It wasn't want we wanted and it probably wasn't what we expected, but it happened all the same. There's a lot to unpack as we close the book on the 2014 West Virginia Mountaineers and no better way to do that then a trip through the Twitters. Let's jump right into the deep end, because wading in from the shallow side is for sissies and Pitt fans.
After 4 good years, this account will be ending next week. Here's my resignation letter. pic.twitter.com/mgphZ7XoUQ— Not Dana Holgorsen (@FauxHolgorsen) December 23, 2014
Our week got off to a rocky start with the retirement announcement of one of our favorite Twitter accounts. FauxHolgs managed to be funny and engaging and keep us laughing through an up and down four years.....and he will be missed. If you want a last look back, we got a little peek behind the curtain with my Musket Q&A (he gave me some good stuff - I highly recommend it) and if you want a few final guffaws you can't do any better than this amazing sit-down he did with Mike Casazza (in character of course). This was probably the funniest thing I read all week.
Why does this hurt more than our real life AD leaving? "MT @FauxHolgorsen: After 4 good years, this account will be ending next week."— Adam Russell (@JAdamRuss) December 23, 2014
No idea why. But this is 100% true.
The week did not get better. Although in some ways maybe it did. I've had a lingering fear since he came out of the Kansas State game that Clint Trickett has not been right and continuing to play might not be in his long-term interest. I was glad that he finally came to a decision that, while I'm sure it was unthinkably difficult, was almost certainly in the best interest of his long-term health.
I tackled this subject in some detail in the first part of my game preview, and please give it a read if you'd like. Here are the two important points that I think make up Clint's WVU legacy.
First he came along at a time when the Mountaineer program was reeling and looking for some form of on-field leadership and he provided it to the tune of a 6-2 start that was better than anyone could have imagined. Ultimately his health caught up to him and the season ended with a whimper, but without his contribution and taking the reins, there's no telling where things could be. We could very well be looking at a coaching turnover and a WVU brand falling further off the national radar. As it was the Mountaineers hosted ESPN's College GameDay, spent a chunk of the season ranked and were relevant in a way we hadn't seen in a couple years. That matters.
Perhaps we won't truly appreciate Clint's contribution and legacy until we're another year or two down the road and see where things are. Then we can look back and know that the destination was only enabled by an undersized signal caller who answered the call and gave everything he had to this program. Thanks, Clint.
The second part isn't quite as fun and it involves how the Mountaineer coaching staff handles concussions. Head injury in the game of football has been the focus of much attention as we begin to understand the full consequences of multiple concussions. We know a lot more than we did even 5 years ago and what we learn only deepens the concern we should have for this type of injury. When you have a guy suffer 5 concussions in a 14 month span and only 2 of them are detected at the time, you have a problem.
Certainly Clint bears some responsibility but there are a lot of grown men paid a lot of money to make sure the ultimate decision about whether to play isn't his. Whatever the concussion protocol of the WVU staff was clearly doesn't work and it needs to be altered. With the coming storm of concussion-related suits on the horizon that's simply not a place WVU can afford to come up short.
The legacy of @CJTrickett9? Simple. With backs to the wall & facing tall odds the Mountaineer offense needed an anchor. He was that anchor.— Jed Drenning (@TheSignalCaller) December 26, 2014
Mountaineer fans traveled pretty well for the game and from all accounts Memphis was a fun place to party. Also props to Steve who is a Memphis resident, has been a Mountaineer fan for a long time and went above and beyond to help out folks unfamiliar with the city and just in general was the personification of southern hospitality.
Hope so! @abpriddy: with the way their season went & what sounds like tepid crowd think A&M may be in sim place to 2012 WVU?— Jed Drenning (@TheSignalCaller) December 29, 2014
For a variety of reasons, not least of all this one, I really thought WVU was well-positioned to win this game. A&M's 2014 season trajectory almost mimicked perfectly that of the 2012 Mountaineers with the early-season surge and late-season stumble, and we all remember how that team looked in the bowl game. But the Aggies didn't show an ounce of hangover and it is a credit to their coaching staff that they had this team 100% prepared to play. From a motivational standpoint they were clearly ready to go and from a schematic standpoint they picked what had been an impressive Mountaineer defense to pieces.
On the other side of the coin, my least favorite development of the week is that we officially have some pretty big questions on how good of a job this WVU staff does getting these guys ready to play in a bowl.
Hey, we had former Mountaineer tight end Anthony Becht in the booth! Good times!! Unfortunately I forgot to DVR the game so I'm not sure how good a job Becht did, but it was cool to have a WVU guy in that spot. Here's hoping he continues to find more work in that capacity.
