WVU v. Maryland: No bombs will be bursting in air

September 13, 2014 by Mike Casazza

20140913_085142
You are looking live at the scene outside Byrd Stadium this morning, where there is a noticeably heavy security presence. I mean, large enough that I thought, “Wow, there is a noticeably heavy security presence,” and when I got into the press box, others said something along the lines of, “Wow, there is a noticeably heavy security presence.”

It’s more than just this particular checkpoint, I promise, and I don’t have to tell you about other security concerns this area has this week. But I thought that was cheeky, given the occasion and the uniforms today and the bicentennial celebration not far from here for the Star Spangled Banner.

And there’d better be an amazing national anthem today. I happen to know one great American fit for the occasion.

Uhoh, time to begin…

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Friday Feedback

September 12, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Welcome to the Friday Feedback, which is checking the barometer and the thermometer. Earlier in the week we broke news here about how the fate of the West Virginia season often hinges on what happens against Maryland. No doubt, there’s some correlation, and even this season it might be hard for a 1-2 WVU to find five more wins inside the Big 12.

But never mind the pressure. How about the temperature? More than the opener and certainly more than last week’s walkthrough, this game is the greatest indicator (so far) about how far the Mountaineers have come and whether they’re worthy of a change in optimism. Last season’s game was awful, except that it forced WVU to sit down and take inventory and then make some changes.

Actually, “some changes” isn’t accurate. Remember this? The two most notable alterations there are Clint Trickett at quarterback and Quinton Spain at left guard — and probably Marquis Lucas moving from guard to tackle, where it seems he belongs. From there, the Mountaineers focused on and avoided certain tactics and topics on offense, realizing they were not who they thought they were. “…if you look back on it, I think that was really who we were at that point last year. We weren’t very good and I don’t know if there was much we could have done differently,” Shannon Dawson said.

Oof.

But times and teams change — Maryland’s striking continuity notwithstanding — and these Mountaineers have never wavered on a basic, yet bold point: They believe they’re better at every position. You’ve heard it so often that you accept it as the truth, but we’ll see, and sooner rather than later. I think you’ll feel definitively convinced or skeptical Saturday afternoon because this game is a landmark of sorts for a WVU team that was left with no choice but to blame and change itself the last time these two met.

“The way I called plays last year, the way we game-planned last year, we’re not doing the same things,” Holgorsen said. “We’re a different team, and we’re able to do different things. We’re able to call plays differently. You can just look at the tape over the last two weeks and see that it’s a little bit different than what it’s been in the past.”

Onto the Feedback. As always, comments appear as posted. In other words, take a look in the mirror.

Karl said:

It was necessity that we burn that redshirt. This kid has to get some playing snaps this year, or next season we’re in a position where our starting QB is the JUCO (who I read stinks), an inexperienced redshirt freshman in Crest, or two true freshman — assuming they stay committed.

Question, Mike — I was surprised to see Crest wrapping his arms around Holgorsen on the sideline like that. That’s a true freshman getting awfully comfortable. Do you have any sense on whether Dana is OK with/encourages that? I can’t remember seeing him get so personal with his players in an ordinary game situation.

What I actually DMd to a colleague that was later sent by my hip in an unfortunately edited version was that relying on a juco QB this season stinks. If Howard ultimately stinks, I promise I’m not going to take credit for that. Anyhow, yeah, I noticed that and thought about including it in the G&B. If you watch it, it seems like it catches Dana off guard, and then Dana goes right into a critique so his freshman doesn’t get too cozy. That said, I’ve always thought watching those two interact that Dana personally likes Crest, and vice versa. 

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You’ll Never Talk Alone: S3E3

September 11, 2014 by Brad McElhinny

Good Thursday to you. We’ll begin at 11 a.m., as usual, but the chat is already open, as usual, so you can get in early or ask questions now that you aren’t able to ask later.

Live Blog You’ll Never Talk Alone: S3E3
 

Bob Huggins with the silencer

September 10, 2014 by Mike Casazza

He’ll get the W-V-U part down, I’m certain. But, man, Bob Huggins for the win. This is WVU’s biggest and best get since Devin Ebanks, and Huggins was in early and kept the lead despite formidable challenges. I think it’s sometimes too simple to say the best way to get better is through recruiting … because recruiting is hard. Players like Ahmad — who live up to their billing — make it easier.

