Just last night I started regaining the feeling in my cranium after Saturday’s showcase, but it happened and WVU announced its presence with authority. What we’re all left with is this team that’s ranked eighth in the country and the anticipation for a delicious dichotomy Saturday night in one of the country’s best cities. Can’t wait.
But how did we get here? Let’s examine the good and the bad of WVU v. Baylor.
That’s a screen cap from the DailyMail.com WVU sports page Monday.
Picture: Also yes.
Good: Now that was a crowd
Hey, more contraband! I endorse this.
My wife and I get into this discussion from time to time about what a crowd is worth. Is it points? Momentum? Timeouts? Or is it nothing? She firmly believes she can contribute somewhere between five carries for 48 yards and a score and 45-for-51 passing for 656 yards and eight touchdowns. We disagree, of course, because I really don’t believe a crowd much matters — though there are exceptions. Like, “taking the snap from under right guard because the student section directly behind you is that loud” exceptions.
It matters in basketball, where the fans are sometimes right on top of you and it can get loud enough to disrupt communication and switches and the things that require the ability to speak and be heard. Football is different and, I assure you, if you ask the players they tell you the games are mostly the same once they begin. The noise may be turned up a little and it may take a possession or even a quarter to adjust, like it will Saturday in Texas, but the game is the game and everyone settles in, some sooner than others.
Noise is noise and loud doesn’t necessarily mean distracting. Players and coaches tend to be more concerned about stadium lights and the play clock and how to find the bathroom, but that’s so insignificant now that WVU doesn’t even do walk-throughs on the road anymore. In the game, teams have silent counts and hand signals and they can get close enough to speak and be heard. Teams prepare so much and recognize so many things that a lot can happen silently by reading, identifying and reacting before the snap.
Again, there are exceptions, especially in fast change situations or when a team is just spinning because it’s young or struggling, but crowds aren’t consistently worth much — and WVU’s crowd has been erratic through the years. Sorry, it’s true, and if the coach rips the fans or the A.D. says he doesn’t like seeing people come for a half, it takes a while for me to forget that.
And days like Saturday accelerate that process. I though it was great — and I wasn’t alone. The striping thing worked and I think it accomplished something: It united a majority of the 60,012 with a cause. They were all dressed appropriately to make the gimmick click and they went from merely being there to being there with a purpose. That was cool and it really was worth something. I have to think that mattered throughout that game.
Good for everyone, especially that day and on that occasion, when so many people were looking and wondering, “Let’s see if these guys and girls really do belong in this conference.”
But seriously, horizontal stripes and I’m all in on this thing.
Undecided: That was also the crowd
I haven’t put my feet in the wet cement on either side here, but I do know that Pat Miller isn’t out there not trying and I know he doesn’t want Saturdays like Saturday to happen. But I also know he had a rough, rough day and I know I just applauded the crowd for the way it was in the game. I think it’s ridiculous to say home fans can’t boo their team, but cheering as Miller gets yanked and makes a trot of shame across the field? I don’t know …
WVU took Ickey Banks for a spin against Maryland. Best as I could tell, he was back to his third-down/pass defense role against Baylor. When Miller was pulled, WVU subbed in freshman Nana Kyeremeh. The above happened. Kyeremeh watched it go down and didn’t offer an effort to disrupt the play. That’s disappointing, because he saw it. Many are begging for changes at cornerback, and I understand that the above is not what you want as a replacement, but if that’s the quality of the replacements, you can understand some decisions a little better.
That said, lots of attention on Daron Roberts now. He has some bodies. He’s had some time. He can’t have this happen again and again.
Bad: Injury reports
Call me crazy, but I don’t like it when writers from national publications or the opponent’s media ask me why this star player and those three other key players aren’t playing and I can’t provide a coherent answer. I don’t like it when people email and tweet me questions about the status and whereabouts of a player and I can’t answer them. Because I’m not in the wrong here. Yet someone somewhere is going to flail an arm and say, “Nice job, media.”
I didn’t know Shawne Alston wasn’t going to dress, let alone wasn’t going to play, until, say, the second quarter Saturday. I saw he wasn’t in warmups and then later confirmed in the first quarter he wasn’t on the sideline. By the second quarter, after I’d asked a couple people who I’d like to think are paid to answer those questions, I just decided he was done for the day.
