The Good and the Bad of WVU v. Alabama

September 2, 2014 by Mike Casazza

There is a danger about the first game of the season for people like you and me. The teams have their own pitfalls, but you and I can misstep, too. We’ve waited so long for a game and for new impressions to be cast that we can sometimes force new things.

So I tend to maybe overreact by underreacting, if that makes any sense, and I’m the guy who’s going, “Yeah, nice effort, but the offense scored one touchdown and fell apart on the cusp of others … and you got a kickoff return touchdown. Let’s not book the Sugar Bowl quite yet.”

There’s a reality out there to address, but we have to find it still. That 33-23 score is going to resonate much differently in a few weeks. WVU might have lost to a suspect Alabama or a legit Alabama. Alabama might have gotten the better of an improved WVU or a familiar-looking WVU.

All of that said, I think the above is the moment you can look at and say, “This is going to be different.” You knew WVU wasn’t going away and not only had actually had resources at its disposal, but knew how to use them. And Mario Alford is going to have a big season.

I know, I know, Kevin White had the bigger receiving game, but Alford is was there, too, and he’s going to be a part of the special teams and you have to think he’s going to get the ball in his hands running the ball. He’s stupid fast. Dana Holgorsen and Shannon Dawson are going to accommodate that.

I mean, look at this.

That move at the beginning is something to behold. He pretty much stops dead, and probably didn’t see that guy coming until when it happened. But by the time he runs right and turns the corner at the 20-yard line — solid Jewone Snow block right there — Alford is opened up again. Then he goes from the 20 to the Alabama 40 — that’s 40 yards — in 4.16 seconds, as pictured above. No, it’s not combine style where he starts from a crouch and bursts out of blocks, but it’s not a straight line, either.

Whew. We’re going to get Tavon Austin comparisons, and that’s fine. No one was faster or more dangerous in traffic than Tavon … but Alford is faster from point to point, if you ask me. Nevertheless, WVU has something on the outside opposite White, who, I’m telling you, is wholly different from what he was last season. This is not Austin/Stedman Bailey, but it’s going to be good.

There remains plenty to like about Saturday and going forward, but one thing I’m very interested in seeing is how WVU elevates Alford to pair properly with White and to make the most of his considerable skill. How did we get here? Let’s find out by taking a look at the good and the bad of WVU v. Alabama. Read the rest of this entry »

Texts from Alabama Game Day

September 1, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Fantastic work, gang. And I mean all of that. Forty-one people contributed and it was impressive. The bar is really high now, so you’re not going to see all or a lot of your submissions, but don’t let that deter you in the future. You see the most improvement between the first and second games, right?

(If you’re new, I try to use the texts as a mosaic that chronologically recaps the game from a pretty diverse batch of perspectives.)

We’ll get more into this game this week because I can’t believe this week won’t be more about the last Saturday than the next Saturday. Let’s agree right now to not call Towson the FCS runner up and let’s not remind people the Tigers beat UConn in 2013. Towson lost a lot of players to graduation (and the NFL) and just lost to Central Connecticut State and its new staff. Plus, the last time beating Paul Pasqualoni came with merit was also the year WVU lost to Temple.

But it’s an interesting conundrum for Dana Holgorsen, who sort of saw this coming. He said at this press conference last Tuesday this week was going to be harder for him than last week. So I wondered this of a team that knew it could move the ball against Alabama and believed it was going to win: Does 33-23 reinforce that bravado or is it deflated because untimely letdowns showed the Mountaineers have a lot left to do?

“It gives us confidence because we know we can drive on anyone, but we have to work on getting better in critical situations because that’s what got us today,” quarterback Clint Trickett said.

He was reminded of what his former coach, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, liked to remind his players: You can still play good and play bad in critical situations and lose the game.

“That happened to us,” he said.

And that’s what stung the most. The offense felt like it was built to be better this season and then showcased that with drives of 51, 66, 75 and 79 yards, but ultimately realized its shortcomings kept it from it accomplished anything.

“I don’t think this helps us that much, honestly,” said receiver Jordan Thompson, who made an odd decision to field a 62-yard punt running backward and then lost a yard to be tackled at his 6-yard line.

“We already knew what we were capable of doing. We feel like we can move the ball on anybody in college football, so going out and executing, it wasn’t a surprise. We knew we were going to have to make some plays and sometimes we didn’t make those plays and that hurt us.”

