After yesterday's 49-14 dismantling at the hands of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, a lot of Mountaineer fans are searching for answers. Count me as one of them. The team was thoroughly outplayed in every phase by a hungrier, better-prepared, and more physical Red Raider squad. In Holgorsen's post-game press conference, he basically kept repeating that we were out-played and out-coached in all three phases. At halftime, he mentioned the wind. In the end, he seemed almost as perplexed as the rest of us as to what, exactly, happened out there. WVU was the higher-ranked team, favored by 4, coming off one of the bigger wins in recent memory. By all accounts, they practiced well this week and weren't looking past Tech to a potential matchup of top 5 teams and visit from ESPN College Gameday for K-State. And then pffffffft. That happened.
As strange as it may sound, I'm not pinning this game on our defense. We all know they are terrible. We all knew they were terrible before the game, and if we were really expecting anything else than a putrid performance, we were probably kidding ourselves. Am I frustrated that we keep playing soft in coverage and getting picked apart for big play after big play? Yes. Do I wish we would at least try blitzing the other team into submission in an effort to generate pressure and force bad passes? You betcha. But 49 points is about on par for what this unit has been giving up, and it could have been 7 fewer points had our offense not promptly given it right back to Tech's offense after we got the ball with 2 minutes left in the first half. Plus they created 2 turnovers, neither of which our offense was able to capitalize on. If we were going to blame a loss on the defense, our offense needed to score enough points to win. And 14 was never going to cut it.
No, I'm blaming this one on the offense. We established no running game until the second half, and that was only after we decided to bust out a new formation that we copied from Oklahoma. Uh, Holgo, where was that formation in the first half when we really needed to establish the run? Receivers uncharacteristically dropped catchable passes. Or at least I think it was uncharacteristic, since Stedman Bailey was hurt and guys like Ivan McCartney and JD Woods were the main culprits. Geno made poor decisions, threw into coverage, and overthrew receivers when they were open. I really don't have an explanation for that. He may have let the wind get to him. (Note: Holgorsen didn't blame the wind. He said the guys may have let the wind get to them. There's a difference.) He may have let Tech's defense, which generated more pressure and produced better coverage than anyone in recent memory, get to him. He may have just had a bad day. Unfortunately, that happens. And there's nothing we can do about it. At the same time, give all the credit in the world to the Tech defense. They were able to create pressure, often with only four rushing, and did a marvelous job of tackling, even when our playmakers got the ball in space.
Our coaching decisions were strange, too. I know we're frustrated by our kicking game, but to eschew a 36 yard field goal (albeit into the wind) down 14 in the first half was, IMO, a bad decision. As I mentioned earlier, waiting until the second half to introduce a new formation with 2 fullbacks lined up in tandem to Geno's side with a tailback behind him seemed counter-intuitive. We went for it a ton on fourth down---some I was OK with, others not so much. As I mentioned before, our defensive philosophy should rightly be questioned.
Really, sometimes losses fall into the WTF category. This is one of those losses. Try as we might, there seem to be no legitimate, or at least definitive, explanations for what transpired on Saturday. So here is what I propose: let it go. There is nothing we as fans can do about it, and the only thing the players can do is learn from it and re-focus on Kansas State and then the rest of the Big XII schedule. We knew the defense was bad. We also know the offense is not as bad as it was against Texas Tech. Tech was ready to play, and executed their game plan flawlessly. Credit to them for that. In the Big XII, if you catch someone playing at their best and you're not playing at your best, you're going to get tagged, and that's exactly what happened.
The season isn't over. Far from it. Geno can still win the Heisman. One bad game (in which he completed over 50% of his passes for 275 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 turnovers) does not derail a campaign. RG3 won it with his team finishing 9-3, and Geno can do the same given his ridiculous stats. Other than the most optimistic Mountaineer fans (and I'm usually in that crowd), nobody was predicting an undefeated season. I think the most realistic best-case scenario was a 10-2 year and BCS bowl. Those goals are still very much in play. And to be honest, 8-4 or 7-5 is still very much in play if we continue to play like we did Saturday. But I think that was an aberration, not an indication of what the rest of the year will hold. The three best teams left on the schedule all come to Morgantown. We are certainly capable of winning on the road against a talented team. The path is there. And it starts with a visit from a top 5 Kansas State team this Saturday night in Morgantown. I hope this loss served as motivation for our team to rally together for a run at the Big XII title. I hope they quickly forget the loss to Tech and prepare fully for what could be a special night on Saturday. I hope our fans do the same and show up in droves to support a still-great Mountaineer squad. After all, it's a night game in Morgantown. Special things happen at night games in Morgantown.