flying a plane asking for Nehlen's firing, to cheering Brad Lewis' injury, to planting "for sale" signs in Bobby Bowden's yard. Do you think this is typical college fan behavior or do you think we go overboard?
Again, a significant and high-maintenance question. On the whole, I don’t think WVU’s fans are wildly different in their behaviors. The overboard stuff involves arson, profanities and projectiles, but the people who stay on the boat far outnumber the people who lose their minds. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with leaving a stadium or booing the team or openly criticizing a well-paid coach if you don’t like what you see. That’s what fans do and today fans are too smart and asked to do too much to deny them that.
Now there are people who are neither too smart nor asked to do too much and a few of them take way too many liberties, but that’s not unusual, either. Booing an injured player on senior day in front of his parents? Impacting someone’s family? I’ll draw a line a few steps in front of that one. It seems to me WVU’s fans can bail quickly, though, and that intrigues me entering this season because I do believe the Big 12 is going to test fans in a very new way.
- Obviously a great deal of the drama surrounding WVU over the past decade has come off the field with the shuffling of coaches, and your book does as good of a job as I've seen anywhere to describe why they happened and what drove the principals. Let's start with Rich Rodriguez.
The story of Rich Rodriguez leaving is obviously very long and very complicated, but you point to a number of things that he wasn't satisfied with regarding the University. Do you think he had legitimate criticisms or do you think that he was just always going to find some reason to be unsatisfied until he left?
I’ve come to believe so many years later that Rodriguez was probably ahead of his time. This has nothing to do with his designs and success in the spread offense, but everything to do with how he conducted himself behind the curtain. That was very new to WVU, which went from Don Nehlen and his two decades of stability to Rodriguez, who wanted to a whole lot to happen and was willing to do what he had to do to make it happen.
Sometimes I wonder if I blame him. Remember, he was a Division II guy who had nothing. He went to Tulane and got a taste for a high level of success, but also saw what others had that his school did not and probably could not. Then he was off to Clemson, which wants for nothing. That’s quite a rise in a pretty short period and I think he thought it would be at WVU as it was at Clemson. More powerful than that was the he wanted it to be that way at his alma mater. He was professionally, but also personally invested and I don’t think he and his audience knew one another well enough to pull things off as he was making them happen. He got what he wanted an awful lot early on but he was outpacing the patience others wanted to preserve, all the way to the end.
There came a time, and I believe it was after the 2006 season that left a lot of people disappointed, when he realized he was going to have to be the bad guy if he wanted to have the best program. That eventually ran right into an administration that would not continually capitulate to his demands.
- Speaking of RichRod, you mentioned that you were a Cleveland sports fan. I can imagine you probably feel the same about Lebron James as the State of WV feels about Rich Rodriguez? (Local boy turns his back on the local franchise in heartbreaking fashion to chase a title for someone else.)
That’s probably a pretty fair analogy, though I’m not sure James was firing bazookas over his shoulder as he left town.
- I've noticed that when I bring up the 2007 Pitt debacle on WMITC, the instant response from our users is almost universal: "Don't talk about that. I don't want to think about it." Did you have any concerns while doing this book that by detailing the most heartbreaking moment in Mountaineer history that you might turn off some of your potential audience?
Of course. What I recognize and respect about the fans is how they will defend their teams. There was a line there I had to be super careful not to cross, which wasn’t easy because I’m a very honest journalist.
It’s funny you say what you do about that debacle. WVU fans are very aware of their past and the parts that don’t make them proud are better left beneath the unturned stone. Many of the people I come across who have read the book tell me how hard it was to read that chapter. A few take a break – and I mean, they stop at the 13-9 chapter and won’t pick up the book for days or weeks. But it had to be in the book and it had to be detailed, which, I’m sorry, meant it had to be painful.
I will say this, and I use this to defend other parts of what was included: The book is not merely for WVU fans. In fact, one of the biggest motivations I had for writing the book was so that others who see but do not know what happens here can get a better idea.
- Rodriguez was a highly innovative offensive mind who came in to revive a stagnant program, and following a surprising upset over a high-touted opponent in a BCS game, there were (perhaps) unrealistically high expectations for the team in the following season. We're doing it all over again, aren't we?
This is where you link to my book, right? Look, I have no idea how this thing will turn out, but I have probably a different set of values. If I’m a fan, I’m loving this right now because the anticipation is just too much fun. Then comes the season, which may be one of the most competitive and entertaining ever. That’s all I would worry about right now.
That said, I know it’s very different on the other side of the fence and I know people are worried about having a season that falls well below expectations. I do think WVU has a favorable schedule with regard to home and road opponents and I think WVU has fewer questions than some other Big 12 teams. I also think WVU has legitimate concerns about a new scheme on defense and the depth of players required to play it in the Big 12, though over time both might be addressed. But again, we just don’t know. WVU could finish 9-3. I think that can happen. But where are those three losses? This is why we watch and write, right?
Just when I thought I was out, THEY PULL ME BACK IN.
