WVU returns to practice today and I’d have to imagine it’s going to be a mix of emotions. Determination, I’m sure, but this is a team that just suffered a brutal loss, which is the third brutal loss in a row, but a different brand of brutal.
That’s not the brutal that stings or stinks. That’s the brutal that can devastate.
The Mountaineers invested a lot in the two weeks between games. They met some harsh realities. They made some bold personnel decisions. They really and truly believed everything was going to work. And it nearly did and probably would have, if not for some colossal errors that send them back to a fourth straight week of post-defeat practice.
In November, that’s very tough. When it follows WVU’s September, it’s even tougher. The physical part of the game is hard. Throw in the volatility of this emotional and mental struggle and it’s so much harder. And, oh, by the way, WVU goes on the road Saturday.
Such a difficult spot for the Mountaineers. How did we get here? Let’s take a look by evaluating the good and the bad of WVU v. TCU…
Good: Audience participation
I’ll just stay away from the junior varsity implication here, mostly because I think it was sincere, but the standing ovation in the bleachers and the mosh pit on the sideline was one of my favorite moments of the season. Erik Slaughter was seeking out people to hip thump and chest bump. I don’t think there can be any misunderstanding as to why the defensive line played with such urgency.
Side bad: It’s the eighth game of the season and the home crowd of 52,000 or so is cheering wildly for a rather basic occurrence in a college football game.
Good: Pass rush
I think the open week did those guys well. The ends and tackles and the rush linebackers played with great energy and guys like Kyle Rose and Josh Francis and Dozie Ezemma, who was a nice surprise, spent much of the game moving the pocket and stressing Trevone Boykin, who was hurt a week before, is a redshirt freshman and apparently sounded like he wasn’t much liking the constant contact. I’m serious…
Good to see you again, my friend. As much as teams have dropped back to stop WVU’s deep passes and basically ignored the run like a toothache, I’m shocked the stick/draw, or any draw, hasn’t worked or been asked to work to disarm the defense’s designs.
That said, there was a draw later on that never got a chance. Wait until you see it…
Good: Karl Joseph
Very tidy game for the sixth hitter. Nine tackles, a forced fumble, a tackle for a loss, a pass breakup on third down. He seemed to control the secondary, and he was probably left with no choice playing next to new safety Cecil Level. Obviously, Joseph is going to be good.
Show of hands: Who was tapping people next to them and commenting on how WVU was playing pretty good defense and getting off the field and either added, or had someone remark, that the Stay Puft cushion was nowhere to be found?
Forty-seven of you? Excellent.
WVU played close to the receiver for much of the game and didn’t have the normal number of coverage disasters. This play, for some reason, stood out because Pat Miller started off close to Josh Boyce. By the time the ball was snapped, Miller was retreating hard with his back to the sideline.
It was going to be hard for him to stop, turn 180 degrees and recover to defend a pass to Boyce, who was going to stay between Miller’s back and the sideline and find the sticks. Sure enough, Boyce stops right at the marker and Miller is well past it with no chance to halt and hurry.
Good: Third down defense
For obvious reasons, namely huge cushions and bad coverage, WVU had been a dreadful third-down defense this season. That part of the defense was much better Saturday and that had a ton to do with overall results. TCU converted three on its first touchdown drive, including the one above, but then missed eight straight.
WVU won 13 of the 17 … but is still No. 109 out of 120.
Watch this play. Watch a few defenders kind of loaf to the ball, likely assuming it was an incomplete pass. Watch TCU manage to recover it. Watch Holgorsen scream at someone, I believe Isaiah Bruce, because, I believe, that was a lousy effort.
Watch this play. Watch TCU get 15 yards. Watch all the WVU players rally to the ball, outnumber TCU on the scene and force and recover a fumble. A big run on third-and-5 could have been demoralizing. WVU hung in there and made a play.
That’s the sort of thing people have been talking about when they talk about what’s been missing on defense. They need people do do something to affect the game. Allow me to get Gary Browne into this conversation, as I tend to do throughout the course of a normal day: Good things happen when you get to the ball.
TCU has an awful red zone offense. The 2-for-4 against WVU dropped the numbers to 31-for-44. That’s No. 114. In short, the Horned Frogs struggle when they get close and the defense can compact.
This isn’t a red zone play, though it’s close and it leads to one. WVU allowed a lot of space for an offense that doesn’t do well when the space gets tight close to the end zone.
This is loose defense and I’m not sure what Terence Garvin is doing to let the receiver go by so he can stare at the running back in the flat. If Garvin sticks with the slot and the safety keeps the top on it, the play doesn’t result in first-and-goal at the 2 and an offense that can struggle when it gets close to the goal line has take another crack at it.
