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Theories, answers in WVU debate

THERE'S BEEN as much debate within the Mountain State over West Virginia's football team as there has over the presidential race.

Everyone - at least everyone I run into - has a theory on the Mountaineer collapse.

They include:

  • Geno Smith let the Heisman Trophy talk get to him.
  • There are issues behind Shawne Alston's mysterious thigh injury and absence, which hurt the running attack, which hurt the offense.
  • The offensive line is terrible.
  • The defensive line is beyond terrible.
  • A leaky faucet applies more pressure than WVU's defense.
  • There are no athletes on the defensive unit.
  • The defensive backs can't cover leftover meatloaf.
  • Head coach Dana Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Joe DeForest made a mistake going to the 3-4 that can transition into a 4-3. They are being stubborn by not reverting to the 3-3-5 odd stack.
  • Former Mountaineer defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is in Arizona sticking needles in Holgorsen and DeForest voodoo dolls.
  • Frankly, sometimes I wonder whether DeForest should take a page from hoops coach Bob Huggins' book. When Huggins first hit Morgantown and his team had defensive struggles, he told the players to go back to the 1-3-1 that John Beilein taught. It worked.

    The 3-3-5 is not a master plan. Arizona, where Casteel now works, is 10th-worst nationally in terms of passing yards a game. It is No. 83 of 120 in scoring defense. But it does allow teams to use smaller, faster players. It is more confusing to offensive linemen. It is easier to understand for younger players. You have a gap; attack it.

    Also, when has WVU ever been this bad defensively? Players have graduated and been replaced every year.

    But, hey, WVU athletic director and former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck would know better than I, right? So I called and asked his take. I asked if he's met with Holgorsen and/or DeForest concerning the defensive sieve.

    "My policy," he said, "is to refrain from commenting on any WVU team during the season. I'll stick to that."

    DeForest, in case you're wondering, has a three-year deal that extends through Jan. 30, 2015, which pays him $500,000 a year.

    But, as many have pointed out, WVU's problems are numerous. Check the numbers.

    The Mountaineers are averaging 41.1 points per game - and are ranked seventh in the Big 12 in scoring offense. (Forget the old saying that if you can't run with the big dogs, get off the porch. Replace it with if you can't score with the Big 12 teams, see ya!)

    Smith is fine. He's still No. 2 nationally in passing and total yards passing (both to Marshall's Rakeem Cato), third in passing yards per game and fourth in passing efficiency. That he's dropped so significantly in Heisman polling is silly.

    Receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are among the top eight in receptions per game, receiving yards per game and total receiving yards. (Austin is No. 1 in receptions per game with a 10.43 average.)

    But on offense, WVU is all the way at No. 55 at sacks allowed with 12 in seven games. In rushing offense, the Mountaineers are No. 78, gaining but 148.7 yards on the ground per game. (There's ammo for those seeking change along the offensive line.)

    On defense, there's little to rejoice. Perhaps oddly, WVU isn't bad in the area of pressure: No. 28 nationally in tackles for loss (6.86 per game) and tied at No. 41 in sacks (2.29). Against the run, the Mountaineers are No. 40, allowing an average of 133.4. (Yes, because why run when you may pass so very easily?)

    Otherwise it's ugly. With a capital u. WVU is last - No. 120 - in pass defense. It's No. 113 in total defense. It's No. 115 in scoring defense. It's tied for 75th in passes intercepted with five. It's No. 118 in pass efficiency defense. It's No. 69 in fumbles recovered. It's No. 79 in turnovers gained.

    More? It's No. 106 in first-down defense. It's No. 113 on third-down conversion percentage defense. It's No. 82 in fourth-down conversion defense.

    I shall spare the Mountaineer faithful the special teams numbers. In a nutshell: awful.

    We'll have to wait until WVU's Nov. 3 home game to see if any improvement or changes have been made. Luck isn't speaking and Holgorsen plays it more close to the vest than Napoleon Bonaparte.

    One wondered, though, if Holgorsen and his coaches were pushing the ever-present panic button when the head coach said junior colleges were the recruiting target this week.

    "We will be in Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Mississippi," said the head coach. "We will hit all of those this week. We will be out seeing a bunch of games this Friday and Saturday, and we will see a lot of guys."

    Recruiting coordinator Ryan Dorchester said, however, the swan dive into the JUCO ranks isn't a knee-jerk reaction.

    "It's been planned for some time," Dorchester said. "The timing is coincidental."

    It's never too late, though, for another theory in this debate.

    Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

     


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