Friday Feedback

April 24, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Welcome to the (260th) Friday Feedback on the eve of what might be the least-anticipated spring game I’ve encountered since spring games became Things around here. Funny thing is, the one I would compare it to is last year’s. Maybe we have a trend.

I’m not going to grandstand for a few reasons, chief among them being I don’t think it’ll ever draw an enormous crowd here and I sort of think WVU is OK with this development. You’ll get a couple thousand people every year, maybe 10 grand when the conditions are optimal, but that’s a ceiling. WVU isn’t as concerned about a ceiling as much as working under proper conditions. Spring is about different things here — developing and discovering, learning and remembering, so on and so forth — and it’s never going to be the same. That’s perplexing and sometimes problematic, but coaching isn’t static. That’s why coaches seek control and try to manufacture consistency and repetition in so many things they do.

Here’s a question: How important is spring practice to coaches?

Let’s set aside tomorrow’s Gold-Blue Game, which WVU treats like a regular game when it comes to interviews. We get to talk to Dana Holgorsen four times: Before the first, sixth, ninth and 12th practices, each of which is open. You get to watch that practice and then wait a week to ask him about it, so you’re not really there to report on the practice.

You get to talk to assistants and players after the sixth, ninth and 12th practices, but the players have to have played in a game and have to be cleared by Holgorsen, who approves and nixes requests on his own, so you’re not necessarily there to write about who or what you saw at practice. (#FreeKhairi)

Full disclosure: I think you’re crazy to write about practice. Developments? Sure. Action. Why? Goose an gander, I suppose.

(Aside: This is ordinary at WVU. It’s not a deviation, and I’m not airing any laundry. These are the conditions — the same as or better than you’d find in some places, worse than you’d find in others — and you work around them, even if it means less work. I’m just explaining things to make a point and answer the aforementioned question.)

So to circle back, what happens in practice is important to the coaches, but how it’s digested and dispersed outside of practice is not that important. And maybe that’s an issue. People like to ask me how practice is going. I have no idea. I do know that Holgorsen is happy with where he’s at and Tony Gibson would like to be healthier and, as a result, further ahead than he is right now. Beyond that, who knows? They know, which, in the end, is all that matters.

This might be a non sequitur, or it might be the point altogether. Again, I don’t know. But I got back in town Monday night, lost power to a thunderstorm and went out to eat. I was talking to someone — not Someone, but a renowned fan — and he asked me if I was covering football. (!) I came to see his point: I hadn’t written much. Some of that is my vacation schedule and some of that is not, but what he came to explain was he wasn’t reading a lot about football anywhere during spring football, and that concerned him because he worried about the bridge that can connect the team, media and fans.

That got my attention because, you know, my job.

That makes the spring game interesting. Who or what are you buying a ticket to go see? A lot of people will just go to the game. That’s their nature. But it’s also the nature of others to be drawn out to the game, and I suppose it’s fair to wonder if there is a draw and who or what it is. But I also think it’s fair to mention that draw is somewhat insignificant, too.

I think a lot of coaches would just rather have their 15th practice be their 15th practice and not a goofy scrimmage after the 14th practice. Just this year, for example, WVU has so many people hurt or hurting that you’ll have a number of Who’s That scrimmaging tomorrow when they might be better off just practicing. WVU does enough scrimmaging in practices that tomorrow isn’t some sort of grand reveal, which, correct me if I’m wrong, is or was the purpose of the spring game concept. Under whatever circumstances, there comes a point where risk and reward meet and you wonder what’s the cost of compromising a critical practice for the amusement of a few thousand fans … especially when you’ve opened three practices/scrimmages for a few thousand fans already.

This is not to say WVU had some ingenious plan to do away with the spring game by opening a few practices and traveling to far corners of the state. But WVU has, in a way, brought the spring game to Charleston and Wheeling, to Shepherdstown and White Sulpher Springs. Those folks don’t have to and likely won’t come to the spring game, and they might not in ordinary years anyhow, but it dents the crowd a little.

True, it’s neat to simulate the road trip experience and introduce kids to that situation before the regular season and to see how they react, but I think it’s more than that.

Does that mean WVU turns its 15th practice into the one that’s open in Morgantown, or the spring game might be in Bluefield or Parkersburg, or perhaps the practice that’s open in Morgantown is No. 12 and followed by three closed practices? Possibly. There are no rules here and the payoff, the sort of crowd that normally isn’t markedly bigger than the ones in other cities, isn’t so great that it can’t be manipulated.

