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Special teams top list of things WVU must fix

MORGANTOWN - Cleaning out a crowded notebook and a cluttered mind while still wondering just what to make of West Virginia's 47-21 loss to LSU Saturday night:

  • Let's see, the offense could not possibly have moved the football any better against one of the country's best defenses. For the record, Oregon, last year's national runner-up, gained almost 200 fewer yards against LSU than WVU did, and scored two of its three touchdowns after the game was out of reach.
  • Five-hundred and thirty-three yards? Really?

    The defense played, well, just OK. Yes, LSU scored seven touchdowns, but one was a kick return, another came after a 1-yard drive and the Tigers' average starting point on the field was 2 yards from midfield and the average starting position for the six offensive TDs was the WVU 47. That's not exactly where you want to give the ball to what is now the No. 1 team in the country.

    Shoot, I can even understand the four turnovers and the 10 penalties, to a point. LSU's Tyrann Mathieu might be as good a defensive player as there is in the country and he was personally responsible for two of the turnovers. It's hard to blame Tavon Austin for letting a ball ricochet off his helmet after he caught 11 passes for 187 yards, and Geno Smith's dropped snap was a case of trying to start a play without the ball.

    Stuff like that happens, especially in big, pressure-packed games. And are you going to trade Smith's 463 passing yards for that one fumble? Didn't think so.

    Still, it is quite obvious this team has a lot of work to do. The best teams in the country don't make that many mistakes in big games. The best defenses rise to more occasions than did the Mountaineers (who did just that in earlier games against lesser opponents).

    Here's the thing that really has to be fixed, though: special teams. LSU punted the ball six times and all six were downed inside the 20, giving the Mountaineers an average starting position of their own 7-yard line. West Virginia punted six times and gave the Tigers the ball at an average starting position of the 38. A kickoff return by LSU changed the game and West Virginia's average kickoff return was to the 21.

    Just wondering, but can you imagine the reaction to a special teams performance like that in recent years when the offense wasn't putting up 500 yards?

  • Dana Holgorsen didn't want to talk about it, but you have to believe he was steaming just a bit.
  • Twice on Saturday night against LSU, Tiger defenders went to the ground apparently injured while West Virginia was running a hurry-up offense. Each time it just flat stopped the football game.

    Holgorsen didn't want to talk about it because that's one of those tricky areas of great uncertainty. Injuries are part of the game and no one wants to see a player hurt. To accuse an opposing coach of faking injuries to slow the pace, well, it's just downright impossible to prove.

    Holgorsen did accuse Todd Graham of doing just that when Graham was at Tulsa and Holgorsen the offensive coordinator at Houston. It's one of the things that's going to make this year's Backyard Brawl so intriguing now that Graham is at Pitt.

    It's hard to accuse Les Miles of the same thing, especially after a loss. It just sounds like sour grapes, so you let it go.

    I'm not certain what happened twice on Saturday night was contrived, and as much as you might be convinced it was, you have no proof either. But it was odd that it happened twice while West Virginia was in its hurry-up offense and both times the injured player was a defensive lineman. LSU has more good defensive linemen than anyone in the country, so subbing for one doesn't hurt a bit. In fact, in just brings a fresh body into the game when freshness is needed most.

    It's going to happen again, too. But keep in mind that if it was contrived, it didn't work. Defensive tackle Josh Downs went down and the game was stopped after WVU had moved from its 24-yard line to the LSU in eight quick plays to start the second quarter. It happened again when Michael Brockers ended up on the turf after West Virginia had gone from its 20 to the LSU 12 in five plays.

    But two plays after Downs stopped the game and eventually limped off, West Virginia scored. It was one play after Brockers' injury that the Mountaineers crossed the goal line.

  • Don't ask me why, but it really bugs me sometimes when schools obviously use ticket sales and not an actual turnstile count when they announce game attendance.
  • Example: Pitt had a sellout of over 65,000 for Notre Dame on Saturday.

    No it didn't.

    And if you happened to be at Byrd Stadium a couple of weekends ago for West Virginia's game with Maryland, you were officially a part of the fifth-largest crowd in that stadium's history.

    But you weren't.

    There were thousands of empty seats at both games. At Maryland, they were most notably at the top of the upper deck behind the visitors' bench. Others were scattered about.

    But, hey, the capacity is listed at 54,000 and apparently 53,627 tickets were sold. It was even announced as a sellout, which I actually don't have a problem with because I know that sometimes all the tickets can be sold and then the students don't all show.

    But if there were really 53,627 people there, a whole bunch of them were in the restrooms all afternoon.

    Again, don't ask why I'm bothered by this except the whole part of making it a point to announce it as the fifth-largest crowd in history - or a sellout at Heinz Field - with thousands of obviously empty seats.

    Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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