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One Lovable Ticking, Psychopathic Time Bomb

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Spencer Hall, aka Orson Swindle, wrote something about us. Here is what I thought about it.

It's difficult to talk West Virginia football without having someone throw a flaming object or whiskey bottle at you, and let me be the first to say, good for you, flaming object/whiskey bottle thrower. It's that kind of passion for football that lands you in jail once every three years or so, keeps you checking the message boards and makes you the lovable ticking, psychopathic time bomb passionate football fan you are. With just a little more enthusiasm and a few more misdemeanor charges on your record, you could even pass for an SEC fan.

The only thing keeping us from being an SEC fan base is numbers. Hell, Alabama has us outnumbered 3-1 and Florida 14-1. Just think of all the extra jean shorts and attempted murders of children after losses that equates to -- it's absolutely mind boggling. And, mind you, neither of those offenses are misdemeanors. Jean shorts are punishable by death in some states.

Even sober (OK, mostly sober) pundits have turned into card- carrying, couch-burning Mountaineers fans this preseason, if an early rush of top-25 polls is any indication of their popularity as a top-10 pick. The rationale for this pick seems to be the "shiny thing" argument. Pat White, the spread-option QB so fast he seems to be lit by strobes, is the "shiny thing" in this case. You play the part of pack rat grabbing after him as your pick for the Big East title.

Remember, this is the Big East we're talking about. We could tape Pat White and Noel Devine together -- three-legged race style -- and still cover the spread against Syracuse. Still, there's Pitt and Louisville and USF, so I can buy this argument for now. But damn is Pat White "shiny."
Not to puncture your bubble of optimism surrounding West Virginia, but I'd like to puncture your bubble of optimism surrounding West Virginia. Apologies, but it has to be done before you're left clutching sad, wrinkled national title bets with WVU on them and weeping into a watery beverage from your local gambling establishment. (I'll be next to you holding my can't miss, tear-stained and beyond ill-advised "Texas Tech: BCS Champs!" ticket. I'll be there just like the rest of you at the end.)

Those "Texas Tech: BCS Champs!" tickets would go nicely next to my case of Crystal Pepsi and laser disc player. But I digress.

We are not Texas Tech. That comparison should be indicted on war crimes. If you want to talk defense (and trust me, he will), Texas Tech doesn't have one. They may as field 11 middle-school girls -- or Ohio State's defense against any SEC team -- because both would be equally effective at stopping opposing offenses. Which is to say not effective at all.

Trying to dissuade 'Eer bandwagon-jumpers with any critique of the offensive front is a fool's errand. The nigh bulletproof West Virginia offense will scramble on despite alleged changes in scheme and run/ pass balance.

True. True.
(Slightly interesting numerical side note: This run/pass balance change would be dramatic for West Virginia's offense, but not in terms familiar to any other college football team save perhaps Navy. Last year, WVU ran the ball 628 times and passed 265 times. The most pass attempts Pat White had in a game last year? Twenty-five against Louisville. Throwing two hundred more passes this year would get them into the range of what most would consider "balance," but it would hardly put them in Texas Tech territory.)

Also true.
The quicksilver White is accompanied by jitter artist Noel Devine at running back and by a deep and well-regarded offensive line. Toss in senior receivers, and West Virginia gives an adamantine sheen of invincibility on offense -- you know, the usual unstoppable guys with the zippy flash of yellow racing stripe down the side of their blue pants. Even with some perfunctory fixing of what's not broken on offense -- something first year coaches almost inevitably do, no matter the situation -- they're going to score based on the arsenal of talent already there, shiny thing Pat White included.

Once again, true. Don't worry, it gets less boring.
The defense still plays half the game, though, and that half of the Mountaineers lost numerous essential cogs and wheels from the machine that finished seventh nationally in total defense last year.

As the rule clearly states, since we lost starters on defense this off-season, we're not allowed to replace those players with new players. We must now field only 4 defenders. (And we're still covering the spread against Syracuse.)
Johnny Dingle, Marc Magro, Eric Wicks, Ryan Mundy and Keilen Dykes are all gone from the senior-laden 2007 defensive depth chart. Another part malfunctioned this week when Charles Pugh, the projected starting safety, succumbed to the most preventable of injuries: poor judgment. Bill Stewart kicked Pugh off the team for participating in the alleged purchase of goods with a stolen credit card. Yay for team discipline; boo for the potential productivity of the defense.