Wednesday Walkthrough: Maryland

September 10, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Saturday’s goal is simple: Make plays!

“We’re going to have to catch things underneath and get past the next level of the defense,” Dawson said. “It was frustrating last week … getting tackled by our feet a lot. You’ve got to pick up your feet and run through tackles to make big plays.

“It’s not like we’re sitting here making it a huge emphasis, but there are certain times in a game when we feel like we can do better when it comes to blocking downfield and getting out of arm tackles so we can break through and get to the back level of the defense.”

Dana Holgorsen: Maryland Week

September 9, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Blue tops, gold pants … on the road?

The Good and the Bad of WVU v. Towson

September 9, 2014 by Mike Casazza

crest
I wasn’t privy to Towson’s preparations for last week’s game and I can’t say this for certain … but there’s no way the Tigers were ready for that. 

That is 6-foot-2, 215-pound William Crest giving 6-foot, 170-pound cornerback Alfonso Augustine The Business. And I bet you that was a part of film review at both places.

Quite likely, Towson went over all of WVU’s formations and plays and broke down how the Mountaineers run a few plays out of myriad formations. The Tigers looked at the backs and how Rushel Shell is not Wendell Smallwood is not Dreamius Smith. They picked apart the differences between Kevin White and Mario Alford as outside receivers and got to know Jordan Thompson as an inside receiver. They probably even learned the name Elijah Wellman and spent a little time on a couple of days looking at the diamond formation.

All of that is out there for Towson’s consumption. Red zone zone read stiff arms are not. Maybe they talked about it. Again, I don’t know, and I assume Towson’s staff is like many others and has people who scour publications for tips. But a blurb here or there is all they could have gotten, and there’s no way they were prepared for The Business. Talk about it? Sure. Simulate a mitt in the mush? Nope. Nope.

And this is the intrigue about having Crest in the fold and on tape now. Every opponent has to spend a little time getting to know Crest and what the Mountaineers like to do or could conceivably still do with him in the game. Defensive coaches hate that. They like canisters. They like to watch last year’s film against the next week’s opponent and go over what worked and what did not. They look at, say, the previous four games during the season — and some maniacs go even deeper than that.

Introduce a wild card and the canisters turn into nesting dolls.

Maryland’s defensive coordinator is Brian Stewart. He’s really good and he’s had a read on the Mountaineers the past two seasons. He knows what he wants to and has to do to the Mountaineers to give his team the greatest chance to succeed. But he has to wonder, just a little bit, what to make of the crested Mountaineers. Will they use him? Where? How? Even if the Terrapins spend a little time on it, it’s a little less time than they spend on something else.

And here’s where I say something you may or may not pay attention to: WVU has had one red zone possession against Maryland the past two seasons. One! And it ended in a field goal, which means it happened in 2012. Say you think Crest is primed for a package or red zone plays. Fine. There’s basically no record of Stewart’s defense against Holgorsen’s offense inside the 20. (There is, but it’s four plays — 12-yard pass, no gain, incomplete pass, sack for a loss of 12 yards.)

True, Holgorsen’s Mountaineers don’t have an intimate idea of what to expect from Stewart close to the goal post, but the same is said of what Stewart’s defense does not know of WVU’s offense. Can WVU study Maryland’s defense on tape from previous games? That’s already happened. And Maryland can study and has studied WVU’s offense … but Crest is a newly introduced variable that requires attention because what’s new is what worries coaches. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s still something.

How did we get here? Let’s find out by taking a look at the Good and the Bad of WVU v. Towson.

Good: That stiff arm
Seriously. Crest isn’t as tall or as thick (yet) as Jarrett Brown, but right there, you can see the resemblance many people like to mention. (It also looks like Crest totes the ball with one hand, like Brown, which has to change.) And remember, Brown was WVU’s default short-yardage back in 2008. While we’re at it, how about that arm, too? He only threw four passes, and one of them was a bad short-hop on what’s an ordinary and requisite throw in the offense, but another one stood out. WVU likes to run a quick screen to the boundary side where two receivers stand — it’s a short throw, so it happens fast. WVU let Crest throw into the field side, which is a longer throw that takes more time … but also requires the defense to cover more ground. Crest got it there in a hurry and Shelton Gibson picked up 9 yards.

