I’d almost forgotten how much I hated Virginia Tech. I mean, 12 years is a long time. Last time these two teams stared across the field at each other I was an engaged intern architect who’d bought his first house a month before. Now I’ve been married for over 11 years with 3 great kids, sold that first house 3 years ago and am sitting in one I built now. I’ve changed jobs. Three times. I’ve taken up blogging. Things have happened. Would it be the same?
As soon as I heard announcers fawning over Enter Sandman I knew it. I still hated them. Oh I hated them so, so very much. With that established let’s begin at the end.
Can’t wait. With all the rivalries gone you start to forget how much they mean, and result notwithstanding this was everything I love about college football. I loved not being able to focus at work on Friday. I loved being antsy all day Saturday. I loved waking up on Sunday and putting the 2002 game up on the TV (thanks Firestick) as I made the kids breakfast. This is what we live for man, and it’s a damn shame that we have to wait 4 years for the next one.
But before we get to the game, a little schadenfreude.
Couldn’t have happened to a better group of folks. I’m not going to pretend to feel bad that a program that sold their soul for some gridiron success is now in freefall. That some of their fans who have defended the undefendable will now get a front row seat to watch their program return from whence it came. The Bears spent the past few years as a knock-off Miami from the 80s: half the talent, one quarter the class. So I won’t apologize for enjoying this.
HOW DO YOU NOT BRING ANY PRESSURE AT ALL???— OurDailyBears (@OurDailyBears) September 3, 2017
This week’s entry for “3rd and long or assistant coach interview with a rape victim?”
(OK that was a cheap shot, I admit it. No more Baylor jokes. This week)
There may be things that have made me happier than the official VT account retweeting my hate article from last week, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what any of them are. So good. I am decidedly not mad, and you are most definitely not my bro.
What would a Retweet be without the fashion corner? To be honest I’m not in love with the Storm Trooper look. Maybe it’s because at this point I associate it with high-profile losses (OU ‘13, Bama ‘14, OU ‘15....) - it just feels like a long list. Maybe that changes if we ever snag a big one in them. I like the classic white shirts and britches, I’d just rather pair them with the equally classic blue hats.
"Nehlen thought he'd be having a hot fudge sundae tonight.." -- ABC announcer just now. #WVU— Jared Hunt (@jaredwv) September 3, 2017
There’s nothing I can add to this. Never change, Coach.
West Virginia seems like it has abandoned power/gap run schemes, run emphasis that got WVU to 10 wins last year. Trying to be pure Air Raid— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) September 3, 2017
I have a lot of thoughts about this and wish I was smart enough with the football Xs and Os to give it the attention to detail it deserves. All I can speak to is what the raw numbers say and how it felt to watch.
Last year for the first time in a long time, WVU established its identity as a run-first team that ground you into dust. I wrote this after the dominant win over TCU last year:
.... that's the type of football West Virginia played for years. Play solid defense, dominate the line of scrimmage. This is how you impose your will, limit variables and grind an opponent into dust. When you can defend and run you don't care about wind or any of the 20 other things that can interrupt your mojo. And when you beat someone, they're beaten. You pound the ball and watch that clock run and by the time you hit the 4th quarter, all they want to do is hit the road.
My favorite part of that game? The 15 play, 7:30 field goal drive. You could see TCU fold and you knew they knew it was over.
The 2016 numbers tell the story. WVU ran 983 plays not counting kicks and punts. Of those 574 were runs - 58.3% and 409 were passes - 41.7%. On Sunday night the split was a mirror image of what had been so successful: 54 passes (60.7%) and 35 runs (39.3%).
Here’s the 10+ win question that I’m not smart enough to answer: did they air the ball out so much because Jake Spavital was simply taking what Bud Foster was giving, or did Jake simply take Dana’s team right back where his heart still resides: the Air Raid? Because the past 5 years saw Coach Holgo evolve away from his 60 throws a game roots into a punishing ground game buoyed by a trio of talented backs. Dana being the smart guy that he is, he realized that with the entire Big 12 zigging in the direction of throwing, it would behoove him to zag into a power run game. It was never the makeup of the Air Raid that made it so effective as much as it was different from what everyone was doing. But now it was the norm - so a ground attack was different.
That’s probably me getting worked up over one game that played out the way it did because of the conditions under which it was played and not some overarching desire to redirect the offensive philosophy. But it’s noted.
I don't know if it's the field mics, but the WVU-VT atmosphere sounds insane for a Week 1 game.— David Ubben (@davidubben) September 4, 2017
Sometimes it’s easy to tell who started covering this team in the Big 12 and never took part in a WVU - VT game. Stick around Ubbs - when these two squads go home and home you’ll see all sorts of fun things.
Grier leaned in to call the play. The entire VT defense started calling it out as soon as he did. Three-yard loss.— Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247) September 4, 2017
Yeah Will was a little rusty there in the first half. He missed a couple throws, was a step or two slow - but just for a bit. Once he settled in after that first touchdown drive that was a potent offense doing big things against a top-level defense.