Bad: 97 carries, 296 yards, 3.1 yards per carry
Those are the numbers for the run game the past three games and it’s bothering WVU. I mean, bothering WVU because the defenses have clearly decided to stop the pass because the run won’t work. I mean bothering WVU because the players are exasperated.
The Mountaineers have started three different right tackles the past three games and I’d guess other changes would be coming if there were more options.
Now, TCU has some defensive linemen who are a handful — Maponga, Fields, Johnson, in particular — and good teams are going to have bad moments against that group. But those bad moments come easy when plays like this happen.
Curtis Feigt can’t cut down the defensive tackle. If Feigt does it, he takes out the tackle and quite likely the end, who WVU left free here because of the design of the play. Those two instead make the tackle, though I wonder if Buie went the wrong way. He’s got a chance if he goes left of Madsen.
The backs have a hand in these struggles, too.
Bad: Staring contests
Geno waited way too long on this and safety Elisha Olabode has all the time he needs to read the eyes and jump the route. When Dana says Geno locked on guys and didn’t go through his reads like he normally does, he does so with a play like this in mind. Why it’s happening, I’m going to try to find out.
Geno didn’t make great reads, decisions or throws, but I thought he played hard. He ran the ball more than he had been and used his legs to keep plays and drives alive. Even the leap toward the pylon before Shawne Alston’s touchdown in the second quarter showed us all something.
Here, he makes something out of nothing and it precedes a touchdown to J.D. Woods instead of a punt. It matters.
Good: Man/zone defense with a twist
Here’s TCU doing what TCU does and matching routes with man coverage in a zone … except No. 17, Sam Carter, can’t hang with Tavon Austin’s jerk route and decides to just tackle Tavon rather than let him slip past.
TCU did this a few times, including tackling Buie once on a screen play that might have hit.
By the way, Carter got poked in the eye and missed most of the second quarter, which is where WVU scored 21 points. TCU did not think those were coincidences. Carter had 10 tackles.
Good: J.D. Woods
Big game for him with five catches for 56 yards and this score. Not stunning numbers, and he’s had better outputs, but he answered a challenge. During the open week, Holgorsen openly named Woods when he was answering a question about using new receivers.
“Take a guy like J.D. that has played a good bit, but hasn’t made a bunch of plays. He got a lot better during camp, but he has faded a bit recently. That is what I mean about a mature football team. He has gotten a lot better, but he needs to act a little bit older in a situation like the other night. After you make the decision, it is all about performance. If a guy is not performing, you make the change.”
I’ve said this before, but coaches and players have told me that the guys really like Woods. This catch, which could have been intercepted, probably adds to that fondness. Receivers had not made plays on the ball recently, but Woods does so here.
Good: Speed option slowed
Nothing against Cecil Level — and I know you know how I feel about him — but I had bad thoughts when I started to go through the possibilities involved with him defending the option plays TCU would use with Boykin. In most schemes, the safety has to clog and close gaps and it’s a lot to ask even a veteran, let alone someone who’d been playing the position for six practices.
TCU had some success early, but WVU eventually set some edges and forced it outside and gave Level time and room to make plays on the option. He had some promising moments. I know what happened at the end, but we’re all being dishonest if we expected perfection.
No clue what happened here. Perhaps another consequence of the poor running game is no one bites on play action fakes. No one does here and Stedman Bailey is double-teamed by the cornerback and the safety. Geno still pushes it down the field and misses badly.
Maybe he took a shot because those shots haven’t been there lately, but he could have had a big gain had he lofted a ball for Tavon as he swept across the field. Stedman had cleared that area and added some vertical distance as the corner and safety covered him. If Geno leads Tavon with a throw, which he’s absolutely capable of, Tavon gets it on the go and is up the rail for a big gain.
Good: I guess?
After the Texas Tech game, Jake Spavital was telling me about the decision to opt out of a field goal for a Hail Mary at the end of the first half because, who knows, it might have worked and WVU needed something big to happen to get some momentum. That’s never left me because, in many ways, WVU is still looking for something big to happen to get some momentum.
So Geno falls on a ball and Paul
Millerd Millard has to come in and everyone thinks it’s a run. It is instead a pass — and the same pass play Geno misses above.
If it works, WVU has made something big happen and has momentum. That seemed unusual, but acceptable. It was almost like a trick play, where instead of a quick change after a turnover, it was a quick change after Geno went to the sideline.