- So Rod bolts for Michigan, the program is in turmoil, and suddenly Bill Stewart unexpectedly leads the team to a rousing victory in the Fiesta Bowl and the subsequent coronation seems to take President Garrison by surprise. (In one of the book's most interesting back-room insights, Garrison finds himself in a suite with Athletic Director Ed Pastilong, super-booster Mike Puskar, and then-Governor Joe Manchin, who are already drawing up the specifics of a contract.)
I have 2 questions here.
1) WTF was Joe Manchin doing there, and
2) Do you think Garrison would've eventually come to the conclusion that everyone else did, that Stewart was the guy, or do you think he was stalling because he had some reservations?
Manchin was allowed to do whatever he wanted. Remember, he was involved in the coaching search. He endorsed three different candidates to WVU – Doc Holiday, Jimbo Fisher and Stewart. He was just too involved in something he obviously cared about, but didn’t really know about, and it affected things. People went to him because WVU would listen and WVU listened because he was the governor, but I think both sides should have tapped the breaks early in the process.
As for Garrison, in every conversation I’ve had with him about this, I sense he was really torn about it, that he knew the timing was not right, but that he felt Stewart was the right guy. He clearly had reservations, especially with the rush to make the hire and not honor interview appointments or shake the bush and see who might fall out, but ultimately he’s the one who has to make the call and I don’t think he does it that night without feeling somewhat good about it. That guy pulled the trigger on a few things that required certainty before activity.
- Obviously, since the book was released, Bill Stewart passed away unexpectedly and there was a great deal of hand-wringing about whether or not he had been treated fairly with regard to his place in Mountaineer history. I felt like you treated him very fairly in your book, but also that you got the same sense that he was in over his head that many of the rest of us felt. Is there anything you regret including or wish that you had?
- Not to sound cold or callous, but not really. It was an honest account of a time that could not be excluded from the story I was telling.
I believe everyone understands that and knows I was affected by his passing. If it was written now, would it be handled differently? I can’t answer that because it was written before. Perhaps this will one day be addressed in a second edition.
- You seem to indicate that Bill Stewart wasn't quite the "aww shucks" country bumpkin that he made himself out to be on a number of occasions, including lying about having a relationship with the Villanova coach, failing for months to tell coaches Jeff Mullen and Dave Johnson that they would be replaced, and obviously what we came to later find out his role in attempting to smear his successor. Were we all fooled to think that he was any different from any other college coach when it came to suiting his own interests?
If you believed he was different and that he was insusceptible to the pressure of coaching high major college football, and all the human elements that are attached, then you were fooled.
But if you were fooled, he did his job. That’s what coaches do. They land on a very small island and the beaches are beautiful, but when they see that ship approaching from the distance and realize there are angry people on board with guns and swords, everything changes. Some make friends, some make enemies, but the best ones do everything they can to keep their feet on that island.
- You point out the number of perceived flaws with Stewart, but the one that I always felt to be severely underreported was the ridiculously small recruiting classes for what a major D-I program should be pulling in. What is your best guess as to why the classes were so small?
The short answer is he didn’t get a high number of recruits and some players weren’t good.
One interesting bit of feedback I’ve gotten from the book is that the theory of undersigning was a prescription penned by a spin doctor. He made it sound like strategy, but I’m told it was reality. The Mountaineers tried to get guys, and maybe aimed a little too high, and perhaps too often, but ended up with a smaller number of players than they needed and wanted.
I think the bigger problem was the misses. The equivalent of one full class of players didn’t make it in his three or four recruiting classes – three or four depending on how you count post-Fiesta Bowl and pre-resignation. Imagine having a six- or eight-scholarship reduction across four or three years. That was a factor in Holgorsen’s first season, to be sure. They were really low on scholarships, even for a Division I team that had a sanction against it.
- Tell the truth. How pissed were you at the "2 percent fact 98 percent hooey" article? (For the record, the Couch had your back.)
Truthfully? Not pissed at all. I’m sure that disappoints, but my reaction was very different. I knew the story back to front and I knew how it was going to end.
We at the Daily Mail worked that first story for weeks, I think to the point that it started to get out the day before we printed it. But just stop and think about the implication that was being made. We were not going to rush that out there with a chance of any hooey.
But since we’re on the topic, I was very aware of the reaction the story generated. You can’t ignore phone calls and text messages and email and Twitter and all that stuff now and I happen to run a blog with a lot of traffic at times like that. I have friends who are big WVU fans and they scoured the Internet at that time to fully digest the story. A few of them would email me things that troubled them – including some stuff from the message boards in your corner of the worldwide web.
Three things bothered me then and, on some level, bother me now. First, people thought we were wrong and that a loose story would blow up in our face. Those people didn’t even consider that we’d taken considerable time and paid careful attention, or that that time and attention is standard in all the things we do. On top of that, and this is covered, I hope, in adequate detail in the book, is that WVU was on this story before I ever was.
Second, the initial story generated a very odd reaction. People were racing to take credit for the news and where and how it broke – and, fine, whatever. Who keeps score? But people were trying hard to advance the story, seemingly just to be involved, and people were freely offering up their own strong opinions without knowing what was actually happening. There were a lot of bad and dangerous moments after that first story.