Looked like miscommunication in the secondary. Worley and Joseph were not on the same page, Reynolds was wide open.— Greg Madia (@GregMadia) December 29, 2014
Felt like this happened a lot this year. Or maybe it just happened in really big situations and every time it happened someone from the other team ran a long, long way and scored. I'll go glass-half-full and say "boy this means an already very good secondary has room to improve for 2015! Hot diggity!!"
(nope. still pissed.)
On the one hand, we taught kids to make that play for decades and lauded the big hit. On the other, it was probably targeting.— OurDailyBears (@OurDailyBears) December 29, 2014
Eventually guys will filter thorough having been taught this new brand of football from the time they learned the game, but for guys of this generation it just sucks. All I knew was TAMU was out a starting safety and I was just feeling better and better about WVU's chances, 0-7 deficit be damned.
Also let's take a moment and tip our collective caps to Jordan Thompson. I can't think of a more resilient player on the WVU roster, both emotionally and physically. First Squirt was a lightning rod for the punt return problems, having criticism heaped upon him (sometimes even by Smoking Musket bloggers who shall, uh, remain, uh, nameless) because he was the only guy with the testicular fortitude to take on a job nobody wanted.
Now with that behind him he's taken to fearlessly going over the middle to make catches and has often been served none too well by the guys throwing him the ball. Yet he keeps going into no-man's-land and sticking his head in there to make plays. I can count 3 bone-crushing shots Squirt has taken this year and every time he's come back out for more. I just respect the hell out of that young man to the extent that the other night I tweeted him that very thing - and I NEVER tweet players. You're a bad little man, Squirt and I hope you have a huge 2015.
Every time I see the Liberty Bowl, it makes me long for old Tampa Stadium.— Matt Hayes (@Matt_HayesSN) December 29, 2014
I agree (I actually attended a bowl game in old Tampa Stadium back in 1993) and move we call it The Little Sombrero.
What a total lack of class from Texas A&M no. 31! Did he seriously expect people to cheer him for getting ejected for targeting?— Amy Willard (@AmyWillard2) December 29, 2014
A&M safety Howard Matthews certainly got his money's worth as he made his exit from the stadium after being ejected for the aforementioned targeting on Jordan Thompson, basking in the jeers and playing to the crowd as he made his way to the tunnel. I think it was a window into the mindset A&M entered the game with. I was all ready to lump this in with coaches smacking WVU players out-of-bounds and chippy players yapping all day and talk about the Aggies' lack of class, but on the backside of a backside beating, I think I'll instead say that I just wish WVU had entered the game with that kind of an edge and attitude.
Seems like we had a few of these this year. What can I say, sometimes you're just unlucky.
Mario Alford has speed from another dimension. I've run out of ways to describe it.
Fourth-and-5 for Texas A&M turns into a 40-yard TD pass over a blitz to Trey Williams. WVU now up 17-14. Still 1:28 left in first quarter.— Mike Casazza (@mikecasazza) December 29, 2014
This was almost the exact same play TCU tried against the Mountaineers in a similar situation, only that time WVU linebacker Wes Tonkery got away with a little hold to throw off the rhythm and the ball bounced harmlessly to the turf. Sometimes you make a call on defense and the offensive coordinator makes a better call and you get beat. I still wasn't terribly worried at this point. As far as I was concerned WVU still had the better defense and eventually they'd make a play. This just wasn't that play.
But boy was it important. Hold them here and you've got the ball near midfield with a 10 point lead and a truckload of momentum. This was a pretty big swing play early and the biggest indication that A&M came to play.
He just looked so damn good early, which made what happened in the 2nd half all the more inexplicable. Skyler Howard finished the first half 11/19 for 195 yards, 2 TDs. Not too shabby. His second half numbers would be 9 of 26 for 151 and one score, but during the third quarter when the Aggies were making their run he was abysmal: 2/12 for 44 yards and no scores, at one time throwing 5 straight incompletions. The Mountaineers had the ball 3 times in that quarter and only once came away with points - a Josh Lambert field goal.
Meanwhile Texas A&M scored on all 3 of their drives - a pair of TDs and a field goal. The game was lost during this stretch here - Howard couldn't get anything going and the Mountaineer defense had no answers.
Again, he started out so well and then........just a giant fart noise.
Maybe it wasn't a good look for them, but they played with an edge that WVU lacked. That's happened in 2 out of 3 bowl games during the Holgorsen era, and for those of us with long memories has frankly been a hallmark of every WVU bowl game without Pat White. I don't know what that means, I just know it's not good.