That wasn’t almost like a trick play. It was a trick play. Right after a turnover and on a good spot on the field. It sucked in WVU’s safeties and linebackers and Boyce did well to sell a run block and then motor past Brodrick Jenkins.
Really nice design and usage there.
Good: At least I get to mention the 13-hitter
I’ve been critical of special teams, and the results and the rankings would back me up in many instances. I’m most comfortable with my declaration that anything can happen when WVU is about to do something on special teams. Anything.
So, yeah, you’d think the natural reaction to what happened Saturday night would be me grabbing a shovel and piling dirt on the special teams. And I had to laugh when Dana said that he thought he special teams were good against TCU, you know, except for the missed field goals and the botched punt for the touchdown.
And I think he was probably talking to me on that.
Well, having watched again, he’s probably right. The coverage and the return teams played hard. Corey Smith is still doing his job. There’s not much more else to special teams, I know, but I can see the point Holgorsen was trying to make. It’s not a total wreck — though it does remind me of the famed 13-hitter.
It led Stewart into making one of the season’s most unreasonable quotes, saying, “I thought we did well in the red zone … except losing those fumbles.”
That’s like a pitcher saying “I pitched a no-hitter, except for those 13 hits I gave up.”
This play is a pretty good example of what I think he was talking about — and if not, he probably meant that Tavon’s punt return score should have won the game and been the story and not Exhibit B in this loony trial I’m conducting.
But Jordan Thompson blazes a trail. Wes Tonkery (37) levels someone that Thompson could not. And then right at the whistle, Ryan Nehlen (80) flies in and flattens someone.
The hardest part of kick coverage and kick returns is finding kids who give a damn. WVU had a bunch of them, from Tavon and the ones I just mentioned, all the way to Nick Kwiatkoski, Garrett Hope, Austin Copeland (!) and even Terrell Chestnut. Kwiatkoski had two tackles Saturday. Will Clarke had one.
Good: Yes, I said Terrell Chestnut
His college debut was on special teams. Certainly not what he expected, but he did his job. Here, Chestnut (16) comes back and stands up a TCU guy who could have caught Tavon.
Have to give Copeland some credit, too. In his first career game, he pushes the first defender out of Tavon’s way and pretty much convinces Tavon to go straight ahead instead of scurrying like my beagle when she’s got one of my socks.
And yes, I’m aware I just invited everyone to write stories about Copeland and Chestnut.
Bad: Special teams
No reason to harp on it any more than to say this is how you lose games.
Side good: With Joe DeForest in the box above the field, he had to call down to the field to speak with long snapper John DePalma. I’d never seen a long-snapper put on a headset.
Sub side good: TCU’s Paul Dawson makes a great play jumping in and clearly reaching for the ball. Who knows, there may have been a big difference between a turnover and a touchdown there. Again, TCU is bad in the red zone. Again, players have to affect games.
Bad: Special teams
Even if the end doesn’t race around to get the block, I’m not certain that ball was going to get above the line. Again.
I have no idea what you do with Tyler Bitancurt except keep putting him out there. The long kicks? Fine. You’re asking a lot to have him consistently hammer 50-plus yarders. But, man, his trajectory is a concern.
Bad: Special teams … wait, what?
We can have a long discussion about clock management at the end of the second and fourth quarters (Hint: It could get a Bad!), but this was bizarre to me. Don’t get me wrong. The decisions after this, both on this drive and on the final drive of regulation, are confusing and were probably costly in defeat. But this thing could have been a disaster.
Geno has never punted before. Never … unless I’ve been confusing Corey for Geno all these years, And I’m pretty sure I have not.
Still, let’s just say Geno does get the snap cleanly and does get a chance to kick it — because this wasn’t going to be a fake. I’m thinking it’s blocked. No one tried to even inconvenience TCU’s Geoff Hooker. Maybe that’s a block and a touchdown. Halftime would have been fun, yes?
But, OK, it was a bobble and Geno had to run. I’m thinking Hooker was just caught off guard and missed the tackle because of that. If he isn’t and he makes a simple tackle, TCU has the ball in a great position with three timeouts.
The best case scenario is a clean and uneventful punt by your quarterback and about 35 yards of field position. That whole scenario seemed way too cute to me. Just let the punter punt. This was before the botch — though after a bad snap. Maybe Dana was thinking. Still, Bitancurt is averaging 39.2 yards. If he has an average punt, which, sure, seems like a reach, it’s first-and-10 at the 12 against your suddenly adept defense.
Side good: Seriously, Geno tried Saturday.
