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Ready.....Aim....The Smoking Musket staff primes their muzzle-loaders to give this Mountaineer season a 21 gun salute. But first, some eulogies.
It's been a helluva year for Mountaineer fans. As we shovel dirt onto 2012 and step bravely into 2013, the Musket staff thought we'd take a moment to reflect on the season that was. High moments, low moments, grades....whatever format guys wanted to give our general memories and impressions of the year. Everybody has the moments they'll never forget and your encouraged to add yours in the comments section. It was a season of extremes and we're glad you chose to ride it out with us.
Misery loves company.
My favorite moment came in a losing effort.
On a cool but not cold November Saturday, many of us wandered into a surprisingly less than packed MPS for our first league game with Oklahoma. Based on the previous few weeks' performances, most of us were just hoping WVU would find a way just to keep the game competitive, completely oblivious to the performance that we were about to witness.
When the offense took the field, something was different. Where the hell is Tavon? Holy shit, he's lined up at TAILBACK!!!!! Holy shit, look at him go!!
We were used to seeing Tavon put up some big receiving numbers and a fair amount of highlight worthy returns. But this was Tavon back at his old high school position and he absolutely carved a vaunted Oklahoma defense to SHREDS.
Hitting the holes like a missile, one cut and off to the races on the way to a school record night rushing of 344 yards. Tack on another 82 yards receiving and 146 return yards and you get a performance for the ages, coming just 6 yards shy of the NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a game. Tavon's total was 572 yards. Not against the bad New Mexico State team that the record was set against, but versus Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, when Geno hit Stedman on that 40 yard bomb to take the lead, virtually the entire stadium knew that 2:53 was too much time left for the much maligned Mountaineer defense to hold. It was a tough, tough loss for the Mountaineers, whose losing streak hit 5 games on that night. Despite the loss, I will forever have the fond memory of being there, in person, and witnessing a superhuman performance by our number one.
Keep Calm and Tavon
Special Teams: C-
This season so difficult to assess because of the dramatic swings. Just think, within a two week spread you had what was probably the biggest road win for this program in 30 years and then the most embarrassing home loss in about that same time. You saw a team score 10 touchdowns in two of its first 4 games, but only manage 4 combined in games 6 and 7.
What made it all so painful was how damn great everything was going. WVU wasn't the toast of the region or the toast of the conference - we were the toast of the entire country. For the first time ever a Mountaineer sat unquestioned at the top of the Heisman heap. Not one, but two wide receivers were on the Biletnikoff short list. Title talk was rampant. For a program that has never won a national title or seen a player win one of the major awards (I'm respectfully excluding Dan Mozes' 2007 Rimington Trophy here as it's not part of the year-end awards show) this was heady stuff. It was a glimpse of what we all dream this program could be - it was the rest of the country finally seeing us the way we see ourselves.
And then, in jarring fashion it was gone, blown away by the west Texas winds.
The rest of the season was spent trying to make sense of it all. The team, the fans, the coaches; everybody was at a loss. The frustration colored the play on the field and was only exacerbated by a series of tough breaks that stretched to a 5 game losing streak. A pair of strong finishes made us think the worst was behind us, and then all that progress was gone in a New York Minute.
Was the season a failure? Do we want to pile the tapes high and set them ablaze? Perhaps, but never forget that amidst those ashes would lie the single game passing, receiving and rushing records, not to mention a host of season and career offensive records.
There was a lot to forget this year but there was probably more to remember. It may just take a little time to figure out why.
Aside from the games, there is one memory that will always stick out for me from this season: the story of Taitlyn Hughes and her generous gift of life to Nefeterius McPherson. Nefeterius and also Taitlyn's father were kind enough to speak with me and allow me write about their amazing story. I will forever be humbled by the generosity of a special little Mountaineer fan who just wanted to "change the world." West Virginians everywhere should be proud to count her as one of us.
Couch Burners Anonymous
The highest moment of the season came when we traveled to a packed stadium in Austin. Texas was ready to prove to the nation that they were back, but we were ready to prove to the nation that we belonged in the Big 12 and were a force to reckon with this year. I know no matter where you were, whether a Longhorn or Mountaineer you were anticipating this game.
