Pin this loss on WVU's defense
LUBBOCK, Texas - Go ahead and admit it. You knew this was possible, right?
You didn't seriously watch Marshall roll up 560 yards and Baylor get 700 and think it was a fluke. You didn't see West Virginia surrender an average of 54 points to its first two Big 12 opponents and see a mere glitch.
And as good as Geno Smith and the offense were - and no doubt still are - it wasn't going to last an entire season where the Mountaineers would navigate every mine field just because it had even more land mines of its own and could win the battle of attrition.
But seriously, no one saw this, not a 49-14 embarrassment at the hands of Texas Tech. One minute you're laughing at the fact that ABC is cutting away from the Oklahoma beatdown of Texas so as not to miss the start of WVU-Texas Tech. A few hours later the network is bailing the same way on this ugliness in order to get to BYU and Oregon State.
How did it happen? Well, this was the definition of a team effort as far as West Virginia is concerned. A defense that was already giving up 463 yards and 41/2 touchdowns a game surrendered 686 and seven. An offense that was operating at a 570-yard, seven-TD clip earned just 408 and two. Oh, and just for good measure there was another shanked punt - welcome to the club, Tyler Bitancurt - and a near turnover on a muffed punt for the special teams.
Make no mistake about it, though, while everyone contributed and while the offensive futility is perhaps the baffling element, this loss is still on the defense. After all that Smith and the offense have done, they get a mulligan for a bad game or a bad stretch. The defense? No.
It was bad at the start of the season. It has remained bad throughout the season. And it really doesn't show much hope of getting better the rest of the season. You can hope, of course, but none of the data supports that hope.
Dana Holgorsen can try to spread the blame or the fault or whatever you want to call it. And to a degree he's right. It was actually pretty baffling to watch Smith and Holgorsen's offense spin its wheels. It was even stranger listening to those two try to explain it afterward.
Take Holgorsen, who both at halftime and after the game made reference to the wind, which gusted to near 30 miles per hour at times.
"Geno let the wind affect him,'' Holgorsen said. "I played around here for eight years [as an assistant at Tech from 2001 through 2008] and it wasn't any windier today. It's a nuisance, but if you let that be an excuse it's going to mess with you. And I think it did.''
Yet when Smith was asked about the wind, he shrugged it off. Well, actually what he said was that anyone who thought wind was a factor "obviously doesn't know football.'' Oh well, so they need to get on message together.
The offense had other issues, not the least of which was receiver Stedman Bailey missing most of the second half after he was injured. In his stead were guys like Travares Copeland (so much for that redshirt). Texas Tech also plays pretty good defense, ranking second in the country, so let's not get too worked up about offensive inefficiency just yet.
But the defense? It seems to be getting worse, not better. That's not true, of course. Every game the defense gets a little bit better. It's hard not to. After all, experience matters, and these guys have only been playing in the system six games.
But it's also true that every week there's another layer of tape out there exposing that West Virginia defense and its flaws. Tech used variations on the same combination route - a post route clearing the sideline and a wheel route coming into the clear space - that Texas used a week earlier. When the routes aren't tricky, well, the receivers just beat the defenders.
And it's not likely to get much better.
Granted, next week presents a completely different set of challenges for the defense. Kansas State will come to Morgantown ranked No. 4 in the country. It won't have the kind of throw-it-around quarterback Tech or Baylor or even Marshall and Texas presented, but it has a great one of another kind in Collin Klein. The Wildcats aren't going to spread the field much, but rather line up and try to beat a defense down.
West Virginia's defense has proven entirely incapable of handling the wide-open offenses. Perhaps what it needs is a different kind of challenge, which it will get on Saturday.
Again, we knew all along that this team was built around its offense. But as Saturday proved, how the defense handles challenges will go a long way toward figuring out what's in store for this team the rest of the season.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.