MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — While watching highlights this week of Oklahoma State in hurry-up mode (and Baylor in skull-burning warp-speed mode), the preseason agenda of Keith Patterson kept coming back. You remember August, right? Back when everyone—myself included—was foolishly worried about WVU’s defense being the problem?
Patterson spent the entirety of camp schooling the Mountaineers in base defensive principles, regardless of down-and-distance situations that warranted more elaborate packages. Third-and-short? Forget bringing in the heavies, stick with base. Third-and-long? Forget the nickel, stick with base. Patterson’s rationale was two-pronged:
♦ WVU had tried to implement too many specialty alignments during the 2012 camp and players wound up becoming brain-locked.
♦ When Big 12 uptempo offenses are humming, defenses typically are forced to stick with base alignments anyway; so Patterson figured it best to get his guys comfortably aggressive within the simple scheme before implementing add-ons.
While Oklahoma showed some no-huddle in Week 2, West Virginia’s first elongated look at an uptempo offense comes Saturday, when Oklahoma State can go from pile-up to lining up in a matter of seconds.
Linebacker Jared Barber’s description of his post-tackle checklist takes longer to read than it does to transpire: “Get your eyes on the sideline. Hustle back to the ball. Get as much information as you can before the ball is snapped.”
Even though WVU feels better equipped to combat the quick-hitters this season, Barber’s inside linebacker mate Doug Rigg admits even sound defenses can struggle against the likes of OSU.
“They do a good job of putting you in bad situations,” he said. “If we get lined up, we could have a good game against them, but it’s hard to get lined up. As soon as they run the play they’re on the ball already.”
And getting lined up represents only half the equation. Being in the right place, but being there without a disruptive mindset, won’t get it done for a defense—not when read-option quarterback J.W. Walsh is poking 6-yard gains into the soft spots or zipping short passes to receivers in space.
“The biggest thing is you can’t be soft,” Rigg said. “You’ve got to attack while they’re tempoing you. If you don’t, they’ll kill you with it.”
After the mauling WVU absorbed at Maryland, Big 12 powers such as OSU seem positioned to keep the embarrassment coming. The late-breaking news Thursday night that Clint Trickett will replace injured quarterback Ford Childress obviously presents a variable, though Trickett on his worst day—or Paul Millard, for that matter—can’t suffer more than Childress did in Baltimore.
A 4-8 record in its last 12 games—including five defeats by 21 points or worse—stands as mounting evidence WVU’s program isn’t on solid footing. You didn’t need a Public Policy Poll to realize Dana Holgorsen’s job approval rating was suffering this week (but as a footnote, his favorability rating has whittled to 18 percent). A non-spirited showing on Saturday against the No. 11 team in the country, would really bring some howls.
While I don’t foresee West Virginia getting buried, neither do I see grounds for an upset.
Pick: Oklahoma State 26-17
Ranking the other Big 12 games:
1. Notre Dame 24, Oklahoma 21: (Sooners -3.5) This game hinges on OU’s talented offensive line clearing running paths through that knee-high grass in South Bend. (Seriously, is it Catholic sin to drop the mower blade a notch?) Last year, you’ll recall, Notre Dame surrendered only 15 rushing yards in Norman, part of a 30-13 beatdown that legitimized the Irish’s climb into the BCS title game. Now it’s unbeaten and 14th-ranked Oklahoma (3-0) in search of legitimacy after three home wins against Louisiana-Monroe, Tulsa and WVU. Watch as the Irish make better use of DaVaris Daniels; after all, Tommy Rees can’t keep missing open receivers.
2. TCU 33, SMU 16: (Horned Frogs -19) In Fort Worth, they’re playing for the Iron Skillet (and if you order within the next 15 minutes, a set of Ginsu knives) Both teams are 1-2, but don’t confuse these rosters talent-wise. TCU gave LSU a fight and then got downright jobbed in Lubbock, whereas SMU needed a last-second TD pass to nip FCS member Montana State.