That team down south
West Virginia University's football team won their Big East opener 34-13 last Saturday in the Syracuse Carrier Dome. The turnover prone Mountaineers cleaned up their act by losing the ball just once on the afternoon. Ball security issues still remain as WVU fumbled three times, but lost just one of them. Able to keep the ball in their possession, West Virginia took full advantage and scored touchdowns on their first four possessions and cruised to a 27-0 halftime lead.
Some less than stellar play by the Mountaineers occurred in the third period, but WVU capped off a nine play 60 yard drive on the first play of the fourth quarter on a four yard run by Noel Devine. That score put West Virginia up by a 34-6 score which prompted Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart to bring in some fresh faces on offense on the next possession. Those included two freshmen, quarterback Geno Smith and tailback Shawne Alston.
This is something of a departure from recent history. Former coach Rich Rodriguez rarely pulled the starters that early in the fourth period. Last season, Stewart's first, there were rarely leads big enough to consider safe enough to substitute that early.
The insertion of Smith into the lineup is a very good idea. Sure, it is always a good idea to get your backup quarterback some meaningful reps in game conditions. It is even more important if that backup is a true freshman, as is Smith. Okay, the score was 34-6, but I must confess to being a little surprised to see Smith and Alston in the WVU backfield with the ball on their own six yard line and 13:24 left in the game.
I guess if you are going to give the guy some minutes you may as well put him in a tough spot. Smith or Alston didn't get West Virginia a first down on that series, but they did get the ball to the 15 where punter Scott Kozlowski boomed a 51 yarder on fourth and one to change the field position.
This would be a good time to point out that Koslowski has been doing a tremendous job on special teams this fall.
Smith handled his playing time very well. The play calling wasn't designed to be aggressive, so we will have to wait to see how much fire power Smith possesses. It has been a long time since a true freshman quarterback has been considered capable of being ready to play in his first year at West Virginia. Smith has a lot of upside, but WVU fans hope for Smith's continued slow development because anything more than that would indicate an injury to starter Jarrett Brown.
In the meantime, Brown continues to flourish in offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen's offense. In three quarters Brown was 22-30 for 244 yards and no interceptions.
Watching Brown is a mixed bag right now. He is putting up great numbers and making great throws, yet he is nowhere as good as he will be. He has amazing tools, but he still is missing some things on the field and throwing into double coverage. That is not meant as a slam on the guy, just an observation of a guy who has now started just seven games in his career. It's a short bittersweet journey for West Virginia fans. Brown will get better in his final season as a Mountaineer and maybe even lead the team to a BCS bowl, but the final product will belong to some NFL team in a few years.
We now interrupt the impending Big East schedule for the Friends of Coal Bowl (no truth to the rumor Obama will MC) this Saturday in Morgantown. The fourth game of the seven game series between West Virginia and Marshall, brokered by Governor Joe Manchin, resumes at 3:30 Saturday.
During Monday's Big East tele-conference, coach Stewart continually referred to Marshall as "that team down south." The general consensus is his omission of referring to the Herd as Marshall was not done to show disrespect, but chalked up to "Stew being Stew." Feel free to assume whatever you want to as to what that means.
Anyway, the game has again brought attention to the fact that there are no more football games scheduled between the two schools when the current deal plays out in 2012. Marshall has been demanding a home and home deal. West Virginia athletic director, Ed Pastilong, has insisted WVU would agree only to a two-for-one deal. As of Monday that is the way it stood, with Pastilong on record saying that future scheduling is ongoing and if something isn't done soon there may be no room to add games later.