The fact that West Virginia University's Football Team is 6-2 right now may be a bit of smoke and mirrors. A reoccurring theme has been emerging all season and that is West Virginia's defense is making opposing quarterbacks look like All Americans. UCONN put up over 350 yards a week ago. Last Friday South Florida freshman B.J. Daniels threw for three touchdowns in a 31-19 win over the Mountaineers. Going into the season it was widely thought that this West Virginia defense would be a strength. Things have worked out differently.
The Mountaineers seem to be able to control most opponents' rushing attacks, but when a passing down arrives, look out. Daniels torched the WVU secondary almost at will. He completed passes of 45, 49 and 69 yards and ran for gains of 27 and 28 yards. It is easy to point to Mountaineer corner back Keith Tandy as the problem since he was the Mountaineer player seen chasing the Bulls' receivers down the field on several occasions. Tandy, though, shouldn't shoulder all of the blame, he had some help, or lack of it.
Try as they might, the West Virginia defensive front couldn't get pressure on Daniels. Anytime they got close, the elusive freshman would get out of the way, giving his receivers even more time to get open downfield. There is plenty to debate about the WVU pass defense. One school of thought was to keep Daniels in the pocket and make him beat you with his arm rather than with his legs and his arm. Hindsight is 20-20, but that strategy may have worked against USF. We can also be sure that not pressuring a pocket quarterback like Cincinnati's Tony Pike would result in failure. The kind of pressure West Virginia tried to put on Daniels played into his hands.
West Virginia's offense didn't fare well either. After taking the opening possession the length of the field for a touchdown, the offense struggled the rest of the night. WVU's offensive line had no answer for the speed of the USF front line.That left Noel Devine bottled up all night. Jarrett Brown has looked very average in his last two outings since retuning from a concussion suffered in the Marshall game. His return to form is critical to the success of this WVU team.
It was a gloomy night in Tampa if you were a West Virginia fan. Uninspiring play on both sides of the ball is becoming the norm for this team. Some coaching decisions left fans scratching their heads, like trailing in the game and punting into the end zone from the Bulls' 32 yard line.
Now, it is true that the Mountaineers still control their own destiny with regard to winning the Big East conference title and claiming the BCS bowl attached to it. Pitt and Cincinnati are currently undefeated in Big East play and meet each other in the final game of the season. West Virginia, with one conference loss, still has to play both teams plus Louisville and Rutgers. If the Mountaineers can string four wins together to finish the season they will be the Big East champs because they would own the tiebreakers over Pitt and Cincy.
The thing is, after the display on Friday night, is there any reason to think West Virginia can win four in a row? I don't have enough optimism to think it is realistic, especially without some transformation of the attitude on the team. One knowledgeable observer suggested that a 1-3 finish is more likely than 4-0. He wasn't predicting either, just illustrating that 4-0 is not likely at all. I am looking at a 2-2 finish, perhaps 3-1 if the team can get some swagger back.
One thing is for sure, if this team finishes 1-3, the anti Bill Stewart gang will be louder than ever.