Confession time fam, I did not see one bit of the Texas game. The wife, kids, dog and I drove from Southern Pennsylvania to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Saturday morning until Sunday evening. I thought to myself, hotels always have a business center and I should be able to log into Chorus (the platform we at the Musket use to write our articles) and write something. Well, the hotel had one computer and it only used Microsoft Internet Explorer. Chorus does not work with Internet Explorer. So I hastily wrote an article on my wife’s old iPhone 5s (the tiny one before they started getting bigger, i.e. usable). Chorus and old Safari aren’t the most compatible, and it didn’t save one of my thoughts. Then my youngest brought a present on the trip. A nasty stomach bug that required us to hole up in the hotel room for 3 straight days until Thanksgiving, then we turned around and drove back. So sorry for no article last week. This week we’ll try to cover both games.
Will Grier’s Injury, the Playcall and Dana’s Responsibility
Ok let’s just cover all of the big stuff from Texas right away. Will Grier’s injury changed our season. With Grier at the helm of the offense, we were a dangerous unit. Offensively, we were a top-10/15 offense who were as prolific as we have seen in years. This is exactly what many fans thought would happen when Grier was announced eligible to start the season, then just like that, he was ripped away from us on one play call.
In the span of three plays, WVU saw two touchdowns taken off the board (correctly), the loss of their star quarterback and possession of the football. There was your season. When I heard Tony Caridi make the call on the IMG network, my heart sank and I knew what we were in for. Chuganov is a good kid and a solid quarterback but he wasn’t going to beat Texas in the rain. He has no timing with Sills, Jennings and White. He might know the offense but he doesn’t have 10 games worth of play to evaluate and muscle memory. Spavital hasn’t gameplanned to his strengths.
Now Dana was extremely critical of the playcall after the game. I think he was emotional after losing his star quarterback but Dana is the head coach/CEO and if he doesn’t like the call, its his job to kill that play before it ever makes the game chart.
That play right there, that’s an inefficient play. I mean its 2nd-and-1 on the 1, why do you have to have the quarterback run all the way around the edge to be able to get the ball, when the quarterback is running the ball, bad things happen at times. It happened to Texas four weeks ago - Dana Holgorsen, Texas Post Game
Couple things here: a) you are the head coach/CEO and you should be approving or disapproving of all play calls either the week of or during the game. If you don’t want your quarterback running the ball on a naked bootleg, you need to tell your offensive coordinator so. b) We ran our quarterback 150 times last year. I don’t think anyone is mad if Grier scores and isn’t hurt there so everyone is just mad at the result. You can’t be mad at results. If Grier scores and isn’t hurt, is anyone questioning the playcall? No, because everyone was loving Grier’s toughness against Virginia Tech, his elusiveness against TCU and his ability to slide out of tackles against K-State. It is and was a part of his game.
I thought Chris Chuganov played about as well as could be expected. He was put in a tough spot to come into a game, with a downpour and beat one of the best defense’s in the conference. While Dana is right that Texas was able to win a few games with their backup quarterback, put the right context on it. Ehlinger beat San Jose State, Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas. He didn’t beat a ranked team until we lost Grier. He also scored 17 points against Iowa State (we scored 20 btw), he scored 38 against Baylor (same as us) but his defense held Baylor to 7. Ehlinger did not beat Kansas (Buechele was back). So yes, Texas won with its backup but he wasn’t the second coming. Ehlinger is also a dual threat quarterback versus Shane Buechele’s pocket passer. When your number two quarterback is a different style QB, many times that throws off a defensive gameplan. We saw it first hand against Baylor when Charlie Brewer was inserted. Chuganov is not a runner. He is a pocket passer like Grier. It was no surprise he struggled. I know some of y’all are going to bring up the “why can’t we develop a quarterback” narrative but you can drop that here and now. Give Chuganov a full season and then come back at me.
While so many fans are on Jake Spavital, why is Tony Gibson getting a pass from you? ON the flip side, many of you were ready to run Dana out of town not a few weeks ago and give the team to Tony, are we still doing that after giving up 28 and then 59 points?
I’ve suggested that the 3-3-5 may no longer be suitable to the Big 12. I think a four man front is necessary. Part of my issue is the run defense and part of it is the pressure on the quarterback. A 4-2-5 could be the solution. If it is, it means that Gibson won’t be on this team as he has stated he will only run a 3-man front.
The bigger question for me is, why is our tackling so bad and how has it not improved this year? Every single game, players are going for shoulder missile hits instead of wrapping up. I have to believe that this is a taught effort because it has been consistent. That head-down, shoulder tackle effort by the defensive backs have cost us games. We could have stopped Kenny Hill at the goalline if we wrapped up.
This defense lost a lot of playmakers last year, so regression was expected. Can you say however that this defense is better than was day one against Virginia Tech? I’m not sure I can. They came into the OU game allowing 29 points/game and will end the year allowing 31/game. Last year that was 24. They entered OU allowing 194 (!!!) yards a game and let the Sooners rush for 313, the second time a defense has rushed for 300 yards against the Mountaineers this season. On and on down the defensive stats, this year was not a good year for Tony Gibson’s unit.
