Revisiting the keys
On Friday we said we needed big plays in the passing game and pressure on Shimonek to get the job done. We didn’t have both at all times on Saturday, but we definitely everything working for the entirety of that beautiful 18-point comeback. Will hit 4 pass plays of 20+ yards (plus a handful that forced DPI) and tossed 5 huge touchdowns (including 4 in the second half), but more importantly, we were repeatedly able to flush Shimonek out of the pocket, culminating in Adam Shuler's huge 3rd down sack when it was 39-35 late in the 4th. Shimonek has been solid when he has time, but he has very little of the playmaking magic that the departed Mahomes exhibited when scrambling. I think our ability to make him move around and throw on the run late in the game played a huge role in our completing the comeback.
Our receivers are ridiculous
So we're now six games in - I think we can officially say that David Sills is just this good, right? The guy caught 3 more touchdowns on Saturday, bringing his season total to 12. Nobody else in the country is even in double digits, and only 23 other guys have more than 5. And he's not even sneaking up on anybody at this point. Teams know that he’s coming and he still just goes out there and dunks on them week after week. I don't even really know who (or what) to compare him to. His body control is preternatural; Stedman is the only guy we've had in recent memory who's even close, only Sills is 6'4 instead of 5'11. And the way he gets open is uncanny - just super smooth body swerve combined with long strides. I’ve heard him described as "deceptively fast", which is just a PC way of saying he's fast for a white guy, but IMO that doesn’t do his perpetual openness justice.
I also like that we’re finding fun ways to use him. Watch his first touchdown of the afternoon:
Notice anything weird about that? Watch it again, and this time check out where Sills is lined up pre-snap. Dude is down in a three point stance as a tight end. That's why the safety reacts like he appeared out of thin air - because he pretty much did. We probably won't fool anybody that badly again, but it's a testament to both he and Spavs that they were not only able to think that up but also felt comfortable enough to actually go out and execute it on Saturday.
And no, I didn't forget about the rest of the gang. Gary Jennings has been fantastic, and has stepped so seamlessly into the Daikiel Shorts role that we've hardly missed him. Jennings has 24 receptions this year that have gone for 1st downs, which in addition to being good for 4th in the conference and 23rd nationally puts him exactly on pace to match the 48 that Shorts had last year. Ka’Raun White started slowly but has elevated his game since the start of conference play and is beginning to show some of that overwhelming physicality that made his brother such a nightmare a few years back. Those 2 touchdowns Saturday bring his total to 5 on the year, and his ability to consistently win 1 on 1 balls on the outside is turning into a real X-factor. Marcus Simms has been just OK, but he's still super fast and makes sense as our 4th option. He’s also been a welcome addition on special teams where I think it’s only a matter of time before he hits a home run. There's definitely not as much depth as we'd like behind those four, but together they've accounted for more yards than any other foursome in the country and there's a real chance that three of them could wind up over 1000 on the season. That’s mind-boggling.
Our young defense is quietly getting their feet under them
It’s not exactly a secret that our defense is featuring several new faces this year, but I feel like it's flying under the radar a bit that we’re getting some increasingly good performances from some of those guys, most notably true freshmen Lamont McDougle and Kenny Robinson. Both of them have started for the past two weeks now and are definitely worth keeping an eye on as we move forward. Getting David Long and Toyous Avery back has undoubtely provided a bigger boost, but you have to figure these youngsters will continue to improve with each passing week as they become more acclimated to the rigors of D1 football.
The Big 12 is really good this year
A more general thought from Saturday is that the Big 12 seems like a much better conference than anybody is giving us credit for. That was a good football team we just beat, and a quick glance around the conference doesn't reveal many weak links.
At the top of the standings, TCU is 6-0 and looks solid, while Oklahoma is flawed but was still talented enough to waltz into Columbus and beat Ohio State. In the next tier, Oklahoma State is good and Texas Tech is good. We're somewhere between good and really good. Texas is playing better. Kansas State is Kansas State. Even Iowa State was able to beat Oklahoma. The only "easy" outs in the conference right now are Baylor and Kansas, and Baylor still scares me plenty despite that 0-6 record. There are probably one or two other conferences that can go 7 or 8 deep like that, but all of them have 14 teams to choose from. I don't know. Just seems like a narrative that deserves a little more national attention.
Pinto's Pick Me Up, sponsored by Pitt
We don't really need the pick me up this week, but Pitt was kind enough to make their second straight appearance nonetheless. A round of applause for Pitt, ladies and gentlemen.
So some of you may have heard of Kwantel Raines by now, but if you haven't, Raines is a highly-touted 6'3 215 lb swiss-army knife who was built in a lab to play Spur for us. He's relevant because right now the consensus is that his recruitment is down to us and Pitt, and he skipped a scheduled official visit to watch them lose to NC State on Saturday (who can blame him?). He's said that he's announcing his decision on October 30th, so stay tuned. In the meantime, check him out:
Football is a funny game. We were probably the better team against both VT and TCU and lost; Texas Tech was the better team for three quarters on Saturday and we won.
I hate to get ahead of myself here, but that really felt like the kind of win that could be the start of something special. I've felt all year that we were really close, but for whatever reason we just couldn't get over the hump. A busted coverage here, a rogue OPI there. Well, Saturday we got over it.
I honestly had as much fun watching that 4th quarter as I've had doing anything in a long time, and you could tell those kids out on the field were enjoying it every bit as much as I was. It was almost like we had to prove it to ourselves that we could finish a game like that. And now we have. We can exhale, collect ourselves, and focus on getting this thing rollin’.
Looking ahead, we have another huge one this weekend, and we can't get caught peeking at 10/28. Baylor may be 0-6, but they still have a bunch of the guys who have given us trouble over the years, and they have us at home. At night. If we're being honest, losing this game in the wake of a big win would be just about the most West Virginia thing ever, but then again, laying an egg on Homecoming in a must-win would've been right up there, as well. And you know what? We didn't let that happen. We fought back, and more importantly, we saw how good we can be. I think this stretch run is about to be pretty damn exciting. On to Baylor.