Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
The Smoking Musket answers some questions for Viva The Matadors.
1. I’m sure that you’ve been asked this question already, but I’m asking it because I, along with every other blogger, are grasping at straws. If you were a defensive coordinator facing West Virginia, how would you stop them?
I'd probably see if I could recruit the Baltimore Ravens defense and disguise them as my team's defense for that given week. Ray Lewis is starting to age, but he can probably shut down the run enough to let guys like Haloti Ngata and Courtney Upshaw pin their ears back and pressure Geno into throwing interceptions to Ed Reed. Tavon Austin would still get his catches and yards, but I bet they could hold us to less than 30 points.
In all seriousness, I thought Texas had a decent game plan, they just couldn't stop the run. Teams who have had the most success have either brought a bunch of zone blitzes and pressured Geno into throwing interceptions or taking sacks (or fumbling the ball away for a touchdown), or, oddly enough, shut down the running game and made WVU one-dimensional. As Andy Staples pointed out in this week's power rankings, both times Holgorsen's WVU team has attempted less than 25 rushes, they lost (to LSU and Syracuse last year). Since nothing else seems to be working, it's worth a try, right?
2. WVU is giving up a lot of yards in the air, but very good on the ground. Is this sorta what WVU actually is, or do you think some of the early games have skewed the stats a bit? Or is this a case of "Welcome to the Big 12, Where Every Defense Gives Up a Lot of Yards"?
It's a little bit of both, I think. We have faced a few teams who really like to air it out (Marshall, Baylor, Texas) and pretty much everyone has been trying to keep up with our high-powered offense, which seems to necessitate chucking it around a little more. Also, the strength of our defense is clearly not the secondary---it's the linebackers. So naturally teams are going to pick on the weak area over and over and over again. And then of course Big 12 offenses are really, really good. Baylor is probably the best we'll face all year, David Ash has become a really good quarterback, and if you look at what Rakeem Cato is doing at Marshall, you'll see that we're not just getting picked apart by high school freshmen. Except Hills at Maryland. He sucks and he still tore us up. Give all that, Seth Doege is probably licking his chops this week.
3. What’s been the biggest revelation on defense? I recall that Holgorsen hired Mike Smith, a former Texas Tech player as the defensive coordinator who ended up staying with the Jets, and then hired Joe DeForest? How do you grade his performance thus far?
I'm not as down on DeForest as most WVU fans are. He doesn't exactly have a lot to work with talent-wise, and he's trying to implement a new scheme in the Mountaineers' inaugural season in the best offensive conference in the country. That's not an easy task. I'd probably give him a C- so far, though. Obviously, we are undefeated at this point and that's the most important thing. The D has been able to get enough critical stops in each game to give our offense a chance to win, and that's really all I expected this year. I read a few articles today about how defenses are now being measured in terms of yards per play, points per possession, and turnovers, and in those areas, we're not doing as bad as you'd think. All I want is for this year's WVU team to do what Oklahoma State did last year - get critical stops and create turnovers - and if we do that, DeForest will get a passing grade from me.
4. I think we all know about the skill position players for West Virginia, but maybe talk about the offensive line and how good they are or where they need to improve.
The guys up front have come a long way in the last 2 years, but that's probably to be expected when you start 3 seniors, a junior and a sophomore. They protected very well on passing plays, only giving up one or two sacks before facing Texas. That's pretty remarkable given the number of times we throw it. And giving up 4 sacks (2 of which may have been Geno's fault for holding onto the ball too long) against a relentless wave of pass-rushing studs from Texas isn't anything to be ashamed of. In fact, I was really encouraged by the way they blocked in the running game because, as I said before, the running game is vital to our success. Kudos to OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh for instilling a sense of grit and toughness that had been missing in recent years.
5. After seeing Texas Tech being blown out at home to Oklahoma, do you have any reason to think that Texas Tech keeps it close with West Virginia?
Absolutely. The Big 12 is a meat-grinder, and pretty much everyone whose mascot isn't a Jayhawk can knock off anyone at any given time. Obviously, you guys have a great defense, you can move the ball on offense, and you've proven in years past that you're capable of knocking off highly ranked teams both at home and on the road. Given that this game comes off an emotional road win for the Mountaineers and is nestled neatly between that and a night game with a top-10 Kansas State team that could feature a visit from ESPN College Gameday, and WVU is ripe for an upset. Heck, the Vegas line opened at only WVU -4. I'm still picking WVU to win (yes, I am an unabashed Mountaineer homer), but I know it's not a foregone conclusion.