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TCU vs WVU: Q&A with the Smoking Musket

We sat down with David Smith of the Smoking Musket to talk WVU's brutal October, Skyler Howard, and restless natives.

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TCU and WVU have enjoyed a good relationship since joining the Big XII together just over three seasons to go, despite playing some of the closest and most heartbreaking games against each other in that time period. As contentious as the series has been - two overtime games, a last second field goal, and road team dominance - the fans seem to enjoy a friendly back and forth. That sentiment is shared across the SB Nation platform as well; you won't find better guys than the dudes at the Smoking Musket. One such dude is my good buddy David Smith (@SmithFire13), who was kind enough to answer a few questions ahead of Thursday night's throwdown.

CM: WVU’s season started very promising, as the team rolled through their preseason schedule with relative ease. Led by a competent looking Skyler Howard and a nasty defense led by Karl Joseph, the Eers appeared to be a darkhorse contender heading into Big XII play. Then, October happened. The Mountaineers played three of the top four teams in the conference to open conference play, and will face the preseason favorite to close the month. So… are you okay?

DS: No. I’ve restocked the ice cream, wine, and tissues. Went to red box and somehow they had every Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks movie available which I’m pretty sure is just three. Was Meg Ryan in Joe and the Volcano? I can’t remember.

CM: I can’t remember either, but I’ll have what she’s having - if it’s some of that ice cream. Other than Karl Joseph’s devastating injury, what has been the main issue for the WVU D? While there’s really no shame in giving up 60+ to Baylor, and OU has been pretty salty on offense as well, this was a team many expected to be one of the best in the country on that side of the ball. Is it something you’re concerned about going forward, or more of a testament to the three conference teams they have played to this point?

DS: The preseason hype for the defense might have been overblown, but they looked the part out of the gate. WVU smothered their nonconference opponents and there is definitely something to be said about the quality bump that the Mountaineers have had to face in the month of October. While West Virginia is still rather strong in the front, the lack of depth in the secondary is a huge problem for Thursday and beyond. Dana Holgorsen said on Monday that the Mountaineers lose two more DBs (Terrell Chestnut: injured shoulder, Ricky Rumph: death in the family.) Including the loss of Karl Joseph a few weeks ago, having a bare cupboard in the back against Trevone Boykin falls near the bottom on Smitty’s Favorite Things in the Entire World List right beside Pitt looking rather decent and hungover Sundays with no hope of revival via Chick Fil A. For the top of the list, go no further than here: )

CM: On offense, it’s a different story. How do you feel about Skyler Howard?...

DS: My feelings about Skyler Howard are complicated and I am not alone. There is no doubt that the kid lays it all out on the field, but it’s just not there yet. "It" could be several things: the sporadic-at-best accuracy, the route-running of the young/inexperienced WRs, or the overall lack of chemistry between passer and receiver. "It" is probably a combination of all three or countless more unmentioned, but "it" is not there. Yet. While there is potential, I don’t know how many more overthrows of certain touchdowns I can take before I join the WE SHOULD BENCH HIM RABBLE RABBLE noisy minority.

CM: The Eers clearly lost a lot of firepower after last season, but there were players remaining on the roster that many thought could have a similar impact. Things started strong for Dana Holgorsen’s crew, but have tailed off considerably; after dropping 40+ in each of their first three games, WVU hasn’t tallied more than 38 since… and managed only 24 and 26 against the Oklahomas. Is this a scheme or talent problem? Or does it start and end with the QB?

DS: Helluva question. Going back to before, I don’t think it’s just on Howard. Shorts and Thompson are capable slot men, but the problems are about what going on outside. Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante are great talents, but Holgorsen has mentioned before about the development of the WR in his system starts with learning what to do and then how to do it.  Gibson has been around the program enough to know what to do, but the how is still on its way. Durante is a true freshman that is still learning on the fly. Outside of those two, WVU is still trying to find answers for the outside WRs to the point where Freshman QB David Sills just had his redshirt burned in Waco to go play receiver:

And then this tweet gets out... sooooo, who wants to step up?

CM: Speaking of Holgo, how warm is his seat these days? He seems to have endeared himself to the fan base in general, but a poor finish in 2014 coupled with the rough start this season has to have people questioning his fit. Do fans understand the gauntlet October has been, or has their patience run thin?

DS: So we are just gonna air this all out, aren’t we? Regardless of the school, there’s always a portion of the fan base that want to fire everyone for everything in the same tone that they complain about the Goobacks taking our jerrrbs. That being said, the natives are certainly growing restless. This is Holgorsen’s fifth year and, after the strides taken by the program last year, going backwards is not what supporters want to see. There are complaints about how the offensive guru’s offense should be clicking after this amount of time and those arguments are hard to combat. That and being in the middle of a three-game losing streak does not help things. With every loss, the restlessness grows and I fear that bowl eligibility is a chopping block minimum that the Mountaineers might not make. Who knows? Stay tuned.

CM: The three previous conference match ups between the Frogs and the Eers have been decided by a total of five points, with the home team having taken the L in each game and two having gone to overtime. What is it about WVU that has matched up so well with TCU?

DS: I think that WVU and TCU have been going along the same path as two teams morphing from what it took to be successful in their former situations into bona fide Big 12 programs. West Virginia was built to win the Big East with a mostly average, yet capable roster, but a few superstars sprinkled in at skilled positions. This was enough to outclass their Big East opponents and punch an unexpecting blue blood in the mouth. (Source: [1] [2] [3]) While this worked at the time, the move to the Big 12 forced West Virginia to go through the motions of building depth.

TCU has had to face a similar track of roster development, but went through the growing pains of changing to the offensive schemes of one Sonny Cumbie. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that West Virginia and TCU had mirroring 4-8 (Big 12: 2-7) records in 2013, but Gary Patterson has really taken advantage of the Big 12 move as a newfound recruiting pitch. West Virginia has not. This is why I think the Horned Frogs busts up this close-game trend and lays the wood Thursday. This is my theory, but it could be nonsense. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Thanks so much to Smitty and best of luck to WVU... starting Friday ;) Be sure to check out the Q&A we did with the guys over at Smoking Musket as well!