And third is the role of Colin Dunlap. Without getting too much into it, because it’s also covered in the book in what is the only time Colin has discussed it with anyone, Bill Stewart was in trouble well before Colin said what he said on the radio and Colin will tell you that. Obviously it contributed to the outcome, but WVU truthfully was on this story before I ever was.
Nobody thought this would end well, but I don't think anyone thought it would go so badly so quickly.
- You provided the best, and as far as I could tell, the only plausible explanation I've seen as to what Bill Stewart possibly hoped to achieve by sabotaging Holgorsen when you suggested that maybe he thought that lightning would strike twice, that his employers would once again realize that the only guy for the job was the guy they already had. Is this anything more than pure delusion or do you think there were forces inside WVU that could have possibly been swayed in this direction?
Well, that’s my theory and apparently it’s not a popular one, but there is something to it. Again, some coaches will do anything to stay on the island.
I’m not sure he was crazy to think it, which is not to say he wasn’t crazy to actually do it. Remember, Stewart still had a lot of allies. He’d also become something of a sympathetic figure with the way Oliver Luck forced Holgorsen upon him.
It’s funny, because it wasn’t long ago, but I think people felt very differently then about how to manage people and situations than they do now. Many people didn’t like how Stewart was being treated – and remember, he was 28-12 as a head coach and people liked him personally, if not professionally. On top of that, thanks to whatever happened in that casino, Holgorsen had, at the very least, embarrassed himself and shamed the situation Luck orchestrated.
The best way I’ve found to explain the whole thing is to think of it as a prison break. You’ve got the plan, but you have to wait for the night when the clouds cover the moon and the tide is low enough to navigate the channels. When your moment comes, you go. Maybe Stewart saw his moment and pounced.
- I was surprised that the book didn't delve more into the apparently icy relationship between Holgorsen and the defensive holdovers from the Stewart/Rod era. From what (limited) sources, I have, the two barely communicated, the defensive staff didn't participate in the Man Trip, and other various uncomfortable working conditions existed in the same building. Do you have reason to believe these rumors were untrue, or was the information too late in coming out to include in the book?
There was legitimacy, so much so that the coaches’ offices are no longer set up with offensive coaches on one half of the building and defensive coaches on the other, but I think the bigger story was there were no clear signs of friction. They didn’t talk much and probably didn’t like one another, but that was in private.
Publicly, they were pretty professional about it. Even the Mantrip thing was explained away rather easily. Bill Kirelawich had bad knees. Coaches preferred to entertain recruits inside the Puskar Center. The weather was awful once or twice. David Lockwood made the trip on occasion, too.
I just didn’t feel like it was a very big deal or that it had much to do with the story. I love to barbeque. Sometimes I feel like grilling ribs. When I do, I don’t smoke a turkey, too.
- On that line of thought, is there anything that's happened since the Orange Bowl victory covered in the epilogue that you wish could've made it into the book?
Certainly the Big 12 fiasco needed further detail, but that was unexpectedly ridiculous and it was happening at a time that didn’t work too well with deadlines I had set for myself.
I’ve since come to learn and understand more about that episode than ever before and the whole process is actually very interesting and entertaining. It was a rather brief courtship that involved a few surprising characters.
And I think keeping Luck and not losing him to Stanford was a big deal. I don’t think he was close to accepting the job and I don’t even know that it was offered, but that’s something fans have grown to worry about these days. Maybe at another stage of the school’s history, the A.D. would have left and it would have fit into the pattern. This time, he stayed and kept his aim fixed at the top. That would seem to work well with how my actual epilogue went. I like it when I look smart. But again, perhaps a second edition would one day address all of that.
- I, for one, couldn't recommend your book more highly for anyone that enjoys college football in general, let alone Mountaineer football. How has the feedback been from other Mountaineer fans?
- Thanks. It never gets old hearing those words. No one’s told me they hate it. Some have said they hate me, but that’s been in a joking manner. I hope.
They didn’t like reliving all of the nightmares of the past, but they understood and some found it therapeutic. A few people said they felt redeemed and rejuvenated by the curveball I throw in the final two chapters, which makes me feel great because, seriously, the end of the season was threatening to ruin my book. Instead, I happen to think it actually made my book.
The most uplifting and, at the same time, deflating compliment I get is when someone says they read the book in one sitting. That’s flattering, of course, but also oddly frustrating because this was not written in one sitting. Not even close.
The only negative stuff I get isn’t really negative, but a number of people have said they knew a lot of what I wrote and didn’t learn a whole lot. I don’t have a counter for that, except that those people are a definitive minority, but this book wasn’t written exclusively for WVU fans. I feel strongly that a lot of people misunderstand WVU and what has happened here through the years. This seemed like a perfect time to explain it and I just hope my book did a good representing those events in a fair, accurate, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening manner.
Thanks again to Mike for taking the time to answer a few questions for The Couch. You can check out Mike's blog at http://blogs.dailymail.com/wvu/, his Twitter account at twitter.com/mikecasazza, and once again, if you haven't already, buy his book at Amazon by clicking here.