Good: Potent
There’s no deceit in that clip. That’s right up the gut and through a some contact for 11 yards, and he’d do something similar later. You get the idea right there.

Good: Perimeter
I think the popular opinion is he’ll get red zone action and do give-or-take stuff and maybe throw the pop passes that have been popularized across football. So while you like the first clip and how he can find and exploit the middle, we should probably pay more attention to what he does in a tighter space. Kid had no trouble picking his spots here and working the outside to get into the end zone. Again, you get the idea.

Bad: Imperfection 
Fine, fine, fine. This is picky, and it might not even be on Crest, but this play needed to be a handoff. The defense is trending to the left with the outside linebacker at the top of the screen basically standing in the middle. The throw still goes to the bottom and Gibson has no room. If Crest lets go of the handoff, Andrew Buie has a running back and a lineman blocking and, who knows, might have scored. I wonder if Crest was just running the plays that were called — probable — and isn’t responsible for not making the switch at the line, but I wonder if Dana was like, “Eeh, give him the choices. Let’s see him sink or swim.”

Good: Makeup
On the very next play, WVU does the very same thing and Crest lets go and Buie gains 16 yards. Someone did something to fix that. That’s Good, whoever it was.

Bad: Streak-buster
That’s probably Clint Trickett’s worst decision of the season, right? And it came on the move, which saddens me. And it came when he was in a groove. Trickett had completed 13 straight passes before this one, so you know he was in a good place, but he makes a poor decision here that should have been a turnover. But he knew the play was there …

Good: This guy
… and there it is. Thompson doesn’t do this last year and he doesn’t do it the year before. I’m not saying that just because this was his first career touchdown. I’m saying it because it’s a savvy play that requires a veteran presence and a rapport with the quarterback so that he knows the receiver is going to do the right thing. (Also, Jordan confirmed to me what I just said.) Kevin White causes trouble, which pushes the safety deep, but White runs underneath, which hooks a middle linebacker and clears the middle for Thompson. He sees it and quickly gets behind the linebacker, and it’s easy from there … even though the pitch and catch wasn’t that easy.

Bad: This guy
Nah, I’m kidding, because he’s having his way out there. Seriously, he’s a totally different guy this season. I still think it’s funny and telling that WVU has moved on to shaping and motivating Kevin White by saying he doesn’t like to score touchdowns.

“I’m tired of him getting tackled inside the 10,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I think he likes to have 100-yard games and catch 10 balls, but I don’t think he likes to catch touchdowns.”

He’s sort of joking. White was tackled near the goal line multiple times in both games this season. Teammates “hammer me about it” on the sideline, White said, and Holgorsen is only slightly more delicate.

“He’s getting better, but if he wants to be a dominant football player, he needs to stay on his feet and cross that goal line for touchdowns,” Holgorsen said.

Bad: Records!
One more on Thompson, because his Goods remind us of Bads. This is a nice play where he confidently catches the ball and decides to go because he sees space and believes he can make the first guy miss. It’s Good all around and it works for 30 yards. Thompson had 18 yards on all of his punt returns last season. WVU had 61 yards on all of its punt returns. A personal best is never Bad unless it’s as weird as this one was.

Good: Buie!
I wasn’t sure if or when we’d see a Buie highlight again, and in all honesty, he might just be the fourth or fifth guy on this team who had a good day against a FCS defense. But he turned nine carries into 70 yards and a touchdown and looked nothing like a junior who led the team in rushing two years ago and feels as though he’s above mop up duty. This was a vintage Buie run, and now you watch to see what this does to his role moving forward. We’ve heard whispers for a long time that he’s an above-average slot receiver. WVU could use one of those, if only in doses. If not, well, this still happened when we wondered if it ever would. Good for him.

