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Pinto's Points: West Virginia’s defense, two-headed monster, and more thoughts following the Kansas game

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West Virginia v Kansas Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Apologies on the absence last week, I'm currently indisposed somewhere in the eastern hemisphere and think the missus would've neutered me if I'd tried to justify writing a follow up for Delaware State. Conference play started this week though, meaning I was able to sneak away for a few minutes to jot down some thoughts on our 56-34 way-closer-than-it-needed-to-be win over Kansas in Lawrence. Let's get to it..

The defense...

My god. I don't even know where to start with them. Actually, wait, I do. Let's start with the 367 rushing yards and 7.3 ypc we gave up to a Kansas team that came in averaging 109 yards and 3.6 ypc. AND THOSE NUMBERS CAME AGAINST SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE, CENTRAL MICHIGAN, AND OHIO! FFS!!

Now it's no secret to Mountaineer fans that we've struggled against the run this year - we came into this game allowing 179 yards (9th in the conference, 97th nationally), 4.4 ypc (last, 90th), and 6.3 explosive runs per game (last, 107th). However, I don't think anyone saw Saturday coming.

I just don't understand it. Even our 2013 unit, which is objectively one of the worst we've ever fielded, never gave up more than 245 yards or 7.0 ypc in a single game. I haven't checked, but Khalil Herbert's 291 yards have to be a single game record against us, right? [Editor’s note: According to Twitter, it is the most allowed by WVU] Where's the pride? Herbert's a talented guy no doubt, but he's also a guy who'd only topped 50 yards twice in 11 career games before yesterday. In fact, those 291 yards nearly matched the 336 combined yards he'd gained previously. Like, in his career. That's inexcusable, and the nauseating part is that Kansas wasn't even doing anything crazy; they simply lined up and ran it and we lacked the fundamentals and discipline to make plays. It started up front, but there were also huge issues at the second level where we're reeeeeaaaallllllly missing David Long. Watch Herbert's 67-yarder in the 2nd quarter:

This happened on a 3rd and 1, and you can see we had about 10 guys at the line in an effort to stuff the run. The interior guys crash inside, Dravon sets the edge, and Benton fills the correct gap, only he sees Herbert trying to cut outside and decides to go over the top to try and make a play, which vacates the lane that Herbert then uses to house it. We need better from one of our senior leaders.

This is now three straight weeks of poor performances against comfortably inferior competition, and often with the game well in hand - East Carolina picked up most of their yardage after we'd already run up a 50-point lead, Delaware State was Delaware State and we didn't care, and Kansas was down 28-3 Saturday. I suppose there's an argument to be made that our defense has simply been disinterested and has been playing to the level of their competition, and that argument is somewhat supported (atleast for the sake of this homerific paragraph) by the reasonably solid performance they put in against Virginia Tech in week 1. However, this is absolutely the last week that's going to fly. We're obviously nowhere near as good as we think we are, and we're definitely not good enough to get away with not caring. Shit gets real for us starting 10/7 with our trip to TCU, who as of the writing of this article is thrashing #5 Oklahoma State in their own house. We have two weeks until then. Hopefully we spend most of that time taking a good hard look in the mirror.

The two-headed monster..

Prophecy tells us that the dragon has three heads, but for now our backfield seems a two-headed beast, with Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy leading the way.

Crawford posted his 4th straight 100-yd game and retained his spot as the Big 12's leading rusher (Herbert is now 2nd), while McKoy's first 100-yd performance of the season vaulted him into the Top 10. So far this season the pair have carried 92 times for 655 yards and 9 touchdowns. Coming into the season ESPN rated ours as the best backfield in the conference; our guys done nothing so far this year to invalidate that opinion.

Three times this year we've run more than we've passed. All three times we've won. Say what you want about the competition but that's always been the formula that's worked for us, and Holgs' recent comments lead me to believe the trend will continue.

Number of the Week

7. As in, the number of touchdown receptions that David Sills has this season. Excuse me, that's Mr. Tied-for-the-national-lead-in-TD-receptions David Sills. What a gem this guy has been. Prior to his leaving two years ago there was word that Holgs told him he had NFL talent at wide receiver. I don't want to jump any guns here, but Holgs may have been on to something.

Final Thoughts

An ugly win, but a win nonetheless, and one that puts us right where many thought we'd be heading into the meat of the schedule. A couple things I think we've learned through 4 games:

Our offense is pretty damn good. Will may be the best QB we've had since Pat. Actually I'll say it: he is the best QB we've had since Pat. His numbers may not be as gaudy as Geno were at times, but then again BFG isn't throwing to Stedman and Tavon.

The running backs have been as good as advertised, with Crawford leading the conference in rushing and both McKoy and Pettaway serving as highly capable deputants.

The receivers maybe aren't as deep as we'd hoped (though that should improve as the season goes on), but it's hard to complain about the guys that're playing. They're as balanced a group as you could ask for, and they get open and catch almost everything that's thrown at them.

The offensive line has been solid, ranking 13th nationally in TFL allowed per game and 28th in sacks.

On the other hand, the defense is kind of bad. I'm still convinced there's talent there, but to this point that talent is performing nowhere near the level needed to compete with the teams at the top of the conference. I trust the offense to hang close to 40 on just about everybody, but the last time we had to rely on that to win the wheels fell off midseason and we finished 7-5. I hate to say it, but that looks like it may be in play this year, as well.

However, there's also the chance that they get their act together. We should have David Long back soon, and you'd expect the other new guys to get better with every game. If we can get back to where we were against Virginia Tech, then I think 9 wins is realistic. We travel to Fort Worth in two weeks, and TCU will be feeling themselves after a big win in Stillwater. That game will likely tell us a lot about what kind of season we're going to have. Let's go.