To outsiders, the loss of Charles Pugh looks like a tough break. To Mountaineer fans, however, losing Pugh is just short of a godsend. The guy was just, how do I put this, retarded. Really, really retarded. Having a penchant for both personal foul penalties and criminal activity doesn't really make you a good football player. The odds on him contributing to the defense for an entire season were slim to none.
Replacing seven starters on defense is not an uncommon feat, but it isn't an easy one, either -- especially given the superb cohesion and chemistry of the '07 unit. WVU has talent to replace talent all around, but it will take time to develop the kind of communication good defenses require -- most notably in pass coverage. For those who will just read this article and then type PAT WHITE PAT WHITE PAT WHITE, see the bold summary directed at all of you below.

Wait, we get to replace those starters? Whew.



I bet he could play defense. And we now have his brother, so that's like 1.5 Pat Whites. But, once again, I digress.

While the cohesiveness argument is true with any team, we have a LOT of talent waiting in the wings. Certainly, the loss of Magro will be the least felt, as our linebacking crew is just about tops in the nation. So we're fine there. Defensive line and cornerback? Much tougher, but not even close to impossible. If Tevita Finau finally gets into school, I feel 100% confident about the defensive line. As for the be perfectly honest with you, losing some of the cornerbacks from last year doesn't feel like all that much of a loss. Wicks will be tough to replace, but even his pass coverage was lacking at times.

Kvetch all you want about the intangibles people may mention here, but the retooling defense remains the skeptic's quantitative, non-touchy- feely crutch against any and all projections of West Virginia as a national title contender or Big East contender, no matter how many TDs Pat White scores. Who knows what kind of coach Bill Stewart will be? Will it really matter all that much for a year? (See: Larry Coker.)

Bill Stewart is an alien life form sent to teach us all how to coach and awesome words like "attackle."
The Mountaineers, gifted though they were in 2007, still managed to lose two games to USF and, in most crushing fashion, to Pitt with a national title shot on the line. In 2008, under new management, replacing a defense and working with a tweaked offense, they could equal 11-2 but not surpass it, since for all the change, this is essentially the same team minus a dinged Steve Slaton and some outstanding defensive talent. That sentence alone should give trepidation about placing them among the top 10 teams in the nation, much less thinking about them atop the Big East or BCS.

Both games, Pat White got hurt and Rich Rodriguez stuck his head in the sand for a collective 4 quarters. This is why we're happy to see Rodriguez gone. In big games where Rich thought we were the lesser team (see: Georgia), Rich went all out with his playcalling. This is the coach Michigan fans think they're getting. Unfortunately, in big games where Rich thought we were the better team (see: USF and Pitt), he stuck to his conservative guns water pistol come hell and high water. This is the coach Michigan is actually getting.
The schedule also presents its own problems, most notably in-conference road trips to Pitt and Louisville. Of particular interest to the twitchy gambler in all of you: The Sept. 18 game against Colorado, where a highly ranked Mountaineers team under new management will play the same patchy but punchy Buffs team that scored a low-probability upset of Oklahoma last year.

We will be double-digit favorites over Colorado, which worked really well for us against Pitt. If that Colorado game were leading off the season, I would be concerned. But since it's in week 4 and we have 11 days to prepare, I like our chances. With Louisville, my guess is that Kragthorpe has already been fired by November 22, which is good for us Louisville but bad for the Kragthorpe Diaries. And as for the trip to Pitt, is it really an away game when you control more than 50% of the stadium with your own fans? I didn't think so. Pitt's a decent team, but last year was the 500 year flood of losses. It won't happen again.
(Concluding side note of exuberant anticipation of the season: 5,360 feet above sea level at Folsom Field and facing a new, no-huddle Buffaloes offense with Miracle-Gro freshman additive Darrell Scott on a Thursday night -- that's Week 4 for the Mountaineers, and if that doesn't get your filthy, football-starved fingers twitching a little bit for the season, then you should check yourself for signs of altitude sickness no mater where you're sitting.)

Consider me erect with anticipation.