Onto the Feedback. As always, comments appear as posted. In other words, clean up after yourself.

ffejbboc said:

2016: Youngstown State, BYU, Missouri

2017: ECU, VaTech, TBA

2018: NC State, Tennessee, TBA

2019: NC State, Missouri, TBA

2020: ECU, Maryland, TBA

2021: Maryland, VaTech, TBA

2022: VaTech, TBA, TBA

2023: Penn State, TBA, TBA

2024: Penn State, TBA, TBA

Why could we not add Pitt as early as 2017? With ECU on that year, it looks like we need another P5 school.

I don’t think we’d add them for 18, 19 or 21 because we have two P5 OCC already scheduled for those years.

I thought about 2017. It has to be a home game, because the VT game is at FedEx, and Pitt has room for a road game. But I’ve heard WVU is open to a FCS school that year, too, to fill the home schedule at a cozy cost. Also: Pitt opens at home against Youngstown State, plays at Penn State and plays host to Oklahoma State the first three weeks. Where are the Panthers putting WVU, and why?

Matt said:

Add WVU to the ACC.
Add Missouri, Nebreska, and Texas A&M back to Big 12.
Add Notre Dumb to the Big 10.

Fixes college football rivilaries.

Notre Dumb!

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Kevin White is really, really high on Kevin White

April 23, 2015 by Mike Casazza

I can’t believe I’m saying this, given the stage, but I think this is great because I like Kevin White’s verve and I actually enjoyed the conversation here. I also hope you like a whole lot of Kevin White coverage. I’m working on a 3,000 word story on the guy for draft day, plus a separate post here with overflow coverage, because I spent two days in eastern Pennsylvania and I’ve talked to a handful of NFL people.

And here’s what jumped out then and what jumps out here: There definitely is a conversation about his ego. It’s called different things, and you can imagine who chooses confident and who chooses cocky, who says arrogant and who says assured. Let’s stick with verve.

But people are asking and talking about it. Where does it come from? Is it authentic or is it an act? Will it help or be a hindrance? Is it something to seriously worry about or something to simply work on at the next level? Do you let it go or do you make it go away?

(Bigger question, from me and a few others: Exactly what does it matter? Are teams picking White or Amari Cooper based on quotes?)

Everyone I asked about it — and I mean the people who know, his brothers, friends, coaches, teammates and opponents, and not the people who asked me about it — insist it’s real. White’s amped up his verbiage, and he’s taken aim at being the No. 1 receiver (or being valued aside Cooper … or both), but this has always been his goal. It’s within reach now, so he’s going to discuss it because of how long and how badly he’s wanted it. The best part of that interview, I think, could be the most offensive or most honest, depending on your stance. But he says when the topic is Kevin White, he’ll speak strongly about Kevin White. (“Bombs over Baghdad” was on point, too.)

But it’s important to learn and remember he’s always had it, back to when he was changing high schools and waiting his turn, when he was having an uneven experience at Lackawanna College and, yes, WVU and even now during the pre-draft process. White was mad people said he had to run a fast 40 to solidify his first-round status, as though people thought he was slow. He was shocked his statistics, his performances against the SEC and the Big 12, weren’t taken more seriously. He couldn’t understand why others didn’t understand what he explains above, which is that while he was liberated by WVU’s offense, he was also limited to one side of the field. What he says here is brow-arching, but it isn’t new. Most importantly, it’s White.

From the beginning to the present, those people say White’s verve powered him through tough times and helped him reach this apex when he was at the bottom not long ago. You have to be this way to make it, and you have to act this way to play that way, is what they say. They know it’s a topic of conversation now, but they also know people are picking nits and looking for strings to tug at to see if this Kevin White Story might unravel. He only spun it tighter here, but it won’t stop people from pulling.

The Backyard crawl

April 23, 2015 by Mike Casazza

By my bookkeeping, West Virginia and Pitt can’t or won’t resume their football rivalry before 2022. They’re both booked for 2016 (as well as 2015, of course), and scheduling philosophies would seem to preclude a matchup in 2017-21.

The Panthers have one, two, two, one and three openings those five seasons, and that, of course, assumes the ACC sticks with an eight-game conference schedule, which it agreed to do in May, and doesn’t jump to nine games. If that happens, then Pitt has zero, one, one, zero and two openings.

But let’s stick with present scenarios. I can’t see it before 2022, even though WVU has one slot every year from 2017-21. It would look like there’s room for a game: WVU could play on the road in 2017, 2018 and 2020 and has to play at home in 2019 and 2021. Pitt has a little more flexibility because conference scheduling gives the Panthers four home and road games every year, and Pitt has two, one, one, two and zero home non-conference games.

You can figure out possibilities there, except that the Mountaineers are sort of hard to figure with regard to building their non-conference schedule.

There was a time they were of the mind nobody would be playing games against FCS teams, but Oliver Luck is gone (and he surely shared his intel from his time on the CFP selection committee) and I’ve heard the Mountaineers, who have two non-conference FBS opponents from 2015-21, are open to FCS contracts in the years they need a home game.