Again, call me crazy, but I don’t understand why I can’t know about this Friday. I don’t understand why I’m the one telling people Travis Bell is in civvies when the same Travis Bell is on the dress list. I’m not asking for medical reports or constant updates, the very things coaches are bristling about these days. I’m just asking for a way to look competent. Not sure how that is accomplished because of the privacy laws and the seemingly irrefutable fact coaches will lie, but I’d like to know just a little more.
Bad: I still don’t get it
Allow me more incredulity, please. My only explanation is that WVU doesn’t trust its secondary enough to play tight coverage. The Mountaineers play mostly zone and they do so like you see here — with lots of room. I just don’t know where an eight-yard cushion on third-and-8 seems like a sound strategy.
A few bad things can happen and they seem to happen to WVU a lot. Earlier in the game, Williams slanted into the open space and caught it for a big gain before the first touchdown. Later he just sprinted through the cushion and past a retreating cornerback. Here he cuts his route like he should and then schools Miller, who is hurrying to close the gap and approaches out of control.
Again, the only explanation I have — and I assume it’s one the coaches won’t give to us, which thus explains why we don’t yet have it — is there are concerns about the personnel playing man, or at least closer, or concerns with the back end covering up errors. Well, either that, or this is the plan.
Good: Small cushions
Baylor’s cornerbacks were no better than WVU’s and that was before Demetri Goodson went out injured. It’s third down here and Baylor plays tight and gets a little pressure and Geno has to throw a little quicker than he probably wanted. The close coverage also speeds up the receivers and Ivan McCartney cuts his route too soon and does so with a defender there to make the catch complicated.
Again, I don’t understand the WVU philosophy. I believe it’s flawed unless it’s the lesser of two evils or the devil Joe DeForest knows.
Good: J.D. Woods
Actually, so good. He’s been great this season and, again, his teammates love that guy. And no wonder. Right up until this point, I thought his best play came in the third quarter. He caught a pass right at the first-down marker, turned and wore one from a charging Baylor defender, lost his helmet, but held onto the ball and moved the chains. It’s precisely the type of play that distinguishes him from whoever else is at his particular position.
Then he does this. It’s fabulous and it was perhaps more significant than we thought. Do you trust Ivan McCartney or Ryan Nehlen reaches back for that ball? Forget catching the ball. Do you think they have the wherewithal to have the play happen behind them and stay in that play? I ask because if Woods doesn’t do what he does, that ball looks like it’s heading to the Baylor cornerback and then it’s probably 70-70.
And that’s not just me saying that. A far superior source agreed.
“He was open, but as I threw it, a guy flashed in front of my face as (Woods) moved to get open,” Geno Smith said. “I put it to the spot where he was, not where he was going. He reached out and snagged it and really saved the game for us. That could have turned the game for us. (Williams) was in perfect position to pick it off and run down the sideline.”
You’re not going to argue with that guy, are you?
Bad: Missed chances
Not long before this — think back to when Pat Miller was penalized for throwing the receiver to the ground — the coaches actually wore out Tyler Anderson for apparently blowing his assignment and rushing Nick Florence when he was likely supposed to drop back and cover like he does here. But that earlier play blew up and Florence completed the pass and Miller added 15 yards. That had been a second-and-7 play and it sure looked like the coaches thought Anderson could have defended the play and, at worst, forced third-and-7. That guaranteed nothing Saturday, but you get the point. Baylor ended up getting seven points later in the drive.
Well, Anderson does his job here but doesn’t make-make the play. WVU had chances to make plays on the ball and mostly did not capitalize on them. That was a difference because this drive ended with Miller’s pass interference and a touchdown over Terence Garvin’s head, when he just didn’t look back for the ball.
The Mountaineers have four interceptions in four games, but think they should have more. They have forced seven fumbles and recovered three. It drives them crazy because games can be won and lost by getting and not getting these turnovers.
Side good: DeForest’s reaction on this play. So many emotions on display there. Think he cares?
