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The Smoking Musket Roundtable Discusses West Virginia Ground Game, Paul Rhoads & The 2015 Senior Class

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We've moved on up in the world. No longer in a seedy, dimly lit apartment on the west side of Morgantown, we've taken over a crowded banquet hall with all the Dr Pepper we can drink.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Well guys we've moved on up in the world. We no longer have to use Smitty's apartment, we can actually talk like civilized people. In a crowded banquet hall with no elbow room. But the good news is free Dr pepper all night!

Dr Pepper

This week I've kicked out Smitty, John and Brandon for being too nice. Those guys are too eloquent to continue to spend beer money on. This week we welcome Michael Miller, the guy running the Shotgun/Throwdown, JP Fanshawe and we welcome back Will Hirsch.

Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell are on pace for 2600+ yards. How are you feeling about the new Ground Raid TM ?

JP: Well, it certainly has come to life in November, and really, no one has completely shut it down. The best rush defense WVU has seen, TCU, held the Mountaineers to 167 yards rushing, but since that game we are averaging 327 per contest, and with our remaining foes both yielding more than 165 yards per game, and more than 4.4 yards per rush, I believe our success on the ground will continue. Still, every time I watch Skyler Howard carry the ball (and frequently with success these last three games), I wonder at what a more explosive running quarterback might do in this offensive scheme. This is not to slight Howard, but watching William Crest execute some of the same running plays in the second half of the Kansas game was not unlike watching Aaron Rodgers scramble after being used to years of seeing Favre do it. Commentators say we are a run-first team at this point, but I don't think you can pigeon-hole this offense. Had we made more completions through the year, some of those runs might not have been as necessary, and if there is one thing I trust about Holgorsen, it's his offensive prowess. Even when we have been stymied this year, I think it has had more to do with poor execution, than poor design.

Michael: I love it, because it shows me how much Dana Holgorsen has grown as a head coach. His willingness to get away from living and dying by the passing game, and building on the team's strength proves to me that the light is finally starting to come on for him. It gives me hope for the future because good coaches and teams adapt, and that is exactly what this team has done this season. With Wendell Smallwood confirming he would be back in Morgantown next year, and Rushel Shell likely to return, the Mountaineers should be able to build on what they have started this season and, in all honesty, be able to get over that hump and compete with the Big 12 elite.

Will Hirsch: I like the ground and pound game WVU is utilizing. They have a couple talented players in the backfield and they are making sure they get the ball in their hands and allow them to do what they do best. I feel like it's a more successful game plan to use in the Big 12. Also, as we've seen a lot this year, Howard often overthrows his receivers. I like the ground game to set up the pass though.

Paul Rhoads did not make it past Sunday, with social media being lit up over his firing. He was popular with the ISU players and many fans. How concerned are you with Paul orchestrating one last upset?

JP: I read yesterday that Iowa State was ranked as the 64th toughest job in a Power 5 conference out of 65 teams. Despite their 3-8 record this year, I think Rhoads is a pretty good coach and I wonder at who Iowa State thinks they can procure that would do a better job. But then, LSU wants to fire a guy who has averaged 10 wins a year in 11 seasons, so maybe this is just proof that every fanbase, or booster club, is batshit crazy.

(By the way...maybe ask Nebraska how firing decent coaches works out...) This is a long way of saying, hell yeah, I'm concerned that Iowa State might roll in and play the game of their lives. When their quarterback is saying things like: "People can say what they want about coach and all that, but we lost a family member...we're all a family," I tend to think they are going to give their best effort. This is their bowl game, let's win one for coach, etc. You can't forget that these are kids, and now they are kids who feel that they have caused the man who offered them scholarships to lose his job. Still, they have defensive inadequacies that I think will make an upset difficult, and further, WVU is playing for something too: the best bowl it can achieve.

Michael: Paul Rhoads' teams have a history of pulling out the upset in games they have absolutely no business winning, and it goes back to before he was a head coach but we won't discuss that. The Cyclones have been dangerously close to winning a few big games this season already, and this Saturday would be the perfect time for them to finally pull it out. That being said, I believe the Mountaineers should be able to send Rhoads off with one final loss at Iowa State, but if things start getting weird in Morgantown it wouldn't surprise me to see the Cyclones threatening to leave with the win.

Will Hirsch: It reminds me of the talk of firing Dana Holgorsen when WVU was going through that tough stretch where it lost four in a row. We lost to four teams ranked in the top 15. Their combined record was 32-1. If we were to fire Dana, who could we get to come coach the Mountaineers that would be better? If you say you want Rich Rod back, Nick Saban or Les Miles, you are, as JP said, "Batshit Crazy". It looks as though the, "Fire Dana" talk has drastically subsided after winning the game we should be winning. I also agree with JP in that who does Iowa State think it'll get that could do a better job than Paul Rhodes? To answer the actual question, I'm really not that worried about an upset. It's a home game and Dana knows he needs this game to improve his image at WVU to get the Mountaineers to a good bowl game.

