The more I read on and watch tape on West Virginia the more I'm convinced that if the teams traded uniforms before the game it wouldn't make a big difference to the game we see- a whole lot of inefficient passing and everyone crying for running plays... except the guy in the headset. To find out more about our alternate time zone selves, we turn to The Smoking Musket, the exceedingly excellent SBNation West Virginia blog that I check out every day... which is also similar to ours, from their laid back and humorous posts to having at least one member regularly post images of attractive women in various stages of undress. WVUIE97 of the Smoking Musket was kind enough to answer my questions in return for me appearing on their podcast and answering questions for them, so for the Hawkeyed take on the game, check out the Musket over the next few days. Hell, they're even so similar they asked six questions in their half of the Q&A! Let's get to it.
HawkeyedFrog: West Virginia has had three quarterbacks this season and from what I've seen none of them are that good. Break down their strengths and weaknesses, and who do you think will (or should) start against TCU on Saturday?
WVUIE97: Ford Childress has the best frame and tools to work with, but he's relatively inexperienced and nursing a torn pectoral muscle, so he's out. Paul Millard has the most experience and understanding of the offense but lacks the arm to make the throws consistently.
Clint Trickett has a bit of moxie about him, but is also inexperienced in the offense and has struggled to catch on. He does have more game experience and the arm to make the throws. The question is whether he's making the correct reads and decisions.
It's a bit of a coin flip with the two healthy guys and the subject of much debate amongst our fans right now. Trickett seems to have the upper hand with the coaches right now and that's who I expect to start Saturday.
HawkeyedFrog: West Virginia's defense last year was poor to put it kindly, but this iteration has shown great improvement with a lot of the same faces. How much of it is attributable to the new coordinator and how much is just those younger players growing up?
WVUIE97: I've expounded on this with the other Big 12 bloggers previously and other places that I believe that it's a combination of both. Patterson just plain knows what he's doing where DeForest was a first time coordinator last year. Patterson's philosophy is to make the offense adjust to the defense instead of the usual other way around. He also has a bit simpler scheme (reportedly) that the players can react more instead of wasting precious seconds thinking.
Yes the younger guys have grown up, but there's also a third factor that I think is just as important: Leadership. This defense has some guys who have really stepped up this season whereas last year that was all but completely absent. NT Shaq Rowell has been the most vocal of the bunch but Darwin Cook is really playing well and with a determination that just wasn't there last season. Add the three up and it has made for a much improved unit. We've still got a long way to go, but it certainly looks better.
HawkeyedFrog: West Virginia is in almost the opposite boat as TCU, as the Mountaineers have grabbed leads in several of their games but haven't been able to hold on, while TCU hasn't lost a game in which they've led... they just haven't led many games. Kind of an immovable object/unstoppable force clash, but much sadder. Has there been a common theme that's led to West Virginia letting leads slip away?
WVUIE97: Offensive inefficiency leading to the defense spending more and more time on the field late in games (ed. Sound familiar?). The last two games especially, we had a lead and all of the sudden a fumble or complacency perhaps (TT game more so than KSt) and the next thing you know, we have several 3-and-outs in a row. Our third down offense has been horrendous, which is a byproduct of having a good many long situations being faced with. The run game looks like it should be working, but then we seem to abandon it in stretches (ed. We'll all be in Running Back Fans Anonymous in the offseason. "Hi, I'm Hawkeye and I want our offense to run the ball." "Hi Hawkeye!")
HawkeyedFrog: West Virginia's running numbers look solid, but inconsistent as the Mountaineers have rolled up some huge gains that have hugely inflated the YPC average that might have otherwise been average or worse. How much success do you think the Mountaineers will have against a very stout TCU run defense?
WVUIE97: That's one of the likely two keys to the game for the Mountaineers and I honestly don't know. Offensive line play this season has continued to be sporadic at best and add to good backs in Smith and Sims and you get sometimes inflated numbers. One thing to take note of is how often Sims and Smith try to keep extending the LOS and get outside instead of making the one cut and head upfield. That aspect has been maddening at times.
HawkeyedFrog: I've been following your weekly Dana Holgorsen approval polls with interest, and things seem to be down in a big way for the big guy. Do you think he's in jeopardy at all if WVU misses a bowl this year? What if Oliver Luck isn't the AD anymore?
WVUIE97:His jeopardy is more tied to the possibility of Luck leaving for UT and who is the replacement. The fans are restless, but there hasn't been much in the way of public commentary by the administration or the more vocal boosters. Hell, despite the less than stellar seasons by the football and hoops teams, fundraising was at a record high last year.
Most reasonable fans know this was going to be a rebuilding year, but there is a growing sentiment that would like to see him go (and Luck for that matter). I tell those folks to be careful what you wish for.
HawkeyedFrog: Finally we come to the inevitable prediction time. Looking at the fairly puny offenses of both teams and the good-to-great defenses both teams roll out it seems to me this one will be close like last year, but nowhere near as fun to watch. What's your pick for the score, and will West Virginia make a bowl this year?
WVUIE97:I have the benefit of seeing your prediction before replying with my own. I tend to agree with you. This has all of the earmarks for a low scoring affair 13-17ish, which of course means it will end up being 38-37. I think it comes down to who makes the least amount of mistakes and turnovers. WVU can win this game, but will they.
If WVU can come away from Fort Worth with a win, yes we will go bowling. If not, we'll just have to keep our Texas unbeaten streak alive...which is a given (wink, wink).
HawkeyedFrog: Our thanks to WVUIE97 for his answers, and be sure to check the Smoking Musket to keep up to date on how our fellow former Big East members are adjusting to life in the Big 12. If you're lazy (and I know many of you are) I'll edit this post later to include links to their Q&A and the podcast.