Bad: Lowlights
He didn’t make G&B last week, but freshman linebacker Xavier Preston played one snap against Alabama and made the tackle on a T.J. Yeldon on a 1-yard run. “He had one heck of a tackle. It was just in the end zone, so they counted it as a touchdown. It looked like he had good pop, he butted the guy up. He will continue to get more reps,” Holgorsen said last week. Well, Preston and many others played most of the second half, but, man, we’ve got to get a good Preston play on film. Watch the top linebacker. He does everything right on this play. He drops, doesn’t chase the receiver and instead plays the zone, between the man and the ball like he’s supposed to. He jumps and defends the pass and … mercy. Keep chopping, X.

Good: Safety
And here comes Shaq Riddick. He played a lot, and Towson was a better matchup than Alabama was, and Maryland will offer the same opportunity. He’s not powerful like Dontrill Hyman and he’s not the combination of moves and power like Noble Nwachukwu, but those two aren’t as fast off the line as Riddick. It’s a different presence out there. He’s a nice addition to third down defenses and he made an impact, albeit against a poor Towson line. But he did it and he knows what it feels like and he takes that into practice this week knowing he can do it and knowing his coaches know he can do it.

Good: Bizarre Harper
I don’t have much to say about the defense, and I can’t think of anything bad, but I tried and I watched closely. One thing I came away with: Jarrod Harper is very much a part of the team’s plans. He’s not good enough to dig into Karl Joseph’s playing time at bandit, but that’s not his fault and the coaches aren’t holding that against him. They’ve gotten him on the field in nickel packages and he showed a knack for blitzing against Towson. The odd stack is always going to need and make use of guys like that — big, fast, versatile safety-type bodies — in its attack.

Bad: Me?
I guess I’ve made some noise about WVU’s determined efforts to mask the fact it’s playing an odd stack again. I think I’ve called it rubbish a few times and even said the stuff from the spring with one down lineman or no down linemen was a smoke screen. Mmmmaybe not!

Good: Towson’s dress rehearsal
Bless the Tigers for workshopping things in the second half. This was nuts, but, hey, it’s on film. Unless the right guard forgot to report. Credit WVU for ignoring the possibility this might even be a pass and matching up 7-on-7.

Bad: Goal line back
I guess the Mountaineer’s don’t necessarily have one, or maybe they haven’t settled on one. You’d think it would be Shell, but Smallwood got three carries from the Towson 5 on the first drive and scored on the third. He then went for no gain in between Shell’s almost-fumbled loss of a yard and his third-down gain of a yard that preceded a field goal on the second drive. Shell got the carries the next two drives and scored on the first, but Trickett threw a fade to Mario Alford on the next and then ran in on the one after that. On fourth-and-goal at the Towson 1 in the third quarter, WVU bootlegged Trickett for what should have been an easy touchdown pass to Cody Clay, but was instead an incomplete pass. I don’t know if the Mountaineers make it hard or if they have to make it hard, but they need to have easy scores when they get close.

Good: Naturally
Cue the Super Mario Bros. music. True, the debut was compromised by the deliberation on the call, but it happened and we’ll have more opportunities in the future. (Side good: Fella who sits in front of my wife at games turns and goes, “That must’ve made your husband’s day.”)

Good: Receiving backs
Smallwood had a nice game and caught a few passes down the field on plays that were just like the ones Thompson runs. But we know he’s capable of that. We’re beginning to accept that Shell is a similar weapon. Similar. He’s not the same. He’s not going to master the Y position here shortly, but he’s going to flood out and catch passes and do things like this, which means defenses have to open up to account for him. I liked that the defender angled in and braced for a collision, likely and, if so, understandably thinking Shell didn’t have the gear to cut it inside and go. But Shell stopped abruptly and kept going. He makes you think.

Good: Thinking game
Honestly, suppose you’re a cornerback or a safety. How do you approach Shell? And are jazz feet within the realm of your expectations?

Bad: Fast flick!
Dana doesn’t want Clint holding onto the ball. Dana would like Shell to hold onto the ball a tick or three longer here. Watch White up top. He’s selling the run and the defensive back is supposed to react and jump inside, which then springs the receiver for a deep route. The ball is basically back in Trickett’s hands when White re-starts his route. And yet this worked because Trickett resisted the temptation to go deep, which you see all the time on premature flicks.