My biggest concern is depth at receiver. If they truly are going to air it out 50+ times a game, they’re going to have to do better than spreading 357 of the total 371 yards among 3 receivers - Gary Jennings (13 catches for 189), David Sills V (9 for 94) and Ka’Raun White (4 for 74). And that doesn’t account for all the running they did on plays where they didn’t catch balls. By and large these were the only guys running downfield and if reports are to be believed, by the end of the game they were (justifiably) gassed. Pretty good chance WVU is going to be in a lot of dogfights this year and is going to need sharp performances late in games from their receivers. If that’s going to be the case they’re going to need meaningful contributions from some of their compatriots in the receiver’s room.
THAT— ☠ (@SmokingMusket) September 4, 2017
Justin Crawford!!!! That dude has some serious wiggle !!!!— David Pollack (@davidpollack47) September 4, 2017
13 carries. 106 yards for a 8.2 average and a long of 42.
Your standards are too high. 1 for 1 on field goals. Only bad play was the ball being downed at the 3 which happens.— WVU nola (@WVUnola) September 4, 2017
I want to share @WVUnola’s hope. I really, really do.
How is one team tied with the other when being outgained 522-327? Field position on special teams. Tech has feasted on short fields ...— John Antonik (@JohnAntonik) September 4, 2017
But I’m more inclined to believe in John’s statistics.
If there’s ever been a testament to the value of the little things on special teams, this game was it. The turnover battle was essentially nil. WVU had the only one but it was at the edge of scoring territory and VT merely went 3 and out on the ensuing possession. There weren’t any huge special team plays either. No blocked punts or blocked kicks, no muffed returns or fake field goals. No defensive scores and really no huge defensive plays to flip the field. It was all offense, punting, fielding punts, kickoffs and returns. Meat and potatoes stuff.
And those meat and potatoes were the difference in the game.
Tech’s Oscar Bradburn banged 8 kicks for a 46.5 average. WVU’s Kinney had 9 for a 36 yard average. That’s the difference of a first down given up on 10 possessions. That matters.
But it’s not all on the punters. Tech’s Greg Stroman fair caught 7 of Kinney’s punts with one going out of bounds after traveling only 33 yards and another being returned for 5 yards. On the flip side WVU managed to fair catch only 3 of Bradburn’s boots, letting 3 be downed (more on that later), having one go into the end zone and returning another for a loss of 3. Again - that matters.
One of those Tech punts that was downed demonstrates the hidden yardage at play here. With 4:24 to go in the 2nd quarter and nursing a 7-3 lead, Gary Jennings waved everyone away from a punt that took a hard bounce at the 20 and rolled to the 3 - a loss of 17 yards in field position. WVU would go 3 and out and Billy Kinney managed only a 33 yard punt which VT fair caught at the WVU 47. The Hokies would score on that drive and erase the only lead WVU held of the entire game.
Now in all fairness the other big punt that got past Jennings was with 13:06 left in the 4th and rolled to the WVU 27; a punt of 49 yards. The Mountaineers would score on that possession, tying the game up for the last time at 24. So it doesn’t always make the difference, but in a back and forth game like we saw this week, every little edge matters.
And we haven’t even talked about kickoffs yet.
The Hokies kicked the ball off 6 times - all touchbacks. On the other side WVU kicked it of 5 times. 3 of those were returned for an average of 31 yards with a long of 44 (that set up a scoring drive). Another went out of bounds and gave VT the ball at the 40 and the last was a touchback. I don’t think the yardage there is very hidden.
WVU lost a game where it turned the ball over once and outgained its opponent 592-469. And it’s no mystery how VT made up that delta. This was frustrating in how mundane the miscues were but how costly they became. And when your head coach has taken personal ownership of special teams and you STILL can’t do the little things right I just don’t know where you go from there. But it’s not going away anytime soon.
So having addressed my one major issue with this game I will now address the other.
Just to be clear, this wasn’t when Dana got nailed for his 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct, but I’m pretty sure it set the stage for the flag that came not 5 minutes later on the next WVU possession. He was expressing understandable frustration with a late hit call on a kick returner tightroping the sideline. But Dana’s tantrum isn’t the most important part of the video. Watch what happens after.
THE REF TURNED AROUND AND RAN HIM DOWN TO RESPOND. WHAT IN THE HOLY HELL IS THAT?
I don’t see how this is in any way acceptable any year, and CERTAINLY not in a year when you’ve made coaching behavior a focus of officials and given them wide authority to dole out 15 yarders to coaches who they think step over whatever imaginary line comprises the cone of respect that protects they’re dewicate wittle feewings.
And then later this happened:
Referee also gave a real sarcastic Red Cashion-style "First down!" after Dana complained about uncatchable on DPI.— Jason Martin (@jmart181) September 4, 2017
I noticed this when it happened and thought it was odd. And it represents one of the reasons that this new penalty is such a stupid idea. These refs are human and a football game is a looooooong and emotional affair. Guys are going to get after each other a little bit. Tempers are going to flare. Filling the zebra’s pistol with more bullets just increases the chance that they pull the trigger as they did both against Holgorsen and against a VT assistant later in the game.
