Examining the ups and downs, the dividends and downticks, from West Virginia’s 49-14 loss at Texas Tech:
Facing fourth-and-4 at Texas Tech’s 31 on WVU’s opening series, Geno Smith eschewed a chance to scramble for the first down in favor of hurling a low-percentage deep throw for Tavon Austin. It was a trend he repeated throughout the afternoon — consciously hanging in the pocket and passing up opportunities to get smaller chunks of yardage with his feet. Though Smith shouldn’t reinvent himself as a run-first QB, he admitted he should have focused more on moving the chains instead of getting greedy with downfield throws.
Smith’s 29-of-55 passing day gave rise to the Great Wind Debate: Dana Holgorsen saying “Geno let the wind affect him.” and Smith proclaiming “the wind didn’t bother me” while adding (without knowledge of Holgorsen’s assessment) “Anyone who says that obviously doesn’t know football.”
Whether or not the 30-mph winds made Smith mortal, the senior quarterback clearly misfired in a fashion we haven’t seen since early 2011. He threw for 295 yards, more than 100 below his stratospheric average. He also threw only one touchdown, after throwing 24 in WVU’s first five wins.
“Everyone’s going to give us their best shot,” Smith said. “We’re the offense that everyone is gunning for. We get all the media attention and everyone wants to say that we’re the best offense since sliced bread.
“I put 100 percent of the blame on myself. We can’t let one game affect the rest of our season. We’re a band of brothers and we’re going to continue to fight.”
Running backs (NEUTRAL)
Andrew Buie didn’t have the holes he found against Texas and finished with 71 yards on 21 carries. He also disappeared from the passing game, catching two passes for zero yards as Texas Tech sniffed out the screens.
“We weren’t finishing blocks in the run game,” Holgorsen said. “Anytime we don’t get the run game going, there is pressure on Geno. The run game is developed to try to alleviate pressure off of him. You can’t sit there and put the ball in his hands and say magically get it done.”
Dustin Garrison gained 42 yards on nine carries, including a 2-yard score in the final three minutes. Though it snapped a string of nine scoreless possessions for West Virginia, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said of the garbage-time possession, “We all know that drive don’t really count.”
Ryan Clarke,returning from the land of blocking anonymity, got his first two carries of the season, gaining 12 yards.
Tavon Austin was his typically active self, making nine receptions for 114 yards. His toughest grab was a diving 14-yarder to extend a second-quarter drive on third-and-9. His longest was a 38-yarder on which he was dragged down at the Texas Tech 2, and Austin he was held without a touchdown for the first time this season.
In the second half, Austin was missing his receiving mate Stedman Bailey, sidelined by an ankle injury. Bailey made six catches for 69 yards before exiting, including his 14th touchdown of the season, a 7-yarder.
McCartney was the first off the bench to replace Bailey, but he dropped a third-and-7 pass and made zero catches before coaches debuted true freshman Travares Copeland. The newcomer, who appeared destined to redshirt, made a 5-yard catch on a ball thrown behind him and also was solid blocking in the run game.
Though J.D. Woods gained 79 yards on seven catches, he dropped what could have been a 2-yard score in the third quarter, and WVU eventually turned it over on downs.
“The coverage they played on the outside was aggressive,” Dawson said. “They got up in our face and we didn’t respond well.
“It’s hard to execute at a high level all the time. You hope you never have a lull like that, and you hope you can did your way out when you do. But (Saturday) we didn’t.”
Offensive line (DOWN)
From WVU’s first drive, there were warning signs this unit would struggle. On Buie’s first carry, right guard Jeff Braun couldn’t reach slashing weak side defensive end Dartwan Bush. Then Jack Richards pressured Smith on his first dropback. Then Bush beat right tackle Pat Eger, who got away with a blatant holding penalty as Smith hit Bailey on a third-down pass. Then Eger was properly nabbed for holding against Kerry Hyder as Smith lobbed a deep fourth-down incompletion.
Nick Kindler replaced Eger on the second drive, though Eger re-entered as a replacement for Braun at guard, where he continued to struggle. (Hyder beat him through a gap in the thitrd-quarter and forced a Buie fumble.)
Holgorsen looked most annoyed with the line at one point in the second quarter, slamming his headset after a failed fourth-and-3 in the red zone, when Tech blitzed six and five leaked through clean. (The sixth was felled by a Buie chop block.)
Television viewers also were treated to some spot-on analysis by ESPN’s Chris Spielman, who accurately forecasted run vs. pass based upon Quinton Spain’s stance (more specifically, the position of Spain’s outside foot). Later in the broadcast, sideline reporter Quint Kessenich reported that Holgorsen warned Spain, “I’m getting it from people who are watching this game upstairs that you have to fix your feet.”
Added Spielman: “He’s got a pipeline to viewers, apparently.”