I'm not even offended by the guy being a jerk 'cause hey, some people are jerks. But the sheer stupidity of this was mind-boggling. There are like 20 cameras at this game. It's on live national TV. DID HE THINK NOBODY WOULD SEE?! You are an idiot Swag CEO and I hope you enjoy watching A&M games from somewhere other than the sideline since you flushed your golden ticket down the toilet. Dick.
Mountaineers simply cannot run the ball against this front today ...— John Antonik (@JohnAntonik) December 29, 2014
This shocked me. A&M was giving up an average of 271 yards on the ground in conference play and with WVU's often-productive ground game I thought the Mountaineers would commit to running the ball and wearing down the Aggie front. Instead we got a steady diet of Skyler Howard incompletions on first down.
The play log during that seminal 3rd quarter is quite telling. WVU ran 6 first down plays. Twice they ran the ball - once to Wendell Smallwood and once to Rushel Shell - and gained 7 yards on each of those runs. The other 4 plays run on1st down were all Howard incompletions. That put WVU behind the 8-ball and was the primary reason that the offense stalled.
This was the other major factor in WVU's ineptitude. The 3-3-5 stack is most effective when you have a front 3 who can at least make the quarterback uncomfortable if not sack him and WVU's front didn't give Kyle Allen problems at all, in fact Holgorsen called them "terrible" in his postgame comments. It's not a defense where your front is doing to build a lot of stats, but they have to be able to get in the backfield and make the quarterback move his feet and not simply set and dissect. Didn't happen at all.
"That was TOTALLY roughing the kicker against Josh Lambert!" - every man watching the Liberty Bowl— Eric Little (@TheEricLittle) December 29, 2014
Yeah. Ouch. Ugh. Not cool, A&M, not cool.
"Yeah!! Our kicker is great!! this is a good thing!!"
"Wait, why are we kicking so many field goals?"
Lambert's prolific season as much as anything stands as evidence of a Mountaineer offense that simply can't close the deal in the red zone. They pick up the girl, take her to dinner, have a nice evening, bring her home.....and then get a nice hug and peck on the cheek as the ball sails through the uprights.
Maybe we should call it the Friend Zone instead of the Red Zone.
It was a nice run, boys. Thanks for the ride.
I like it.
Reporter: "Tony, what did you thin of the tackling effort overall?" Tony Gibson: "Terrible. Terrible."— Mike Casazza (@mikecasazza) December 30, 2014
Here's the thing about that. I was listening to Jeff Culhane's Mountaineer Insider podcast on the way to the game and I can't remember if it was a direct quote from Gibson or a comment Jeff was relaying he'd heard from Gibby, but someone was noting that you could immediately tell the effort in a bowl game from the tackling. On top of that WVU's coaches couldn't rave enough about how great the Mountaineers had been tackling and Holgorsen went so far as to say "effort was a problem 2 years ago. That won't be a problem this year."
Guess what, it was a problem. And nobody seems to have seen it coming at all.
On a personal note I wanted to give a big thank you to Smitty, Bart and their crew for letting me crash their tailgate on Monday. Until then I had only interacted with them over the blog - Smitty via a ton of email, texts and on the podcast and Bart in the comments section. And not only that, but they helped me land a ticket with them in a fantastic location (4 rows up behind the WVU bench at the 40 yard line) which was nice given that I'd driven in from Nashville ticketless. Despite the game's outcome I had a great time the whole day and am hoping to post a more detailed and entertaining account in the next day or so.
It's been a real pleasure to be part of building a community of Mountaineer fans here at the Musket and it was very cool to see that virtual community extend to the real world. I enjoyed throwing back a few cold ones and talking Mountaineer football with some new friends who felt like old friends. The internet is cool, y'all.
And that does it for our season. I just want to take a minute to thank each and every one of you who have taken the time to read, comment and tweet this year. I'm always amazed that anyone would think enough of my blather to make it through 2,000+ words or recommend it to their friends, much less call it their "favorite post of the week" (I'm convinced that's my mom on rouge twitter accounts). We had a fantastic 2014 at the Musket as our readership made a huge leap from last year and my favorite part personally was doing this feature every week and seeing the reader response. Y'all really are the best by-gawd fans in the land.
You probably won't be hearing a lot from me in the coming months, we have a new baby boy on the way and my day job is about to get very busy, but I'll be here lurking the Twitters and Musket comment section. Maybe I'll even throw out a special edition of the Retweet every now and again. Until then have a great 2015 and...