The second reason this is such a stupid idea is IT’S SOLVING A PROBLEM THAT DIDN’T AND DOES’T EXIST. What’s the point of this? Were refs driving home after games sad wondering why nobody loves them? Did they need little support groups where they could get together and sip chamomile tea and talk about how Nick Saban’s withering sideline looks make them feel LIKE NOTHING? “Oh Jimmy, I was in the middle of 100,000 people and I felt SO ALONE.” (uncontrollable weeping)
Give me a damn break. In the words of the legendary Pat Summitt, “toughen up, buttercup.” If you can’t deal with coaches under amazing amounts of pressure, spouting off every now and then, maybe you need to find another line of work. You absolutely don’t deserve the right to smack coaches on the wrist for offending your delicate sensibilities during the game if you’re too chicken(feces) to stand and answer questions about calls you blow after a game. What scares me is it seems to portend more diva-like behavior from officials moving forward. This is how it started with baseball umpires and now you can’t throw a mildly annoyed glance in their direction without getting tossed. I hope this isn’t the sign of a trend to come, but history shows us when you give a group of people more attention, they seldom are satisfied.
The worst part of all this is it absolutely affected what happened on the field. That aforementioned penalty on Holgorsen came right as WVU had found their rhythm and were facing 3rd and 1 athe VT 23. Crawford ran for 2 yards to seemingly get the first down before Yodney Cajuste was whistled for what was shown on replay to be a questionable holding call at best. That’s the flag that inspired Holgo’s penalized tantrum and just like that 3rd and 1 became 3rd and 26 and the drive was over.
Holgorsen points out that three refs looked right at him and did nothing. Fourth ref came running from 50 yards away to throw flag.— Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247) September 5, 2017
Oh by the way let’s not forget on the next Tech possession Hokie RB Deshawn McClease had the ball stripped by Xavier Preston and the ball is up for grabs. Fumble wasn’t called on the field and there wouldn’t have even been a review without Holgorsen using a timeout. The call was reviewed and evidently the officials felt that, despite Preston having both hands and a large part of his body on the ball, McClease had both hands on it as well and tie goes to the runner. Fair enough, but they botched even reviewing it. Just a shoddy 10 minutes of officiating but hey - don’t raise your voice at them.
Honestly I have to just stop because if I keep talking about this I’m going to use words that I don’t need to use because I’m pretty sure my mom read this.
Like, if this game was just going to have the stadium productions of Lane Stadium, just play a gd home and home.— ☠ (@SmokingMusket) September 4, 2017
Hometown scoreboard operator, getting all the calls....ahhh life against Virginia Tech...it all feels so familiar now.
Jeeze I hate them so very, very much.
David Sills bummed about not making tying TD catch with 2 seconds left: "Will (Grier) gave me a chance. It's a play I've got to make."— Allan Taylor (@AllanTaylorWVU) September 4, 2017
I didn’t appreciate how close this was live, but then I watched it 3 or 20 more times and man.........that was close. Hard to hold it against a kid that killed himself out there though. Welcome back David Sills.
That was a string of downer tweets. We needed a pick me up - and Gary Jennings is nothing if not a pick me up. Excited to watch that young man this season.
West Virginia finished the day ranked 14th in total offense with 592 yards!— DVN Stats & History (@WVU_History) September 4, 2017
The glass....it’s half.........FULL!
Will Grier is legit.— Jim Ashley (@681jim) September 4, 2017
For many reasons, I really liked seeing this. Good on ya, Sky.
Actually, chance West Virginia hangs on to a top 25 ranking. Feel like they showed they are worthy of a top 25 ranking even in defeat.— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) September 4, 2017
Fact set #1: #22 WVU plays #21 Virginia Tech straight up, losing on the last play in a hard-fought game
Fact set #2: #25 Tennessee plays unranked Georgia Tech and looks like LITERAL GARBAGE (no seriously, they had a can on the sideline and everything) for 50 minutes and only stole the game because of a terrible GT fumble in the last few minutes. Vols win in the second overtime 42-41.
Fact set #3: WVU has dropped out of the rankings and Tennessee is now #21
Someone smarter than me needs to explain how these 3 fact sets exist in the same universe.
It’s always annoyed me how pollsters adhere to this unwritten set of illogical rules. For instance if the #15 team in the country plays #10 and loses by say 6, all the sudden they drop to like #20. I mean, doesn’t that result kinda support the ranking that #15 had? Is it reasonable to punish them for losing to a team you just said was better than they were?
Last time we lost to Virginia Tech we ended up winning the conference and winning the damn Sugar Bowl. Let's go Mountaineers!— Fake Bob Huggins (@FakeBobHuggins) September 4, 2017
I can’t think of a better place to end than here. What we learned on Sunday is that this is a very, very, very good team with a high ceiling. Will Grier is as advertised and there’s no reason to think this group can’t compete for a Big 12 title.
We got a squad, y’all, and in the first week of September that’s about all you can ask for. So let’s see how they develop over the next couple weeks, let’s grab that black and white striped voodoo doll and ....