Jake Spavital and this offense
All year it seems like Jake Spavital has been on the hot seat with you fans. He doesn’t run enough, or he’s broken the offense. I’m going to breakdown Spav and this offense over the course of the next month, but I do think some of your frustration is misplaced. ON the season, the offense ran 891 plays. Of those 891, 440 were run plays. That is 49% of the play calls for runs. Granted, running 51 times against Oklahoma has skewed those numbers, so let’s look at the first 11 games of the season. We ran 820 plays in the first 11 games. We passed the ball 421 times and ran the ball 389 times. That isn’t a huge disparity. Through 11 games it was 39 passes to 35 runs.
I thought Spavital did a good job here. He was brought in to help make the offense more explosive (it was), to score more points (we did) and his presence helped bring Will Grier to West Virginia. Not only did he help bring Grier, he helped convince Jack Allison to come here along with the current crop of quarterbacks in the recruiting trail. Spavital is a quarterback guru.
I’ve said before and I’ll say it again our best asset was Will Grier’s right arm. When push comes to shove, I too would lean on Grier making a play instead of handing the ball off. If you are going to be a pass-first offense and you won’t allow your quarterback to run, you need a bigger, beefier offensive line. You need the right running backs. I’m not sure West Virginia had that this year. Against East Carolina, who allowed 235 yards a game, the Mountaineers only produced 211 yards on the ground in 47 carries. When they should have been salting the game away, Spavital called run after run after run and saw his team get 1 yard, 3 yards, 1 yard, 4 yards. IN the second half they produced 64 yards on the ground at a clip of 2.9/carry. Is that Spavital’s fault or is it the personnel? Is it Jake’s fault that Justin Crawford seemed to only be good for 15 carries a game and then was done? Should they have run him more early in the season when he always seems to breakdown later in the season?
This Oklahoma debacle
Ok, now let’s get to crux of everything. Why in the world are we so un-competitive against Oklahoma? The Mountaineers have never beaten the Sooners and have now lost to Oklahoma by: 1, 7, 12, 20, 28 and 28 points. It should be noted that Tony Gibson has never held Oklahoma to less than 44 points.
The trend against the Sooners is ugly. Oklahoma continues to score more and more points. Last night was the third time since 2012 that OU has scored 50 points on the Mountaineers. Baylor is the only other team to do that. With the Sooners though, the games have been uglier and uglier. Oklahoma has made sure that West Virginia was out of the game by half time the last two years. Baker Mayfield has completely owned West Virginia.
Some fans want to point out that West Virginia “used to compete” in these games. Yes, when it came to BCS games, West Virginia won big games. Against Oklahoma, we beat them with Pat White, Owen Schmitt and Noel Devine playing their hearts out while Oklahoma was playing without certain players. Also note that West Virginia only had to get up two or three times a year. It is much easier for teams to get up for that one or two big ranked teams a year than it is to maintain a level of excellence weekly. It is why you see upsets in college football, not because Appalachian State is better than Michigan, or a 4-7 Pitt team is better than Miami, but because college kids don’t put in the effort against lackluster opponents and sometimes it comes back to bite them.
For West Virginia, they are still competing in these games. You aren’t paying attention if you aren’t seeing that West Virginia has been in the conference conversation further and further every year. We were still in contention for the Big 12 Championship Game all the way until last week when Oklahoma State lost to K-State. We technically could have still made the title game this week with enough right bounces (including a Kansas win, so.....) but the point is that WVU is still playing for something in Week 11 and Week 12. West Virginia just isn’t competing against Oklahoma. Welcome to playing a college blue blood every year. Here is where Dana, Tony, Jake, and the rest of the crew are going to earn those paychecks. You need to recruit better and find a way to make these games closer to 2013 instead of 28 point blowouts.
7-5 is better than you think
Going to end on this note, West Virginia just finished a regular season in which it played SIX teams who were RANKED in the Top 25 at the time they were played. West Virginia had never played more than five before.
In 1994, against five ranked opponents, the team finished 7-6. They went 2-3 against ranked teams.
In 2003, against five ranked opponents, the team finished 8-5. They went 2-3 against ranked teams.
In 2007, against five ranked opponents, the team finished 11-2. They went 4-1 against ranked opponents.
In 2014, against five ranked opponents the team finished 7-6. They went 1-4 against ranked opponents.
According to the metrics, West Virginia had the 26th toughest schedule this year. It’s schedule this year was tougher than Miami, who went 10-2, tougher than Virginia Tech who went 9-3, tougher than Wisconsin who went 12-0, tougher than Washington who went 10-2.
This team was in all likelyhood an 8-win regular season team before Grier gets injured. It could still get 8 wins in a bowl game. 18 wins in two years is damn good.