The West Virginia Mountaineers seemed to be operating on cruise control, and that was enough to take care of the overwhelmed Youngstown State Penguins. The Penguins took advantage of the Mountaineers seemingly sleepy attitude in the first half as well as their somewhat stubborn insistence on cover zero defense.
Youngstown briefly held a 14-7 advantage in the first half, before WVU tied the game at fourteen and never trailed again. Its hard to find anything terribly encouraging about the Mountaineers performance in this one, but it is likewise difficult to get overly concerned.
Despite the first half deficit, it never felt like WVU was going to be in danger of losing this game. YSU had a very good offensive line and really looked like a well coached and disciplined football team. They just were never going to be able to compete for four quarters on the road, in the heat, against what certainly is, on paper, the most talented football team that WVU has ever put on the field.
Again, this one seemed to provide few meaningful answers, but lets look at a couple of questions for which we may be able to find some answers.
How will the defense replace all that NFL talent?
Ugh, still very much up in the air. WVU played a lot of cover zero, particularly in the first half. It very much began to feel like Gibby was putting his kids on an island and daring them to make plays. They showed a lot of weaknesses and let Youngstown’s receivers get behind them regularly.
While it doesn’t seem likely that this will be the defensive game plan going forward- this defense better get a lot more pressure on opposing quarterbacks (0 sacks yesterday) if they expect the defensive backs to have any chance in conference play. Which leads to-
Is the defensive line going to be the anchor of this defense?
This unit has the most experience of any on the defensive side of the ball. It was supposed to anchor the defense. Yesterday, against an FCS opponent, they managed zero sacks and yielded 4.5 yards per rush. Last week we asked how the defense was going to respond replacing so many starters. After yesterday, this question looms even larger moving forward.
Luckily, Gibby has a week off to work on these issues before a neutral site game against a BYU team that has looked less than spectacular to date.
You won’t get much sympathy for the Skyler Howard critics here. He’s clearly the best option on the roster and he’s actually (don’t tell anyone) pretty good. 20-33 (61%) and five touchdown passes is really darn good. I still can’t give a good reason for why he can hit posts and outs in stride but can’t keep a crossing route within three feet of his intended receiver’s head, but again, if this is how he manages games for the rest of the season, the majority of blame for any potential losses will not fall on his head.
How good are WVU’s running backs?
Really, really good. Rushel Shell averaged over five yards a carry. Justin Crawford had a lackluster day after a breakout debut last week. Freshman Kennedy McKoy made his presence and talent known yesterday. He tallied 55 yards on just four touches and walked into the end zone for what we can only assume will be his first of many touchdowns for the old gold and blue.
Will Shorts have help (or will White and/or Gibson prove consistent)?
Granted, it was an FCS opponent, but Shelton Gibson looked like the dynamic playmaker he showed signs of last season. He was regularly behind the defense and caught 6 balls for 171 yards and two touchdowns. He reminded everyone why his YPC was so jaw dropping a season ago.
Daikiel Shorts was still consistent. He was the target Skyler looked for when plays broke down, the pressure was on, or the sticks needed to move. It’s always good to have a safety blanket and Shorts seems to provide that for Howard.
Ka’Raun White is looking more and more like his older brother. He had 5 catches for 88 yards and a 53 yard touchdown. With Gibson and White on the outside, WVU has two potential NFL talents that should provide a constant bilateral threat to opposing defenses.
I won’t pretend to think that a lot can be learned from this game. WVU came out sluggish and not particularly motivated, but it didn’t matter one bit. They handled their business and will have an extra week to get ready for their final non-conference game of the season.
The Big 12 is looking more and more winnable with every opponent’s stumble. If WVU can continue to improve and keep their cool in close games, the schedule is favorable and the talent is there to not only save Dana Holgorsen’s job, but to make this a special season in its own right.