Bad day to be a Mountaineer
Following Thanksgiving weekend when West Virginia University defeated Pitt in football and its basketball team won the 76 Classic, the title to this column read “A great weekend to be a Mountaineer.” New Year’s Day presented WVU with an opportunity to allow for a similar headline. As it turns out, the headline is similar, just not the one Mountaineer fans were hopeful for.
Last Friday the WVU football team was playing Florida State in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. The Mountaineers were a 2.5 point favorite to rain on Bobby Bowden’s final game festivities. An hour and a half after the 1:00 kickoff, the undefeated and sixth ranked West Virginia basketball team was going to tip it off at fourth ranked Purdue. The table was set to get the New Year off to a rousing beginning.
The football team seemed poised to get the day off to that kind of start by taking a quick 14-3 lead over the Seminoles and looked unstoppable in the process. Then the Mountaineers did what they did so many times during the regular season. Quarterback Jarrett Brown threw an interception. The coaches quit calling the plays which had them ahead 14-3 which was basically just handing the ball to Noel Devine. The offensive line, which was run blocking very well, had FSU linebackers and safeties running unabated into the WVU backfield while trying to pass block. All led to the big Seminole turnaround.
Brown was injured late in the first half and gave way to true freshman Geno Smith. At that point it seemed a change at the quarterback position might not be that bad an idea. The problem was that Smith, while a very promising passer, does not have the ability to run out of trouble like Brown can. With the way the West Virginia pass blocking was breaking down, Smith had little chance to be effective.
And so it went. The WVU football team, with a chance to make a statement and achieve a top 15 ranking, was beaten 33-21 by a 6-6 ACC team which really had no business being invited to the game to begin with.
There will be plenty to discuss about the football team in the coming months. The first likely discussion will be whether Devine stays for his senior season or enters this April’s NFL draft. Devine has hinted both ways recently, but the decision will have to be made shortly.
The 5-7, 175 junior definitely has value as a pro though it is unlikely he would go higher than the third round because of his size. The thing is Devine probably can do very little next season to raise his NFL stock because of his size. Odds here say he will enter the draft.
By the time things were really heading south in Jacksonville, the basketball team was taking the floor in Indiana. The Mountaineers hung around the Boilermakers for the first half and were fortunate to be trailing just 36-32 at halftime. Good fortune went out the window in the second half as WVU was behind by more than 20 points for much of the half before losing 77-62.
In the case of the basketball team, the loss can be used as a tool to get better. The Mountaineers have had some trouble handling mediocre teams of late. This convincing loss to a very good team should help coach Bob Huggins get his players attention. I’m not sure exactly what is missing from this team, but they have not consistently shown the kind of play which has some pundits labeling them a final four team.
Whether they play five forwards or start Truck Bryant at point guard, turnovers are becoming this team’s nemesis. Purdue used pressure defense to create turnovers and added some solid outside shooting to post the easy win. In fairness, the Mountaineers were playing their fourth game in nine days, something which also factored into the Mountaineers’ performance.