Defensive Line (DOWN)
Junior defensive end Will Clarke (knee) did not dress, which came as no surprise to teammates who said he did not practice all week. His absence certainly didn’t help, as WVU allowed 6.0 yards per carry. Eric Kinsey started in his place and recorded no tackles, though he did bat down a pass.
Jorge Wright had his moments, making West Virginia’s only sack among his four tackles. But the junior defensive tackle missed time with a leg injury.
Nose tackle Shaq Rowell, who made two stops, also required the trainers at one juncture, leaving the rotation thin.
WVU’s sack leader Josh Francis, who came in tied for the Big 12 lead in tackles for loss, was completely neutralized. He finished with only two tackles and had a crucial first-quarter whiff as Doege scrambled for 6 yards on third-and-4 along the sideline.
Isaiah Bruce, who left temporarily with an elbow injury, netted a curiously low four tackles, including a miss on Kenny Williams’ 24-yard catch over the middle. He also was among the backers who failed to put a finger on SaDale Foster when the Tech mini-back raced 53 yards 35 seconds before the half.
Jewone Snow was victimized on the game’s first series, slow to drop into coverage as Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro raced 39 yards for a 7-0 lead.
Tyler Anderson took a poor angle on Amaro’s underneath catch in the second quarter, which turned into a 61-yarder that marked Tech’s biggest gainer of the season.
Jared Barber entered game on the third series and made two tackles in sporadic action. Nic Kwiatkoski
Sam linebacker Doug Rigg made only one stop, and the same went for senior Star linebacker Terence Garvin, though he made the day’s biggest hit, walloping Amaro in the ribs on a second-quarter crossing route.
This unit isn’t solely at fault for Doege’s 499 passing yards, but as in previous weeks, it certainly merits a huge share of the blame.
Cornerback Pat Miller made two first-quarter breakups in man coverage but continued to be inconsistent. On Tech’s second series, he peeked into the backfield on a play-action fake and allowed Brad Marquez to streak open deep. It should have been a touchdown, but Marquez inexplicably stopped his route and Doege overthrew him in the end zone. Miller wasn’t so lucky on Marcus Kennard’s 16-yard TD that made it 21-7, as the cornerback was again glancing at Doege as the receiver slipped past him. Miller also found himself blocked into the Tech bench by receiver Eric Ward on a 27-yard catch-and-run by Amaro.
True freshman Rickey Rumph, who replaced Miller on a late first-half drive, gave up inside position to Darrin Moore on a third-and-goal TD catch that put Tech up 28-7. Rumph also recovered a fumble forced by another freshman, K.J. Dillon.
Brodrick Jenkins broke up a screen pass with a stern thump on Tech’s first series, but was outjumped by Ward on a spectacular 19-yard TD catch that put Tech up 14-0. Jenkins also left with an injury after having a third-quarter interception erased by Francis lining up in the neutral zone.
True freshman free safety Karl Joseph made his first career interception — albeit a gift turnover that receiver Alex Torres bobbled. He also batted down a quick-screen pass for the second time in as many weeks, but he continues to struggled with reaction in zone coverage.
Darwin Cook was turned around by Darrin Moore on a 29-yard TD pass that pushed the lead to 42-7.
“We’re not ready for prime-time yet,” said Mountaineers defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “We’ve got a long way to go to get back to playing good enough defense to win in this league.”
Special teams (NEUTRAL)
WVU didn’t figure to win the punting battle, going up against Texas Tech’s Ryan Erxleben (the son of the legendary-legged Russell Exrleben). Yet Tyler Bitancurt’s first punt was a 48-yarder into the wind that forced a fair catch. His next two went for only 34 and 27 yards, however, and he closed the day with a 38.8-yard average on five punts. Exleben’s lone punt was a wind-at-his-back 54-yarder that Austin muffed and fielded.
The Red Raiders went away from their squib-kick plan only once, and Austin punished ten with a 47-yarder on his lone kick return.
Bitancurt made his two PATs but did not attempt a field goal as WVU was in perpetual catch-up mode and went for fourth down in Texas Tech territory.
After downplaying all week the challenge of avoiding a trap game, Holgorsen criticized his team for not matching Texas Tech’s intensity. “They just played harder than we did, which is disappointing,” he said. “Any time you play — and we only have 12 opportunities to play — and you leave the game and say they played harder than us is something that’s very disturbing to me.”
It became evident Saturday that WVU had no business being in the national title discussion, proving many of the previous believers incorrect, including yours truly. The most surprising lesson is that the offense’s production is no longer a certainty. The most repeated lesson is that the defense stinks, and it may not get fixed anytime soon.
“We had freshmen at D-line, at linebacker, at corner and at safety today, but that’s what we have, so we’ve got to win,” DeForest said. “We’ve got to stop people with freshmen. So what? That’s our job.”
DeForest offered more details of his job, which seems to grow tougher with each new Big 12 offense his players encounter.
“Your job is not to yell and scream,” he said. “Your job is to try to motivate and teach.”