I was watching this game at a local bar in Morgantown (Bent Willeys Red Zone Sports Bar). The atmosphere was incredible. Tavon set the tone right away with a strong kickoff return to give us great field positioning. Buie had a strong run to take it inside the 10 and Geno and Bailey hooked up playing pitch and catch to give the Mountaineers a quick 7-0 lead. Mountaineer fans everywhere went nuts. Our bar was rocking. Everyone was cheering, high-fiving, spilling beer, chugging beer. West Virgina Football had arrived in the Big 12. The game was still way too early to determine, but I knew our boys had it that night and were ready to play.
The lowest moment came when we were embarrassed by Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. There have been a lot of low points in this season, but I've been more lenient on this team than previous teams citing all the factors that poor play could be blamed on. A new defensive scheme, new defensive coaches, a lot of defensive talent left the year before, we were playing a lot of young guys on D, competition and offenses were more athletic and explosive in the Big 12. I get it. I would never want these to be used as excuses but I understood the strengths of our team and defense was not one of them.
But Syracuse was a familiar foe that we had seen (and lost to) the previous 2 seasons. You can't blame a young defense, they all played a year in what was supposedly a much tougher league. You can't blame the weather, Syracuse had a quarterback who liked to throw it as well and they still managed to have a strong game plan and outperform us. Collectively you blame the players and the staff for not showing up and getting out played and out hustled by a team that wanted it more that night.
I want to thank all the fans who went to that game and sat through the pounding the Mountaineers took. I hope the trip was successful and fun regardless of the outcome. I want to thank the seniors and players who played their last game as Mountaineers. While you didn't go out on top, your hard work and commitment to the program is still appreciated. To the players and staff who are still in the program, you have a lot of work to do in the off-season, because no fan should have to pay New York City prices to watch that ass-kicking.
That was my low of the year.
If WVU football means periods of euphoric highs followed by inexplicable periods of gut-wrenching lows, 2012 was WVU football on Red Bull.
Those who have followed the Mountaineers for more than 5 years know what it means to be a WVU fan: 13-9 and 48-28, and not always in that order. We know the drill. But this year, everything was compounded by the move to the Big XII and last year's Orange Bowl beatdown. Our new conference meant compounded hype entering the season for Holgorsen and our bell cow, Geno Smith. It meant that everyone in the country was going to be talking about the Mountaineers' prolific offense after a highly entertaining win in our first-ever Big XII game because, you know, BAYLOR and TOP 25 RANKING and RGIII EVEN THOUGH HE DIDN'T PLAY THIS YEAR. It meant that a win at Texas was grounds for national title and BCS bowl talk and a top 5 ranking, not because Texas was really that good, but because the jersey said TEXAS and not CINCINNATI.
But it also meant that the team waiting to play us the following week wasn't UConn. It was a team on the brink of a top 25 ranking led by a coach who once went 14-0 at Auburn. And after that? The #2 team in the country, the team that won last year's Rose Bowl, the team that won last year's Fiesta Bowl, and Oklahoma. What would have been at worst a 3 loss season in the Big East turned into a 7-5 regular season debacle in the Big XII, mostly because the teams on the other side were better.
Really, what was that different between 2011 and 2012? A 3-point win over Cincinnati, a 1-point win over Pitt and a 3-point win over USF turned into a 1-point loss to TCU and a 1-point loss to Oklahoma. Both seasons we got blown out at home by the #2 team in the country and both seasons we suffered inexplicable blowouts on the road in games where we were favored. And all with no infusion of talent on offense plus a departure of some great players and the coordinator of a defense that probably wasn't all that great to begin with. And somehow we expected to be better?
I'm not saying there's not cause for concern. There's definitely cause for concern. The lack of new young talent through recruiting and development (Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph aside) is a huge issue. You would think quarterbacks, receivers and even running backs would be lining up to play in this offense. Heck, on a 7-5 team you probably have 3 offensive players who will go in the first 2-3 rounds in the NFL draft, one of whom was a Biletnikoff finalist and another who should have been a consensus All-American if there was any consistency in how returners and all-purpose players were selected. By all accounts,it's a fun offense to play in. Yet, our best freshman receiver left school a week after earning his first career start, nobody Holgorsen recruited has made any significant contributions in the passing game, and our best wide receiver recruit is a 2-star JUCO. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?
