Frogs O' War gets in touch with Country Roads from the Smoking Musket in advance of the showdown in Morgantown this week.
Thursday on Frogs O' War means that it's time to get in touch with our foes for the week for a knowledge exchange. This week Country Roads from West Virginia's excellent SBNation blog The Smoking Musket drops by to fill us with insight into the Mountaineer mindset.
HawkeyedFrog: West Virginia, like TCU, has his a lull these past few weeks after back to back disappointing losses. What happened the past few weeks to slow West Virginia's offensive juggernaut?
Country Roads: If you happen to find out, can you please call Holgorsen and fill him in? That's the million dollar question at this point among WVU fans, and there have been countless theories about what really is going on offensively. I think it's probably a combination of things. For one, Texas Tech and K-State are excellent defensive teams. They don't really have superstars out there (okay, Arthur Brown makes a pretty good case) but they all are disciplined, play hard, get in the right position, and tackle well. Against Tech, they did a good job of stuffing the run game and taking away short and intermediate passing routes and basically dared Geno to beat them deep. Whether it was due to the wind or just an off game on his part (our receivers dropped a few passes too), we couldn't connect on the deep ball and it all went downhill from there. K-State is just a great team. It didn't help that Stedman Bailey was limited by an ankle injury, so hopefully he is back to 100% this week. And I also think we pressed a little bit. Geno is ultra competitive, and when we got down by a couple scores and saw no chances of our defense making a stop, I think he tried to do too much and ended up making a few mistakes. We're hoping the bye week gave the guys a chance to get back on track, which has historically been the case under Holgorsen.
HawkeyedFrog: As our fellow newcomer to the Big 12 I've been watching West Virginia with interest this year as they attempted to follow the Mike Leach "Win without defense" mold in the Big 12. Unlike TCU though, West Virginia has no real history with any of the teams in the Big 12. How are you guys liking the Big 12 so far, and how big of a step up is it from the Big East competition wise?
Country Roads: I'm going to go on record here and say I don't think Holgorsen disregards defense the way Leach did. It's hard to tell that form this year, obviously, and I know Holgorsen isn't a defensive guy, but he continually preaches success on "all three sides of the ball." So if this defense-optional approach continues, I don't think it will be due to lack of attention by the coaching staff. As for our transition into the Big 12, I'd say it's even better than expected. The main drawback of course is the distance from everyone else, but that hasn't stopped opposing fans from traveling to Morgantown and I don't think it has put a significant damper on our folks traveling as well. I just hope that trend continues past the first year when everything is new and shiny. The best part is having plenty of great opposing fans who care as much about football as we do. Whereas in the Big East we were far and away the most passionate fan base, we probably come in somewhere around third in the Big 12, or at least in a clump with TCU, K-State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Iowa State.
HawkeyedFrog: Geno Smith had his name partially engraved on the Heisman Trophy after the first few games, but now the Heisman trust is trying to turn that "G" into a "C" for Kansas State's Collin Klein. Is Geno being less effective, or is he not getting enough help from the rest of the team?
Country Roads: It's both. The offensive line suddenly forgot how to run and pass block, receivers aren't getting open and catching passes like they were, and the defense is so bad that the offense feels like it needs to score on every possession to stay in the game. As a result, Geno puts more pressure on himself and his performance suffers. It's going to take a total team effort to right the ship. I have seen nothing to this point to give me any hope that the defense will improve - I guess we're going to have to rely on the other team to put themselves in a hole with penalties and turnovers if we want to see success there. I think our best bet for success is to try to get back to doing our thing on offense - RB Shawne Alston should be back from a thigh bruise this week and he will give us another weapon in the run game and in pass protection. If we can get things on track, hopefully our offense can score enough to put pressure on the other team's offense, thus causing them to make mistakes. That's my thought, anyway.
HawkeyedFrog: West Virginia's defense has been a tire fire so far, as Baylor and Tech carved up the secondary and Kansas State just did pretty well whatever they wanted to. TCU's offense is definitely a work in progress at the moment, but has shown flashes of decent play both running and passing in some games- with Baylor getting both. What will West Virginia try to do to stop the Frogs, and how successful do you think they'll be?
Country Roads: Incredibly, we have done a decent job of stopping the run so far. But given our lack of success against Collin Klein last game, I'm not sure that applies to read-option type stuff. I think we take the same approach, though, and try to limit the run game and hope Boykin misses on enough throws to stall drives. It's been amazing how in the Big East you could count on a few poor throws by the opposing quarterback to help stop a drive. That doesn't seem to happen in the Big 12, at least not with any regularity. But I'm hoping that a good Mountaineer Field crowd (I don't expect a great crowd after the last two blowouts, but I think a 3pm kickoff and some sunshine will help) and some pressure from an improved WVU offense will be enough to rattle Boykin a bit.
HawkeyedFrog: TCU fans can sympathize with not being able to play your most hated rivals every year. How is West Virginia coping with life after Pitt (and VTech as well, really) and are there plans to renew the series down the line? It doesn't seem like there's the animosity in the athletic director's office that there is with Kansas/Mizzou and Texas/A&M since you guys both just left for better conferences. Are there any teams in the Big 12 that you think could be natural rivals for the Mountaineers?
Country Roads: As a fan, I hate to not play Pitt or VT on a yearly basis. Those were both great rivalry games, and though the administration tries to tout Maryland as a rival, it's just not the same. There are definitely talks of playing Pitt in the future, but probably not on an annual basis. More like we would rotate Pitt in with the Maryland series, which is better than nothing, I guess. As much as we love the improved competition and exposure from being in the Big 12, all other things being equal I think most WVU fans would want to be in a league with Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, UConn, Boston College, Rutgers, Maryland and Virginia Tech. But since that's not the case, we'll have to develop new rivalries. I think there is potential out there with a few teams, but rivalries tend to spring up when teams play great games with something on the line over a period of several years. We started to develop a bit of a rivalry with Louisville after they joined the Big East, mostly because our football and basketball teams both had a run of great games over a 3-4 year period. We'll have to see how that plays out in the Big 12. As long as it doesn't turn out to be Kansas.
HawkeyedFrog: Finally, obligatory prediction time. What's your pick for the score in this one, and how do you see the rest of West Virginia's season playing out?
Country Roads: I'm sure it won't be a defensive struggle, and I wouldn't go into shock if WVU got blown out. That being said, I like that we had the bye week to regroup, I like that we're at home, and I like that TCU is struggling a little bit as well, hopefully to the point where Boykin's confidence is shaken. I think the WVU offense gets back on track somewhat on Saturday and gets lucky enough to keep TCU from scoring on every single possession. 42-31 WVU.
There you have it folks, common consensus is a shootout. Is West Virginia's offense better than the TCU offense more than TCU's defense is better than the West Virginia defense? That's what we'll have to find out on Saturday. Thanks to Country Roads for the exchange and be sure to check out The Smoking Musket for all of your West Virginia news- they also have scantily clad ladies in their link roundups, if you're into that sort of thing.