After Maryland, Oklahoma State Now Looms
We’ve all heard it before … Things are never as good as they seem or as bad as they seem. How many times have we seen that play out through the years?
For instance, consider two years ago, in 2011, when a matter of seven points were the difference between a 6-6 record and the BBVA Compass Bowl where Pitt Panther fans have annually made their holiday plans or a 9-3 record and a spot in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl.
If Eain Smith doesn’t block the field goal that would have put the Cincinnati game into overtime, or if Stedman Bailey doesn’t make the sliding fourth-down catch to set up Tyler Bitancurt’s game-winning field goal at South Florida, or if Corey Smith doesn’t get off that terrific punt to flip the field against Pitt, West Virginia’s postseason compass might have been set for Birmingham instead of South Beach.
But those things happened and the Mountaineers were able to get to the big game in Miami. Of course, West Virginia rolled to a 70-33 victory over Clemson in a game that proved to be one of the most lopsided bowl victories ever.
But was it really?
How does that game turn out if Darwin Cook doesn’t steal the football from Clemson’s Andre Ellington at the goal line and return it 99 yards for a touchdown? A Tiger TD at that point would have put them back into the lead, 24-21, instead of the 11-point deficit that came out of that play.
If you recall, Clemson was running the ball effectively on West Virginia’s defense that night and had the score been 24-21 - as everyone in the stadium expected it to be - Clemson would have had its entire playbook to go to instead of going primarily to the pass in an effort to catch up. That allowed West Virginia’s defense to draw a beat on young Tiger quarterback Tajh Boyd. An interception here and a fumble there and all of a sudden a close game snowballs into a rout.
I bring that up to illustrate what can sometimes happen during football games. Last Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, the Mountaineers had the same snowball roll right over them.
What would have happened if linebacker Jared Barber held on to CJ Brown’s errant pass deep in Maryland territory, or if the ball took the bounce Ronald Carswell expected it to take and Maryland doesn’t recover his fumble at the 24, or, what if Barber was able to pick off Brown’s throw to Dave Stinebaugh in the end zone that resulted in Maryland’s first touchdown?
After that, does a young and inexperienced quarterback then feel compelled to throw a wet and heavy football to the far sideline right into the waiting arms of Maryland safety AJ Hendy for a pick-six?
Furthermore, did those two crucial turnovers change the outlook of the game?
You bet they did.
“Everybody sees the obvious, which is they’ve struggled in a couple of games,” said Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. “But if you watch the Maryland game, you’ll see West Virginia (moved the ball), but they had six turnovers. It was just one of those days when it wasn’t working out.”
Maryland knew West Virginia was young and inexperienced on offense. That’s why the Terps deferred and gave West Virginia the ball to start the game. Once it became a three-score deficit, it didn't take a football Einstein to understand that the Mountaineers had to play catch up, and that eliminated a lot of the plays Maryland had to defend. The Terps also made it tough for freshman quarterback Ford Childress to operate under rough weather conditions, and that turned a difficult situation into an impossible one for West Virginia.
Therefore, the final result was clearly skewed by the snowballing circumstances, which makes it a little bit easier to understand what coach Dana Holgorsen was talking about on Tuesday afternoon when he said his offense was not that far off.
“Believe it or not, there are some things on that tape that resemble football,” he said. “We have talented running backs that can run and catch. We have guys who can do it and they are trying. If we can get a little better then we can get some confidence and then, hopefully, it will steamroll and we can start scoring points and winning games.
“You have to believe it’s going to happen, otherwise it will not happen.”
Right now it’s obviously not happening. The Mountaineers have put just seven points on the scoreboard against BCS-level competition so far this year, and that TD was the result of a terrific individual effort by Dreamius Smith at Oklahoma. Even going back to last year’s Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse when WVU still had a bunch of experienced playmakers on offense, the Mountaineers had a tough time reaching the end zone and sustaining drives against what was just an OK Orange defense.
On Tuesday, Holgorsen pointed out that something must change in the coming weeks as the Mountaineers begin a heavy dose of Big 12 football.
“I have to change my mentality if they are going to change their mentality,” he said. “I’m going to expect good things to happen; I’m going to be excited about going to practice and I’m going to go out and not be worried about calling the perfect play. If you sit there and worry about calling a different play, then you are going to call a bad one. That mentality needs to go away.”
“This goes back to January,” he said. “After the sick feeling in my stomach that I had after Syracuse, we came here and went to work. They have done everything I have asked them for eight months. They had an opportunity on Saturday to quit, but they didn’t.”
Of all the bad things that happened to West Virginia last Saturday - and there were a lot of them - not quitting was one of the few positives that came out of the game. If the Mountaineers continue to play that way good fortune will once again come their way.
“I’m comfortable saying that whatever we are missing, we are that close to being a good football team, and I have to find it,” said Holgorsen.
Hopefully it can be discovered this Saturday afternoon against 11th-ranked Oklahoma State, or the following weekend at 19th-ranked Baylor, or on down the road against 24th-ranked Texas Tech because the path certainly doesn’t get any easier for the Mountaineers, that’s for sure.
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia Mountaineers, WVU, Big 12 Conference football
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