clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What I Think About West Virginia’s 2017 Bowl Game and Season

Another season that started out with promise, ended with disappointment and now we start the familiar chant of “ year”

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl - West Virginia v Utah Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

What I Think About....

...The Heart of Dallas Bowl

The fans didn’t care. The players didn’t care. The staff didn’t care and all of that showed up on the field. The University, according to tweets, sold less than 2,000 tickets of its allotment. Less than 30,000 people showed up to the game, in a stadium that holds 90,000 or more people. No one was excited for the game.

This affected a lot of the performance. Playing essentially a glorified scrimmage with no energy from the crowd, on a rainy day against an opponent that the Mountaineers have only ever faced one time took ever single bit of fun in college football and threw it out the window.

...that “fair catch”

This happened right in front of the ref. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. People make mistakes and coincidences happen but this. This is f@#%ing unacceptable. Screw the fact that the penalty would have put West Virginia near midfield. You want to talk about player safety and how we can’t play more games because of “student”-athletes, then this call has to be made. Simms clearly puts his hand over his head. His entire arm is extended. It wasn’t an alligator arm fair catch. You must protect the players. When no one threw a flag, Dana Holgorsen should have gone full blown fuse.

Completely unacceptable. I am unable to write a family-friendly response to this.

....Jake Spavital

I really like Jake. Besides sharing my name, I think he is a really talented play schemer. You can see it, even in the bowl game, receivers were able to get free on one-on-one chances. Utah made its living by not giving up the deep pass, and they didn’t this game, but it wasn’t always the corner who stopped those passes. A good throw and West Virginia hits on several deep bombs.

Part of that is the problem. Chris Chugunov proved early on that he and the receivers still did not have any timing. Instead of calling short, quick throws to get Chris into a rhythm early, give him some confidence and possible see how the Utah defense would play, Jake continued to call the same offense he called all year: run the ball just enough to get a positive gain then throw it as deep as you can as many times as you can until you have to punt.

I can forgive a few series in attempting to solve the defense and figure out what Chris can and cannot do. It is unfathomable to think that every fan who watched the game saw Chris was having a bad game with the gameplan that was being called. The refusal to change the scheme to what seemingly worked well for Chris is inexcusable. To continue to call plays like you have Will Grier behind center and not Chris is inexcusable.

Overall, I really like Jake but this game opened my eyes. I was quick to defend Jake when people complained about the run game. Some of the criticisms were unfounded, West Virginia ran the ball nearly as much as they passed, but some of the criticisms were completely rooted in reality. Jake never gave the run a chance to work. Jake was always quick to think that a run play that gained even minimal success of 4 or 5 yards should be followed up with a deep throw.

The consistency of the plays called rarely gave the run game a chance to work. Run plays are stack plays as the offense likes to call them. One run play stacks onto another. They give the running back a chance to get a feel for the defense. They give the offensive line a chance to impose their strength on the defense. They keep the quarterback upright and from getting hit. When the OC immediately goes away from a run play that works, you don’t give the offense a chance to do all the positive things that happen when you run the ball.

...Will Grier & Chris Chugunov

Will Grier is one of the most talented players to ever play for WVU. He might be the highest rated player to don the old gold and blue. When Will was under center, the hope of a win was always available. Chris Chugunov is not Will Grier. That is not a fault or criticism of Chris. Chris has his own strengths and weaknesses.

The fact that such a extraordinary dropoff exists between the #1 and #2 quarterback is (disappointing)(astonishing)(distressing)[PICK YOUR OWN ADJECTIVE]. I expect that no quarterback on the roster can match what Grier was able to show himself capable of, with the touch and precision of a surgeon and the arm strength of a Howitzer. That doesn’t excuse there being a canyon between the starting quarterback and the backup.

Even worse is the fact that Chris was given one of the best opportunities to prepare: a bowl game. Chris came in cold during the Texas game and I can somewhat forgive him and the staff if they were not fully prepared to call plays for Chris. Not fully, mind you, because that is part of their job description: “all players should be ready to play regardless of placement on depth chart”.