So that’s why 2022 seems the earliest date for a future game. That’s not good news, but it feels like we’re getting somewhere here.

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The Chase continues…

April 22, 2015 by Mike Casazza

…elsewhere. Best of luck to the Problem Solver.

Shane Lyons checks in, says hello and not much more

April 22, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Among the handful of things Shane Lyons has done in his first three months is join Twitter nine days ago and then coolly celebrate his job and the many good things happening at his alma mater. I’m interested in seeing where Lyons goes with Twitter because his predecessor was not into Twitter (Aside: When Luck talked to my sportswriting class in December, the students were startled by how anti-social media he was … at the end of a semester I spent touting social media.) and often accused of not connecting with his constituency.

Lyons, at least, has built a bridge and perhaps he’ll fortify it with breaking news, Q&As, interactions, videos of him dunking with two hands and the like. For now, he’s crawling, and for all we know, it’ll be a way for the athletic department to tweet news and retweet favorable reviews. Let’s hope for the former and not the latter.

Today, we saw this:

That got my attention, and Lyons followed through with an honor roll of events since he signed in what might be a regularly occurring update from the man in charge.

The momentum we have right now is extremely encouraging, and I look forward to even greater things down the road as we continue to build a strong intercollegiate athletic department that our fans expect and deserve.

I will check back with you in May.

The Big 12 coaches seem to want something

April 22, 2015 by Mike Casazza

And that something is a Big 12 championship game. Each of the football coaches who were part of the league last season were asked on a conference call Tuesday about the idea and most of them are for it — including West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen.

“I think it would be great. The one thing that I’ve always have been a proponent of is everyone doing the same thing. Back when the Big 12 had a conference championship game, and some other leagues didn’t, we were complaining about that. So having one to have that 13th game and be on the same level as everyone else is important. Based on what happened toward the end of last year, I think it hurt the Big 12 a little bit.”

Consider, too, that Bob Stoops and Bill Snyder are for the title game and a few others didn’t directly voice an opinion, but verbally nudged you in the arm to let you know what they were thinking, and you get the idea what sort of pressure the coaches are exerting on their administrations. That’s the route to take, of course, and the coaches were happy to oblige … perhaps because the league’s commissioner doesn’t really regard what coaches think. “The NFL, they don’t ask coaches what they think about the rules,” Bowlsby said. “The owners make the rules.”

Here’s the crazy part about this: The conversation isn’t changing, probably because there’s no changing it. We’re talking in circles. The facts are the facts, and increasing the volume of the debate doesn’t alter that.

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Xavier Preston’s microscope

April 21, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Here’s something we’ve noticed about spring practice, whether up close or from afar: The defense is in a really good spot.

What happened to Kyle Rose was, of course, bad form … but Darrien Howard and Jaleel Fields got bumps from that. Daryl Worley is out, but Terrell Chestnut has solidified himself as a presence while Ricky Rumph and even Khairi Sharif have found time and roles. Nick Kwiatkoski misses a few days? No problem.

The Mountaineers know what they have and can expect from the players they know so well, so it’s almost like a day away isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But at the same time, you’d better not be gone too long, because Tony Gibson has replacements at the ready.

And one is Xavier Preston, a sophomore linebacker Gibson said Saturday was perhaps the defense’s biggest surprise from the spring. “He’s a guy that’s playing really well. Kwiatkoski was out today. He’s been out a couple days. He’s a guy that’s really stepping up and doing some good things. I like the way he’s playing.”

So who is Preston? Maybe this rings a bell…

He wears No. 53 and he meets T.J. Yeldon at the goal line, which was exactly what he was supposed to do. Of course, Yeldon scored, which was not supposed to happen, and Preston had quite the keepsake for the first play of his college career. It was his only play that game and the beginning of the end of his time on defense last season.

It’s a small sample size, but Preston keeps it in mind now as he kept it in mind back when it happened.

“I replayed it all the way until the flight took off,” he said. “I’d press play and watch and then rewind it to see what else I could do. How fast did I get there? What do I have to try to improve?”

Now Preston was really disappointed. He watched his feet and was mad about the steps he’d taken. They weren’t as quick and as certain as they were in practice. A lean inside when he knew he should have been headed the other way cost him tenths of a second. Those little details loomed large and he knew that’s why he wasn’t able to stop Yeldon.

This was a cruel lesson about what he needed to do and how he needed to think from that point forward.

“It doesn’t get easier, but it does allow you to have some form of knowledge from previous performances,” he said. “Just knowing I’ve been out there in certain situations helps you out when the next situation comes. You know what’s coming and it allows you to progress from there.”