Good: Awesome: Tavon
I hope you enjoyed that because that doesn’t happen much in college. High school? Sure. In college, or the pros, the guys gets creamed and then lectured and he’s lucky if he’s escapes without a turnover.
But Tavon is a special talent who, literally here, did everything he could Saturday. I know WVU lost, but Tavon was robbed.
That being said, this play happens on the series after Geno’s interception, where people have told me, and the sideline reporter later confirmed, Geno shrugged and trotted off the field rather than hang around and try to make a tackle. That led to a one-sided conversation with Holgorsen.
Now watch Geno here. He bails rather than block Maponga … and Maponga nearly wipes Tavon out when Tavon reverses. Yet when Tavon is in the end zone, his quarterback, who raced and looked down the field for someone to hit, is there to celebrate.
Good: Return of Alston
I’m not sure he was ready and I’m certain he wasn’t at 100 percent, as evidenced by his limping, but Shawne Alston gave WVU a little something.
Not a great difference, but he’s going to have a developing role and he took those first steps Saturday after a long layoff — and every TCU defender shot at his legs to make tackles.
But WVU needed him at times, like this one, because the first three and-goal plays, including a bootleg and Fosbury Flop fail by Geno, didn’t get it done.
Also, maybe it’s now fair to wonder why he was out so long. Knee brace for a thigh bruise?
Bad: Going to lose some of you here but …
Good: … Geno got Total Elimination
That hurt to watch.
Good: Shaq can dig it!
Here’s another guy the coaches challenged and Mr. Petteway, who we hadn’t seen much or heard much from in weeks, goes out and gets 10 tackles in significant playing time. This was a great play, too.
Boyce steps through the tackles here, but Petteway stops the touchdown. Three plays later, Isaiah Bruce gets the interception on the goal line, but that doesn’t happen if this doesn’t happen first. Again, TCU is bad in the red zone.
Bad: Four straight punts
We were tracking this in the press box and also in the game post, but WVU looked like it was setting something up for a running back out in the flat or up the rail. TCU first slowed and then pretty much stopped defending it to better cover stuff in the middle and a lot of us were wondering when it would happen.
It should have happened here. It’s third-and-5 and WVU sets it up, but also gets a break when the defenders who at times fanned out to defend the flat instead blitz. It’s wide open, but Geno’s throw is off the mark. If Buie catches it, he’s got a chance to hit his head on a sousaphone.
WVU instead punted for the third time in a string of four straight possessions when it could have put the game out of reach.
Bad: Nothing out of something
This is the fourth possession that ended in a punt and it was a wonder to witness. I’m OK with a short pass on first down instead of the run mainly because WVU proved it couldn’t run and Bob Huggins would agree the Mountaineers needed to stop proving what they couldn’t do. They’re better at the short pitch-and-catch stuff.
It went for no gain because TCU was all over Tavon, but on second-and-10, WVU goes hot potato. Look at the right side where Tavon is headed. He wants to get either through the line or around the corner because there is an enormous gap between Feigt, who’s about to release into the open, and Woods, who is handling a cornerback.
But Feigt is looking inside, which lets the safety sneak in, and Tavon has to improvise. Just like that, the play and the drive changes. And, boy, did things change.
TCU took a timeout after that play to set up a key and murky third-and-8. It’s an in-between down and TCU wanted the right play. I’m positive Dick Bumpas didn’t call delay of game. I’m somewhat positive WVU was going to run a quarterback draw.
The Mountaineers clear out with an empty backfield and TCU vacates the space. Then time runs out on WVU and the offense takes at least the third delay of game penalty after a timeout this season.
Watch Geno, though. He’s going to run, right? And he’s got a first down, right? The third-and-13 play was a run and Buie got three yards back. WVU punted again and I think you know how it all ended.
Bad: Like that
Can’t remember a more violent momentum swing. Can’t remember a more horrified crowd. The “Ohhhh!” when Boykin whipped it to wide-open Boyce was mesmerizing.
Just a perfect storm for the Horned Frogs. The sack before all of that caused a little celebration among the Mountaineers, but they had to hurry to the next play. TCU was out of timeouts and needed to go fast and WVU couldn’t properly communicate between players. You can see some confusion before the snap and Level yelling at Ickey Banks.
Tons of credit to Level for admitting as much and applying blame to himself for the breakdown there.
“I should have went over and at least touched him on the shoulder and let him know what to do and that he had (Boyce).”
Then Francis gets tripped up on a blitz and the defender at Boykin’s feet tells him to escape. He goes right and then everything falls apart for WVU. Tough way to finish.
And a 1, and a 2 and a 1-2-3.