The great Bartimus Prime of my favorite non-TCU SB Nation blog, the outstanding Smoking Musket, was kind enough to answer a few questions ahead of TCU traveling east for a clash of new money Big 12 members.
Melissa: After spending the first month of the season on the outside looking in, the Mountaineers climb up the polls has been meteoric the last two weeks, culminating in a #12 spot heading into the matchup with TCU. How scared are fans that things are going to start going wrong?
Bartimus Prime: I think there are two camps in which fans have pitched tents. The first, and the camp I’m in, are the ones who have too often seen the Mountaineers suddenly start receiving attention and just to disappoint fans and pundits alike. The other camp are those who are convinced we’re going 12-0 and think we’ll steam roll through the season.
However, I think it’s the finish that matters. Things didn’t start well for us in the Youngstown State and Kansas State games, but we made adjustments and won both games.
MT: Holgo has seemingly been on the hot seat for a while now, with even some of the most argent and level headed fans calling for his head. But with WVU off to their best start in years and the team playing well on both sides of the ball, is he safe for the foreseeable future?
BP: I think his seat has cooled, but the season isn’t over. Since coming to WVU, he’s had multiple-game skids where the team has found ways to lose games. The meat of the schedule is coming up and, though we are 5-0 now, the job isn’t done.
I still think a seven-win season keeps him at WVU, but with a start like this, only seven wins may seem like a failure. He’s safe. Right now. And we’re not talking about it during the season, which is a good thing.
MT: Skyler Howard is a different player this year, playing with a confidence that the Big 12 hadn't seen in previous seasons. With a completion percentage of over 66% and only four picks on the year, he seems to have a mastery of the offense and talent around him to keep making him look good. What has been the biggest difference for him this season?
BP: Technically, the biggest difference is his improvement in accuracy in across-the-middle passes. In the past seasons, he’s missed a good number of those and this season, he’s hit them.
As much as Skyler has improved, he’s benefitted from improvements of the players around him. Firstly, the good offensive line play has given him clean pockets in which he can view the field. Secondly, his receivers are catching passes. That was a huge problem last season.
Between his own improvements and an overall improvement of the offense, Skyler has taken control of the offense.
MT: The WVU D has looked dominant through the first two games of conference play, holding both K State and Tech to 17 points apiece. They are holding opponents to less than 20 points a game overall, have forced nine turnovers, and only give up TDs on 42% of red zone attempts. Despite losing some big names, this defense seems better than the last couple of years. What is it getting it done and is there a weakness you can see TCU trying to exploit Saturday?
BP: As you do with a 3-3-5, we’ll give up some underneath passes and catches. We’re OK with that, it’s part of the scheme, almost. However, this relies on solid tackling. TCU definitely has athletes and speeds that could cause problems for WVU’s D-backs if they can break a tackle or two.
The only other vulnerability we’ve had this season has been against the power running game—see Youngstown State, BYU and K-State. However, I don’t think TCU falls into that style.
MT: What was the difference against Texas Tech, a team that has looked unstoppable on offense all season?
BP: The bye week. Also, I think this defense has been playing with a chip on its shoulder all season. They’ve been doubted and questioned repeatedly. I think that was a pride game, where the D really just wanted to show what it could do.
MT: Who is one player on offense and one on defense that TCU fans may not know now, but you expect to have big games Saturday?
BP: On defense, a name WVU fans are starting to learn is Rasul Douglas. He’s a cornerback and has been tasked with trying to shut down star WRs all season. He has 28 tackles, two INTs and four broken up passes.
Offensively, you will come to know Justin Crawford pretty well. He’s the shake to the bake of Rushel Shell. He leads the team in rushing, averaging 74.6 yards per game. That average was lowered by only playing half of the game in Lubbock because Texas Tech’s turf hates football players.
MT: Is there a player for the Frogs that you are interested to see or feel is key to shutting down the explosive offense?
BP: I’m interested to see how good Kyle Hicks is. I’ve heard his name called a lot when I’ve watched TCU play, but not sure how effective he’s really been. If we’re going to have success in the game, we have to neutralize the run game.
MT: TCU has never lost in Morgantown, and it seems every game there comes down to the last possession. Do you expect this weekend to be different, especially since it's the Eers that are the highly ranked team this go around?
BP: I do expect this game to go in our favor, but in this series, who knows. I think the reason we have the advantage is because we have more weapons on offense and have a more sturdy defense. However, I think we’re due for a special teams collapse, so watch for that.
MT: What is one thing that you wish more people knew about Morgantown?
BP: I wish people knew that Morgantown has really good restaurants and I wish visitors really took the time to take in the beauty the city and state have to offer. If you’re making the trip, take time to walk up Dorsey’s Knob and look over the city. If you’re looking for a more in-nature experience, travel a few miles outside the city and go to Coopers Rock State Park. It takes you to the iconic views seen in a lot of WVU advertising that look over the Cheat River.
For food, check out Blackbear Burritos. There are two locations, one downtown and one in the Suncrest neighborhood. For a Sunday hangover, go to Primati Bros. (though you could also go to one in Pittsburgh) or Pies and Pints.
Thanks against to Bart and be sure to head over to The Smoking Musket to read their game-week goodies!