Good: He came to bring the (S)pain
There was a lot about Saturday that made you start sentences “Well, I never …” Um, well, I never saw an offensive lineman throw a crack back block. I guess this has to do with the new rule that prevents offensive players from coming back on a play and throwing low on a defender. Maybe not. Who cares? That was great.
I was talking to Josh Jenkins in the preseason and he said the injuries made him an angrier person and player and that playing next to angry person and player Joe Madsen really rubbed off on him upon his return from the knee injury. It then became Jenkins’ goal to give the kind and stunningly soft-spoken Spain a little edge. Well played, Josh.
Not surprisingly, someone was knocked out cold on that play. Surprisingly, it wasn’t linebacker Bryce Hager, who Spain tried to eat. By the way, Hager’s a big-time player. He just got put in and found himself in some awful spots Saturday.
Bad: Lack of adjectives
This gets a bad, but I wonder if I have a word strong enough for it. Not sure what I can say about this that either hasn’t been said or needs to be said. It was awful and there’s no other way to explain it.I was shocked to see WVU’s Brodrick Jenkins up near the line of scrimmage and battling with Sampson and then in the middle of nowhere. I was shocked to see K.J. Dillon inexplicably darting toward the action. I was … well, I was amused to see the two defender take one another out of the play. I laughed hard when Craig Bolerjack yelled, “Oh my!” It was as though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing!
Good: Play my song, play it now!
The joy of sax!
Good: More Bolerjack
Let’s agree that the overly enthusiastic “Breaks a tackle” is a bit misleading here.
Look, I’m pretty smart and pretty confident and just pretty. I’m not enough of any of those to just go out on a limb about some things. Saturday morning, I wrote about Baylor’s trips packages and what the Bears like to do with them. That was an informed expose. WVU knew Baylor liked to do that stuff and was going to do it. Whoops. Karl Joseph made one small error and it became a big deal as he’s chasing the receiver into the end zone.
Good: Prep, Baylor edition
I didn’t catch this until I watched it on TV, but it happened. Remember that cheeky little screen WVU ran against Maryland and we thought it might have some wrinkles later attached to it? Well, Baylor paid attention to it. Listen to the Bears call out “SCREEN!” before the snap, likely based on Tavon’s motion. Watch the linemen. It’s going to be a screen.
Good: Batting sixth, Karl Joseph
Give him this: He makes the play. What I mean is, what he does factors heavily into the outcome. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s this — just an exclamation point on a play that’s neither good nor bad. He tackles Doug Rigg and the ball-carrier. Easily.
The kid can hit and looks like he can play the run, but he’ll also blow a few plays up on the back end — and to be fair, we’ve seen far more of the good and enough to project great things from the young man. He’s going to get you with acts of commission, not acts of omission. He’s like the sixth hitter in your batting order. He’s good. He’s good enough to play. He’ll bat like .255, but he’ll hit 36 homers and find his way to 90 RBIs. Wait until he learns to hit the curveball, though
Good: Isaiah Bruce
No specific example here, but a general statement: WVU has a player there. He’s really rarely out of position or far from the end of the play — the ones that he can reasonably make, I should say. That’s especially bright for a redshirt freshman playing middle linebacker in a 3-4 defense against spread offenses. We throw around the word “athletic” a little too liberally, but for a linebacker in the middle of the field, you can see that that kid is indeed athletic. He does a pretty good job handling blocks and defenses seek to remove the middle linebacker quite a bit.
That said, it’s probably a nice time to credit WVU’s defensive line, too, specifically the Clarke-Rowell-Wright combo. I’ve said it before, but those three can be a handful and they can make life much easier on Bruce and the rest of the linebackers. They were keys in WVU containing and really even discouraging Baylor’s run after some white-knuckle moments in the first quarter. That has to be a pleasant surprise for you, right?
Bad: One more on the FX crew
In keeping with tradition here, let me say I grew very tired of these FX folks. What was wrong with the other FX crew? This bit of foreshadowing was … well, it was dumb. Also, I thought my Heisman vote was Due Sunday night — was I wrong? Bolerjack, in addition to other things, had no clue the hot potato pass was a pass. The other guy seemed like we needed to treat his commentary as a gift. It was a bit much. I need Gus screaming at me and Charles Davis attempting to get a word in here and there so that I might feel better.
