In a marked difference from what we saw last year West Virginia looked (mostly) how good teams are supposed to look as they thumped the Kansas Jayhawks with relative ease, leading from the start and winning 3.3-14. In last year's recap (which ironically might have been the best thing I wrote all year) I said this:
Every game isn't a night game and every game doesn't require your very best and sometimes a competent football team led by adults who are paid handsomely for the task simply needs to stride into a half-empty stadium surrounded by a running track and get a win.
Well in that same vein sometimes a good football team needs to just kick the crap out of a lousy football team even if their focus is on the bevy of important games awaiting down the pike. Today, despite a variety of missteps and the requisite special teams head-smackers, The West Virginia Mountaineers did just that.
On offense the damage was done early and often, most notably from human grappling hook Kevin White, who racked up 4 of his catches and 127 of his yards in the first quarter including a 68 yard catch and run and the prettiest jump ball grab in pretty good coverage you'll ever see. In once instance Kansas blanketed him in triple coverage, committed pass interference and he STILL nearly came down with the ball. He woud total 6 catches and 132 yards on the day, totals that could have doubled or tripled had WVU so desired.
The Mountaineers pushed things early, building a 26-0 halftime lead largely through the air before settling into a predominantly ground attack to grind out the 3rd and 4th quarters. Clint Trickett was quite democratic in spreading the ball around, targeting 8 different receivers for his 20 completions, including 4 for 80 yards to Mario Alford and the first catch of the year for Vernon Davis on his nifty 26 yard catch and run. On the whole his numbers were good: 20/35 for 302 yards, a touchdown and an interception if not up to the standard his 400 yard per game average has set.
The Mountaineers clearly entered this game wanting to establish things on the ground and to a large extent they did. Rushel Shell notched his first 100 yard game at West Virginia, gaining 113 years on 21 totes. Wendell Smallwood added 47 of his own on 10 carries and Dustin Garrison had 39 on 5, all in the second half. Unfortunately Garrison's second half production was the exception as WVU didn't manage an offensive TD in the 3rd or 4th quarters and the only second half score came from Mario Alford's 95 yard kick return.
West Virginia's defense was maybe even more impressive than the offense, although gauging the quality of the performance against this Jayhawk squad is much like determining if an 18 year old is good at basketball because he dominated his 5 year old brother. Montell Cozart and Michael Cummings combined for 12/27 for 108 yards, no scores and no picks. The defense was unable to create a turnover. But domination is domination and WVU did that. Only twice that I could count did a KU drive start in their territory and end up crossing the WVU 50. In fact, the only time they found any success was courtesy the lone WVU unit that had a bad, bad day.
Special (explicative)ing Teams.
It wasn't perfect, but it was a win. West Virginia did what good teams are supposed to do and dispatched the Kansas Jayhawks with (relative) ease, 33-14. West Virginia Yawns, Beats Kansas 33-14
I'm not going to make a mistake I've made before and allow the breathtaking physical speed of Mario Alford or leg of Josh Lambert to obscure the awful, horrible, terrible job being done by the men currently in charge of WVU's punt return and punt coverage units. At this point Jordan Thompson has muffed 3 punts, let more bounce by him in fear and made countless poor decisions AND HE'S THE ONLY PLAYER THAT HAS FIELDED A PUNT ALL YEAR. That is not Squirt's fault. That is the fault of grown men paid up to half a million dollars a year to coach one of the other 90 young men at their disposal to do what I sit and watch college teams do with ease week in and week out. This is unacceptable and it will very likely cost WVU an important game in the next 2 months. That it is such a foreseeable problem makes it only more frustrating that it can't be solved.
Punt coverage isn't much better. They've now allowed 2 touchdowns in the last 3 games. Fortunately by the time it happened today the game was well in hand. Hopefully they are so fortunate next time. Both of these gaffes led directly to all of Kansas' 14 points.
It is unfortunate that what should have been a relatively satisfactory victory will be overshadowed by the re-emergence (again and again and again) of the same special teams problems that nobody seems to be able to solve. This coaching staff will face some very tough and very fair questions about the decisions made on who to put in certain situations and it will be interesting to see what the answers are. With a trip of immense importance to Lubbock, Texas looming on the schedule that could very well determine the trajectory of this season, those answers need to be meaningful and thoughtful.
West Virginia stands at 3-2 and that is a good thing. But it's a 3-2 fraught with questions and a long way from a successful season. There is work left to do and we're watching and waiting.