I think we could go either way with either side of the coin, but we see WVU is equal parts cautiously content and mad with itself. So how about this? One game in, it looks like the Mountaineers are indeed better than they were.

It’s too soon to say how far they’ve come, but it’s not premature to say work remains. The drops by some players who are needed but were already on the cusp, the lack of players used in reserve on defense and especially on offense, the running game and the now sustained issues with third-down and red zone/score zone offense ought not be covered up because just WVU hung around with Alabama.

Got them racks, slinging them packs and no we can’t leave them sacks alone. Hired an assistant because my texts need a chaperon. My edits are in [brackets].

There’s no Tudor’s in Montana.

1. Nick O’Toole looks amazing. 2. We all need to know who the goofy lookin white guy giant is on our team.

_eForest’s tan us outta control.

I just saw Boomstache. Like a boss. #TFGD

Kevin White is a grown [athletic] man. Wouldn’t want to have to guard him with a true freshman.

Paul Rhodes is not proud right now

North Dakota State about to be 3-0 vs Big XII since 2010.

7NA just came on radio…omen?


Remember when we lost to Iowa State? …

Here’s hoping we score more than Chelsea today.

Read the rest of this entry »

WVU v. Alabama: They’re playing for second today

August 30, 2014 by Mike Casazza


You are looking live at Robin Albano, an Alabama super fan from Decatur, Alabama, who has an ensemble or every Crimson Tide game. True story: I was in the College Football Hall of Fame earlier in the day. If you’ve never been, well, first, you should change that. Until then, you should know beneath the literal hall of fame is a level with exhibits that celebrate the sport, the history of it and especially the pageantry.

I saw Mr. Albano there and thought he was an exhibit in the part devoted to fans. He is not. I saw him tailgating outside the fan fest and had to stop and talk him up for a bit. He is a southern gentleman who happens to be fiercely and fashionably devoted to his team.


He wins. He does. Anyhow, we’re on the 47-yard line at the Georgia Dome. I’ve heard the sound check for the PA and two things I should report: 1) No CEJ. 2) Sweet Home Alabama is available in the queue.

What do you say we blog, errbody?

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… you NEED KJ Dillon on that wall

August 29, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Someone asked me in yesterday’s chat how many players from WVU’s starting  lineup would make Alabama’s starting lineup. I couldn’t offer up an answer — he put me on the spot … but it’s different than basketball because basketball has five players and football has 22, but also because football has schemes and systems and what works for one might not work for the other — but I thought it was a really clever question. I even spent part of my flight from PIT to CLT giving it a whirl, and  maybe you all an tackle it here.

But here’s what we can agree on: WVU would use more Alabama players than Alabama would use WVU players, which gives us something else to consider.

Read the rest of this entry »

Clint used to kiss up to Alabama

August 29, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Actually, not really, but why should be I expected not to sensationalize a story about Clint Trickett? This is a fun little anecdote in advance of Saturday’s game.

“Not a lot of people know it, but out of high school, I was a huge Alabama fan — well, not out of high school,” he said. “My sophomore and junior year at North Florida Christian, we had a wide receiver who was committed to Alabama, so I went up with him all the time on his visits.”

Melvin Ray signed with Alabama in 2008, but ended up being drafted in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft and playing in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He eventually enrolled at Alabama, but transferred to Auburn and sat out the 2012 season. Ray caught five passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in last season’s national championship game loss to Florida State, where Rick Trickett is the offensive line coach.

“Weird deal,” Clint said.

I don’t know about you, but I’m relieved he hasn’t been biting his tongue, because I was worried. I’m still bitter he was made to delete his Twitter account. I don’t know what that teaches him, and I think a better punishment would have been making him use Twitter in a way that would force him full understand the reach and the sway his 140 characters hold — like, say, promoting women’s soccer and volleyball matches.

But this thing could have gone a bad way. Between The First Kiss and admitting he once pined for Alabama, it has gone the other way.

80? Sure. 70? Yeah. 65? Start there.

August 29, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Much has been made about Alabama and tempo — I seriously just typed Alabampo, so … — but whether you want to hear or read about it or not, it’s a valid talking point for this Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. WVU is at its best when it plays with pace. The Crimson Tide can come undone when the opponent pushes the pedal to the floorboard. (Then again, so can many teams.)