Messed up Bruce Tall and the anecdote of anecdotes

April 21, 2015 by Mike Casazza

WVU’s newest defensive line coach, who hails from a particularly astute family, on when it was clear he was a coaching lifer:

Tall’s football coach at Shaker Heights (Ohio) High School would let the teenager into an office in an all-brick building with no windows to watch video tape of football. Tall was a sponge, and he wanted to learn. Not in the same way as his older brother, who is an orthopedic surgeon. Not in the same way as his other brothers, two of whom are lawyers and another who is an educator who attended medical school.

“They’re real cerebral-type guys,” Tall said.

So is Tall, but he didn’t study textbooks. Tall’s girlfriend would tag along with him to the coach’s office, where there was no supervision, a girl, a cot, a television and football videos.

“My coach would let me go in there with the girl I’d be with and he’d know nothing was going to happen,” Tall remembered. “There’d be a bed right there and he knew she better not talk to me while I was watching that film. I should’ve known right then I was messed up, that the coach wouldn’t blink twice about that.

“That’s how messed up I was.”

The early coronation

April 21, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Dana Holgorsen all but named Skyler Howard his starting quarterback Saturday before practice at The Greenbrier — except he didn’t. Semantics are important, and the head coach said the junior was the “clear-cut No. 1 right now.” (Tuesday update: Dana stepped all over this on a Big 12 teleconference today and went out of his way to say Howard is not yet the starter and the competition is far from over.)

I don’t think that’s shocking, and while I was mildly surprised to see Holgorsen so resolute so early, was this not coming? After all, Holgorsen said this a week earlier, and it ought to have registered right then and there: “We talked about this a little bit, but we try to recruit more athletic guys. I’m not going to sacrifice the passing ability, but I will sacrifice probably some height and the arm strength for the athleticism. That’s what we started recruiting.”

You only need to watch a little bit of a WVU practice to see that Howard doesn’t look or throw like the other three options, but that those other three options aren’t as smooth and collected as Howard is.

The other part you can’t ignore is Howard has, by far, the most experience wherever it matters. Chris Chugunov and David Sills are freshmen, and Holgorsen has grown to lump William Crest in with that first-year grouping, as well, because Crest really didn’t do much last season. The staff shut him down and Howard took off and got a ton of action late in the regular season and then before and during the bowl. He’s the guy, and it’s apparent over at the Puskar Center.

Is there a point when you say Skyler is the guy?
Probably. I don’t think I need to say it to the team. I think they understand where we are at with it. It’s all about the development of the young guys. Is any of the young guys going to get enough reps and make enough plays where they warrant a first team rep. Right now, the answer is no, so Skyler is the guy.

This is similar to last season, when Clint Trickett cleared whatever barriers he had to clear so that he was named the starter in June. It would seem Howard is rounding the last turn here, and who knows what happens during and after Saturday’s spring game. What’s clear is this: A lot will have to go wrong for Howard to lose his grip on this, and so far, he’s the guy who’s made a lot go right to get where he is.


April 16, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Here are a few truths, as I consider them, around these parts.

1) I go long stretches without vacations.
2) I cram multiple getaways into a short time.
3) I hem and haw — “Is that right? Both, huh?” — about leaving this space dormant for however many days it is I’m gone.

You have a No. 4, I’m sure, but I’m not going there. I know it’s real, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it — because I don’t, for many reasons, none larger than that whole “it’s real” part. But I’ll be on the back deck for a few days and you’ll be here whenever your mouse or minds wander. I’m grateful for that, so I want to keep it spinning while I’m gone.

I was reading the comments recently, and my train of thought connected with one from a while back: Many of you are pretty providential. There was a time, way back when, when I can remember Someone telling me “Your blog is so good!” and I said, “Yeah, and I don’t have a lot to do with that,” and the Person, without hesitation, replied, “Yeah, it is hilarious.”

I didn’t know how to take that, except to laugh.

But, like, ever since then, the conversation has shifted, and where “hilarious” once stood now stands adjectives like “civilized” and “entertaining” and “smart.” One time someone said “astute,” but that was at a bar, and I wasn’t comfortable accepting that word from that guy at that hour. But it happened.

Anyhow, I pocketed an idea last week that I really ought to save for three weeks from now when I’m gone for 10 days later. And here it is: Predictions.

Come up with your most certain, most compelling predictions about anything. I’m not sure we care much about a player’s stats or a team’s win-loss record as much as, say, who starts here and there or who’s hired and fired or what stories develop in sports on campus or in the Big 12 or even what headlines pop up in college sports. Example: I muttered that Freg Hoiberg might have coached his last game at Iowa State … and I might be right for a different reason now. I also spent time and space yesterday touting Ka’Raun White. It’s an open bag: Recruits, scheduling, reform, anything and everything.

The canvas is blank and it’s all yours. If you need me, I’ll be in the garage. See you Tuesday.