Against Oklahoma, with only a week to prepare, I thought the staff did a good job or recognizing Chugs’ weakness and installing a Wildcat gameplan to help offset the Oklahoma defense. With the bowl game, and 10+ practices to install and feel out Chris, the staff and Chris needed to perform better. Chris looked inept. He looked completely overmatched.

That is a failure on the staff. There cannot be a chasm between Will Grier and whoever is his backup. Other teams have lost their quarterback for extended periods of time and their offense hasn’t completely ground to a stop. Injuries are a part of football and HCDH has stated many times “Other guys need to come in and step up and play”. That isn’t happening.

...the 2017 season

Many fans were extremely hyped for the 2017 season before it ever began. Many of them failed to appreciate what happened last year, during the 2016 season. West Virginia took advantage of a down Big 12 Conference and a senior offense/defense to win 10 games. In 125 years of football, that was only the 9th time WVU won 10+ games and many fans ignored it looking forward to this year with Grier.

The 2017 season didn’t start the way we wanted, with a close loss to Virginia Tech but it gave hope that Grier and the offense could do big things. Another close loss to TCU started to take some of the luster off the 2017. The Oklahoma State eventually made the season feel just like every other, “next year” we would say.

While this season was always going to be a transitional year, is there really anything to build off of? Yes, West Virginia beat two ranked teams, ending a three-year drought (October 2014 - October 2017) against ranked teams, but those teams were Iowa State and Texas Tech. TTU entered the game against West Virginia at 4-1 but would go on to lose 5 of its next 7 games. Iowa State who was 6-2 before West Virginia, would win one more game and finish 7-5.

That isn’t sitting well with fans. Every year we are going to play multiple ranked teams. Every year we are going to play Oklahoma and Texas and 99% of the time, one of them is going to be ranked in the top 10. More often than not, TCU, Oklahoma State and possibly KSU/Baylor/OOC opponent is also going to be ranked in the top 25. West Virginia needs to beat those teams. Beating TTU and ISU, who proved to be lackluster at the end of the season only gives fans more ammunition that the team isn’t in the second tier of the Big 12.

The 2017 season had some things go well for it. David Sills caught 18 touchdowns and still leads the nation despite not catching one in his last three games. Will Grier was an FBS leader in touchdowns prior to his injury and still is #8 nationally, despite not playing the last three games. The defense, by the end of the season, began to come on strong and the most important part of the defense, the D-Line, returns all three starters including a freshman All-American in Lamonte McDougle.

...The 2018 Season

If West Virginia had beaten Virginia Tech Hokies or TCU Horned Frogs, even if it meant losing to Kansas State, I think fans would feel much different about this year. There would be some sort of spring board. The promise of 2018 also makes the disaster that was Dallas that much tougher on everyone. I also think it squarely puts a bullseye on Dana Holgorsen in 2018.

If the 2017 had not been lost with Will Grier and/or the bowl game had been competitive, I think many fans would be hyped for 2018 but could live with a 9-win season that culminated in a New Years Eve bowl game. It wouldn’t be ideal but it would be good enough.

Now, with Grier having been injured and it completely derailing the 2017 season, one that should been a 9-win season even with the four ranked losses, it looks like Dana may be coaching for his job. ESPN is already saying that WVU could be a contender for the Big 12 in the 2018 season. People are recognizing that WVU returns 14 of 22 “starters” and multiple other pieces.

It is great for Dana and WVU that so many pieces return but now fans are ramping up the expectations. 10+ wins and a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game are being thrown around. To be honest, I can’t disagree. We’ve argued for the past 7 years that Dana needed time and there were things beyond his control that needed to be corrected. He has been given plenty of time and now has everything he should need: a full roster, a full roster of “his” kids and upgraded facilities. I’ve talked about expectations and said 5-7 years we need to be in the title game. We’re 7 years into the DH era, 6 in the Big 12. It’s time.

Things are lining up for WVU. Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph, Nik Shimonek and Kenny Hill will graduate. TCU, Oklahoma Sooners and Kansas State Wildcats all come to Morgantown. There will be at least one night game and the promise of a second with Oklahoma. If Dana and the staff, with a talented senior quarterback, senior receiving corp and for the first time a defense that doesn’t have to be totally replaced can’t make a real run at the title game, it’s going to be coaching search in 2019.