Good: Defeating the pressure
Some of this was the five receiver sets — and how about those? I’ll do more on that this week, honest. — but WVU eventually cooled off Baylor’s pressure, be it blitzing or crowding the line and jumping plays. The offensive line blocked well and Geno made the right throws, but WVU was also able to play-call some thing to back up the Bears.
Here, Baylor is spread out and Tavon, in the slot at the top of the screen, steps back and feigns a quick screen. That sucks a linebacker his way, which gives Garrison room because WVU has the numbers advantage. Who makes the tackle? The linebacker Tavon attracted. On the second play, Baylor brings pressure off the edge. WVU again pulls Josh Jenkins, who made a nice block on the prior play, left to right and Baylor has to think. The middle linebacker pauses, which is bad against WVU. The pressure leaves Tavon open and Tavon, who again took a step back, is open with lots of room. He turns a simple play into a healthy gain.
The beauty? These are back-to-back plays. They can really mess you up.
Good: Extra officials
Maybe my favorite part of the game. Nick Florence demands the officials throw a flag for defenders pulling on his facemask. This cracked me up and I don’t know why.
Bad: Extra flags
Second-and-15? Blitz. Leave Joseph alone with a slot receiver. WVU gets a taste of its own medicine here because WVU’s offense does this a lot to opponents and did it a lot against Baylor, only Baylor was sometimes using a linebacker on Tavon instead of a safety. This just seemed weird to me because WVU was bringing seven against Baylor’s seven. Josh Francis comes off the edge at the bottom of the screen and Florence sees it and picks on the mismatch. The other safety, Darwin Cook, had to stay home because of the tight end, even though he’s in to block. Sometimes the formation and the design gets you.
This was basically max protect against single coverage, plus Cook. I’d assume he was there for a reason, likely Terrance Williams. Cook jumped in, saw the tight end blocking and then went out wide to get underneath Williams. There was no way Terrance Williams was going to have time to get to the marker. He sight-adjusts and cuts his route. So then you have to throw it deep and hope you make a play or the safety falls and interferes. But, hey, you want to see blitzes. You saw a blitz there.
Also, excessive penalization on the officials.
Good: Cody Clay
This may be one of the bigger and better surprises going right now. WVU was without its top two blocking backs against Baylor with Ryan Clarke and Donovan Miles both injured — and I’m going to say that judging by the walking boot Clarke wore Saturday, he’ll be out again. If not, he’ll be at best limited. But WVU ran the ball well and Clay, a kid who came to WVU as a tight end and was snapping the ball last year and only moved from inside receiver to blocking back at the end of preseason practice, handled his business.
He cleared the whole and got out of the way. He knocked back initial defenders. He even allowed WVU to play fast and seamlessly transition from from two-back sets with him and Buie/Garrison to four- or five-wide sets because he can play inside receiver. Let’s keep an eye on this, OK?
Good: Offensive line play
That was more like it Saturday. I still think it’s a good group that had a bad day — but was made to have a bad day — against Maryland. And, yes, the challenge will be different and better against the Longhorns. But WVU ran the ball and protected the passer. This is too much time to give Geno.
Side good: Back foot throw! Todd McShay does not approve.
Side bad: Did Stedman almost get shot? That looked close.
Good: I was asked about kickoffs
Punting remains a mess and Ty Bitancurt missed a long field goal, the return teams have been average and rank below average and the coverage teams are about the same, so perhaps special teams should get a bad. I get that and I was asked about all that on separate occasions Saturday night, but I was also asked about Stedman’s pass to Tavon on the kickoff.
Saw it. Signed off on it.
Watch the first kick. It’s to WVU’s left and WVU has something set up to the right and there’s a gap there that Stedman looked like he was ready to race through if not for Goodson’s tackle.
But, believe it or not, the officials called offsides on the kickoff, which was absolutely correct, but which they could call more than they do. WVU decided to make Baylor kick again. WVU then flipped Stedman and Tavon, presumably to keep the same return. Baylor kicked to Stedman, but Stedman spit it back to Tavon and then led the way for a long return. Neat to see.