But when you’re looking at Alabama and you’re looking for cracks and those cracks are hard to find, little ones can be made to be bigger.

That can be misleading and thus dangerous, and perhaps Dana Holgorsen was doing me a solid when he stepped all over my tempo question Tuesday like it was Eddie Murphy’s couch.

Having said that, it’s a dynamic we must watch tomorrow. Because there will be tempo. And there must be tempo. The Mountaineers can’t out-methodical Alabama. They have to manufacture advantages and that’s the — AIR QUOTES! — easiest way to do it.

But if you’re going to have this conversation, you have to do it the right way.

Read the rest of this entry »

WVU could use some help for this scrap

August 28, 2014 by Mike Casazza

And the Mountaineers will get it as they prepare for Nick Saban and Alabama. Dana Holgorsen and eight of his assistants have never coached against a Saban team in college or the NFL. Bradley was a part of seven Penn State games against Michigan State and Alabama. “And I hated it,” he said.

He saw Saban before and after different trips to the NFL and separate jobs in the SEC. The Nittany Lions were 3-4 from between 1995-2011, and despite seeing different iterations of the game’s highest-paid coach, Bradley always saw the same things.

“It’s a track record with Nick,” Bradley said. “He believes this is the way they’re going to win football games and he doesn’t waver very often. He’ll throw in some things to keep you a little bit off-balance, but he’s not going to make a living throwing the ball all over the park and spreading you out. He’s very comfortable playing that game within the box.

“But you have to be prepared for everything. He has everything in his arsenal. That’s the thing you have to understand. He has the wide receivers, he has the deep threat, he has the stuff to get on top of you. He has the personnel to do all that, but he’s most comfortable playing defense and running the ball. Passing for him is when it’s necessary. It’s a need factor to keep the defense honest.”

You’ll Never Talk Alone: S3E1

August 28, 2014 by Brad McElhinny

It’s Thursday and there’s a game Saturday, so we’ll chat about that game here at 11 a.m. We’re told the chat engine on this post is mobile friendly. It’s open now, so feel free to file questions. Tell the world!

Live Blog You’ll Never Talk Alone: S3E1

Clint would like to kiss 2013 trouble goodbye

August 27, 2014 by Mike Casazza

A year ago, Clint Trickett was plodding through an orientation class on WVU’s offense. Now he’s lecturing in front of an attentive locker room about “400 level stuff, very advanced stuff,” he says.

It’s not new plays or trick plays or things you’ve never seen from Dana Holgorsen and/or West Virginia before. It is instead a level of comfort and control and camaraderie that just didn’t exist last season, which means it’ll be things you haven’t seen from Trickett or his no-longer-new-to-college teammates.

You’ll be able to recognize and appreciate it on the field Saturday, though there might not be a ton of opportunities to show it off.

A simple unspoken signal with a receiver, be it a quick look or a subtle hand movement, can set up any one of a handful of routes. It helps that the receiver has been around long enough now to not only understand Trickett’s hints, but to know what area the defense will open and where to run the route.

“Clint’s going to have a lot of leeway,” Dawson sad. “The kid’s a smart kid. He understands the layout of the defense, but the biggest thing is he understands where we want to attack a certain defense. That’s probably the best thing we’ve been doing really. He gets the ball to the weak spot. Every defense has a weak spot. Every one. It doesn’t matter what play.

“The key to playing quarterback is to get the ball out on time to that weak spot. He’s been doing a good job of that, and we’ve got to keep stressing it, but he has a good understanding of the layout and he understands the way the safeties’ movements are and the way linebackers void out areas of the defense and he understands that’s where he needs to attack.”


Wednesday Walkthrough: Alabama

August 27, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Alabama is Alabama, right? And Alabama is kind of green. Good green, but still green.

ALABAMA HAS A DEPTH chart with 74 players on offense and defense. Thirty-nine are freshmen and sophomores. In a true two-deep, Alabama figures to have freshmen backing up at defensive end, cornerback, and left guard, plus a freshman — 6-foot-6, 320-pound Cam Robinson — starting at left tackle.

“I figured out he was the No. 1 player in the country and he was there all spring, so I don’t consider him a true freshman,” Holgorsen said.

According to rankings, the defensive end, Da’Shawn Hand, was No. 1 at his position. The cornerback, Tony Brown, was No. 4. The left guard, Ross Pierschbacher, was No. 8.