Goad: The Trickett teaching points
This was my favorite play of the game because it’s not something you saw (much) last season. Shannon Dawson said “we called a really bad play into a really bad look.” Towson loads up the box and readies a blitz on third-and-1 and the Tigers bend it, but don’t break it. The linebacker gets around Clay, but Trickett had to suspect this might happen, and he quickly turns the page. He’s right-handed, so he’s looking and moving right because if he has to throw it, it’s going to have to be a throw he can put something on. He’s running away from any help he’d get from nine of his 10 teammates, but the 10th is White and he never checked out. White works back into the play, and nine seconds later — nine! — it’s a 16-yard gain and a first down. You need those periodically throughout the game, and these guys are getting good at it.

“We’re making plays we do in practice all the time,” receiver Kevin White said. “If Clint rolls out, we have to work to get open, but everything you see on game day, we do it in practice over 50 times.” 

I had Trickett as 2-for-4 for 37 yards — and the one almost interception from earlier — when he moved outside the pocket to extend a play. He also ran twice on like plays for nine yards, including what went down as a sack when he went out of bounds a yard behind the line of scrimmage. That leaves this 10-yard run below, which seems like a good play, right?

Dana begs to differ.

“I was a little uneasy with a few of the decisions he made on extending plays,” Holgorsen said. “We focused on this (in the offseason), that his knowledge of the offense is going to be able to allow him to get the ball out of his hands quicker. He didn’t turn into Colin Kaepernick in a week. He’s not that kind of guy and he’s never going to be. He needs to get the ball out of his hands and he needs to prevent hits.”

This is a fun little debate. Say what you will about Trickett, his stature, his arm strength, his hair, whatever, but acknowledge he’s a competitor and he’s football smart. (He may be real world smart, for all I know, but there’s a difference and only one pertains to this discussion). He’s also Rick Trickett’s kid, and if you don’t know him, trust that father would have had a word with son if son sailed this ball into the concourse.

But understand Dana likes and needs to have Clint around.

So there’s the intersection of skill and necessity. Trickett is 5-for-7 for 88 yards when he moves to extend plays and has three carries for 23 yards. That’s 10 plays out of six-plus quarters of high-level performing, but those are also high-level plays within that performance. They’re having conversations about ability and longevity at the Puskar Center.

“They’re going to have to let me play, but I’ve got to be able to play,” Trickett said. “The coaches know that, but I’ve also got to be coachable and stay in the pocket.”

Good: … and then there’s this
They’re not that worried about his shoulder.

Crest: Complete

September 8, 2014 by Mike Casazza

This is severe, and in the today-matters-more-than-tomorrow world of college coaching, it might not even matter. But what WVU did by playing William Crest Saturday night is value the 2015 season greater than the 2018 season. There will be no William Crest in 2018 — presuming, of course, he doesn’t redshirt later in his career, which seems unlikely — and that means we ought to see an appreciable amount of Crest in 2015.

Or as one wordsmith put it, “…Dana Holgorsen lit fire to William Crest’s redshirt and poked the embers of intrigue when it comes to the quarterback position.”

Did Dana burn a redshirt? Did he add a spark to the offense? I trend toward the latter — and I’ve been going that way a while — because I have to think there’s a plan. It’s not like WVU presumes it will hand its freshman a mop at the end of a bunch of games the rest of the way. Something is afoot and about to be unleashed. Or not.

This is not necessarily a problem because, for all we know, Trickett gravitates toward the norm or gets hurt or makes room for Crest’s unstoppable surge, should that come. If this is a problem, it’s mostly a good problem, especially relative to what the Mountaineers were made to deal with last season. 

But let’s address two intersecting realities:

1) Trickett is in command. He’d dealing. He’s managing. He’s strutting. He’s succeeding.
2) Crest is here. He’s real. And he has to play now, doesn’t he?

So let’s not fix our gaze upon what happened Saturday. Let’s consider this: What happens now?

“What we feel comfortable with him doing out there is not the whole deal yet,” Dawson said. “The kid is talented. There’s multiple reasons he played tonight. We thought we need to play him and we thought he was ready.”

But how does Holgorsen juggle Trickett and Crest during the final 10 weeks of the regular season? Does Trickett carry the load between the 20s and Crest handle the offense in the red zone? Does Crest get a planned workload — like every fourth series — or will the flow of the game dictate his usage?