These seniors have the distinction of being the first mountaineers solely recruited for the Big 12. Some may have seen light playing time in the last Big East days, but they've mostly played in the new conference. What are your memories of these 22 seniors?

JP: Another quote in the same article in which I read that of the Iowa State quarterback was made by ESPN college football writer Adam Rittenberg, regarding Iowa State's impending coach search: ""They have to think differently. They have to think out of the box because this is a very, very tough conference that's getting deeper." I think we as fans may tend to forget just how much better this conference is top-to-bottom than the Big East was. In that light, I think this first batch of Big XII seniors has done an admirable job, especially when one considers the nadir we reached two years ago, having just lost to Kansas, with a loss to Iowa State looming, to finish a gut-busting 4-8 that left many of us wondering what the future held. Well, it has held back-to-back bowl seasons, which sounds modest when one thinks of what might have been, or how high we fans aim in August. I would say these 22 have been part of laying some great ground work. One thing is for sure, what they may have lacked in talent, they have more than made up for in character.

Michael: These seniors will be remembered for being with the team through all of the growing pains that came with the move to the Big 12. This senior class is a weird one because they're really a combination of the ‘11 and ‘12 recruiting classes. A lot of the ‘12 class were forced into immediate playing time due to the lack of depth left over from the last coaching staff, and they stepped up to the challenge. Looking back through those two classes, there was a lot of attrition but the guys that stuck with the Mountaineers have all made a meaningful impact on the team and should be remembered fondly in the years to come.

Will Hirsch: These seniors should be lauded for staying true to the program through all the hardships it faced in its first season in the Big 12. They could have done the coward thing and transferred but they stuck it out and it's going to pay off. They'll be remembered as the class that did the most to change the direction of the program in the years to come. When WVU is a Big 12 threat, everyone will go back and point to this class and say, "we are here because of them". I just wish we got to see Karl Joseph play one last full season in Morgantown. He's one of those players that wherever he ends up, we'll all be watching because we was a class act on and off the field. Let's not forget how unbelievably good he is as well. His hits are fundamentally sound and they are bone crunching.

Karl Joseph Kills a Man

Karl Joseph Drops the Hammer

Karl Joseph Sideline Hammer

The win over Kansas had special meaning in that it meant the team was bowl eligible. It also meant that Dana would have his first winning record in November. What bowl are you crossing your fingers for and who do you want to play?

JP: I don't know that the math will work for us, due to some head-to-head losses, but I am hoping for the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec 29th vs. an ACC foe. And which ACC foe? Our oldest and fiercest rival, of course. I would freaking love to play Pitt, because they have achieved a modicum of success this year, but I think the ACC is nowhere near the Big XII in terms of top-to-bottom competitiveness and I think we would beat the Panthers handily. If not the Russell, then the Peach, so at the very least so many of our fans who can't make road trips in the Big XII could get their shine on down in Atlanta. Hey, it's closer than anything in Texas!

Michael: I'm really wanting The Backyard Brawl: Florida Edition in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Pitt fans are riding a high right now, and I'd love for us to be the ones to knock them off their high horse. Florida State would be another attractive matchup in the Russell Athletic Bowl, but I would feel less comfortable about our chances of winning that one.

If the Russell Athletic Bowl isn't in the cards I would love to make a return trip to the Liberty Bowl and this time play Tennessee, which should have been the matchup last year.

Will Hirsch: There is no arguing against the Russell Athletic Bowl versus Pitt. The tweet they sent out last week made the possibility even more salivating with it's hilarity. I can't disagree with Michael either in a return to the Liberty bowl to play Tennessee. Playing in Atlanta would be cool but I don't know if I could ever get myself to go to Atlanta after watching The Walking Dead. ESPN's Brett McMurphy has us in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl in Houston, Texas facing Texas A&M. In the words of Michael Scott, "PLEASE GOD, NOOOOO!!!!" The only other one I'd be interested in is the Alamo Bowl vs a Pac 12 opponent.

WVUNite: I have always maintained that if we cannot play our regional rivals during the natural rivalry week of college football, then playing them in a bowl game is the next best thing. I've long talked about the want to play Virginia Tech when the opportunity would arise for bowl game pairings. If we aren't playing for a national title/playoff game, I want a regional rival. As long as the Backyard Brawl is an option, that will always be my number 1 choice.