Then there's the lack of improvement on either side of the ball throughout the season and the seeming want of mental or physical toughness that permeates our team. Not exactly things you can easily dismiss. 2013 doesn't look to get much better. On a schedule that features only 6 home games for the first time in recent memory, wins are going to be hard to come by. Even assuming we win our three nonconference games over William & Mary, Georgia State and Maryland (which is nowhere close to a given), you have to find three wins among the remaining games. The most likely? Iowa State and Texas Tech at home, Kansas and Baylor on the road.
I'm not holding my breath here. But if Holgorsen can win 6, 7 or even 8 games with that schedule, there will be hope in Morgantown. To do so, he will have to develop new offensive stars and see improvement on defense, which would make for a promising 2014. But if he can't, a 3 or 4 win season is a definite possibility, and that would make for a tenuous future in Morgantown for Holgo.
A Tale of Two Seasons: Remember that time WVU started the season 5-0 in their first season in the Big 12 and then finished with an astounding 7-6 after losing to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl?
Yeah, it sucked.
It still sucks and it’s sometimes embarrassing to look back on some of our team’s "performances" (and I use that term VERY loosely). After waltzing into Texas and knocking off the Longhorns, something happened to this team. Whatever it was wasn’t good, anyone can see that, but what exactly was it? Cockiness? Immaturity? Lack of leadership? The list could go on and on. The bottom line is, we had a top 5 team, a Heisman candidate QB, Receiver, Mr. All-Purpose on offense, and ZERO defense.
Then the offense crapped the bed.
Some of our fans talked about the lack of "swagger" during the Bill Stewart era. Our team had gotten "soft." At the Texas game, our players got their "swagger" back, and added something else to it. Something I don’t care for at all. We got cocky and obnoxious. One thing I’ve always despised about other teams in the past is when they act like cocky thugs. I can’t stand to see our players jaw-jacking the other team and getting into shoving matches in mid-field. Leave that to the Miamis of the world. That’s not Mountaineer football. Mountaineer football is about blue-collar grit and determination. Next season, I hope to leave this new-found "swagger" at home and get back to Mountaineer football.
As it stands, I would grade our final on- field product as follows:
Offense: B- (only because at times, it was spectacular)
Defense: F (only because I can’t grade lower)
Special Teams: C (thanks to Tavon) Tavon gets an A+++
Coaching: C- (mainly because of the defense, but also due to stubbornness in offensive play calling).
The good thing is, there is a lot of room for improvement. The bad thing is, there’s a lot for improvement. As always, Let’s GO!!
My first thought about a review of the 2012 season was to repeat the review of Spinal Tap’s Album, Shark Sandwich. For those who are unaware, it was simply a two word review: shit sandwich.
It’s incredibly unfair to say that, though, no matter how much that scene makes me grin. It was a combination of extremely high expectations that we turned a corner in the Orange bowl mixed with the grim reality that a new staff and a new scheme on defense generally doesn’t equal success. To me, the 2012 season resembles the results of the 2008 team in Bill Stewart’s first full year as head coach: high expectations and mediocre results despite the star power on offense.
It seemed like every time a problem was corrected in 2007 two more took its place and the offense struggled all year to find an identity. You can’t blame everything on the 2012 defensive unit, but it was pretty obvious by the Texas game that if we were going to have a great season, the offense was going to have to be perfect every game. That didn’t happen and the bandwagon emptied quicker than a grade school at the final bell.
But it wasn’t so bad. Geno, Tavon, Stedman, and the rest of the offense certainly gave us a lot to cheer about. Karl Joseph, Isaiah Bruce and the young guys on defense gave us some reason to expect things will get better. It wasn’t the kind of season we expected or have grown accustomed to at WVU and it certainly wasn’t the way we wanted our first year in the Big 12 to turn out. It was the year that things didn’t go our way.
Special Teams: C