“There’s going to be a lot of coaching points with him, but the sheer physical nature of the game is obvious,” Dawson said. “The whole run-game stuff he brings to the table, the perimeter stuff. His ability to throw the ball is really, really good. We’re at infant stages right now. He’s an extremely talented kid and he needs to continue to fine-tune his skills, but he’s talented. He’s a very talented kid.”

Texts From Towson Game Day

September 8, 2014 by Mike Casazza

I feel like we’re overlooking something here: WVU shut out a college football team Saturday. That doesn’t happen often and hasn’t happened since 2010, so considering the way offenses are these days and that the Mountaineers played a whole lot of reserves for the better part of the entire second half, that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

So there’s some notice.

WVU allowed right around 33 points per game last season and then did just that to the tune of 500-plus yards against Alabama in the opener. Yet it felt different, didn’t it? ‘Twas a misleading 500 yards and 33 points, Spec. I wouldn’t completely disagree.

But 122 yards is no joke, never mind the opponent. The last time WVU was better? Try the 2005 opener at Syracuse. The Orange totaled 103 yards on 57 snaps for an outrageous 1.8 yards per play. There’s been a lot of football and we’ve seen a lot of bad opponents and good defenses since then and Saturday was the best performance in 103 games.

One thing I thought mattered: The opposition. Let me explain, because it transcended merely going from the best of the FBS one week to a so-so FCS outfit the next. Alabama is a big, bad team that’s going to bully you around the ball. WVU won’t see many similar approaches the rest of the way — I’d say none but Kansas State is frisky and Kansas is going to run a ton. Neither, though, will have what Alabama had. I mean, Oklahoma is going to have really good guys, but they skin the cat much, much differently.

Anyhow, Alabama wasn’t a good game for Shaq Riddick and Ed Muldrow and nickel and dime packages. Riddick and Muldrow got pushed around– first game, so … — and the Crimson Tide doesn’t encourage a lot of pass defenses.

WVU’s best personnel and best approaches come from the linebackers and secondary and the, I guess, pass defense combinations Tony Gibson can manipulate. The Mountaineers are most dangerous when guys are angling in from obtuse angles and speeding into the backfield to make tackles or disrupt plays. That’s typical 3-3-5 stuff, and it’s better suited for what WVU will encounter from this point forward, including Maryland, than for what WVU saw in the opener.

Towson was a run-first team, but could’t go player-for-player with the Mountaineers and make them suffer for their approach. The Tigers were quickly forced from their comfort zone and WVU used its aforementioned strengths and did really well. I know, I know: Towson! But that was our first real look at what things should look like as far as who goes where and when. And it was impressive (three sacks, sure, but WVU didn’t do much in the blitz game. Intentionally, I’d guess.).

Try and understand me there, and this isn’t an easy point to articulate. WVU isn’t supposed to shut out teams and give up 122 yards. We know that. But WVU’s defense is one with specific dimensions that can only fit in certain containers. Saturday night was one such container and the rest of the games should be similarly accommodating. Similarly successful? We’ll find out.

I’m talking about money and the power, power and the money. This text is magic. Stan Van Gundy. My edits are in [brackets].

2:13 pm:
Not a drop of rain the whole drive from DC and I get off exit 7 and its a damn monsoon

5:04:
I’LL MANTRIP IF I WANT TO [GUYS]

5:43:
Only took an hour of tailgating to hear cej! Lets go mountaineers!

6:37:
It’s just about an hour before kickoff and no live blog post is up yet. I’m afraid tier 4 is looking past Towson.

(Edit: My laptop died in the Georgia Dome. The work one took me an hour to start Saturday, and we ended up punting that one. I was down to Paul Millard, OK?) 

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Root? I think not.

September 7, 2014 by Mike Casazza

Bat Signal moment here. Root Sports happened to me and to realbbbb last  night and we have but a small sliver of the first half of the Towson game … which means we have basically nothing from the portion of the game that mattered. I’m looking to get my mitts on a full copy or a copy of the first half if you have one or know of someone who does or if you know a way to download one.

Help!