This was an extremely hard article for me to write. Normally, I sit down Sunday night to write about the game on Saturday and the words just flow through my hands. I don’t really have many thoughts as I just expound upon what comes from my fingers. I’ve agonized on what to say today because I’m at a loss. Losing 30-14, in Ames, Iowa with Will Grier back as a fifth year senior, his third year in your program, is just......unacceptable.
We all saw it coming
Throughout the week, every fan I spoke to and every fan page I visited talked about how this was a game that we needed to be great to win. If we played like we did in the second half of Texas Tech or like we did against Kansas, this would be a disaster. If the fans could see it, why were we so unprepared?
To make matters worse, ESPN analyst David Pollack called out our manhood. He questioned the defense because we hadn’t played anybody. Another person said we don’t play a physical brand of football. That type of talk should fire you up to prove those doubters wrong. Instead we went out and said “yup, we are who you thought we were”.
This Air Raid Offense
I have been a big fan of the air raid offense since Dana brought it here. It is flashy, it is fun and it produces a lot of points. The scheme helps bring in talented skill position players which keeps West Virginia in the national talk. All of that is relevant.
The last quarterback to win 10 games at West Virginia is Skyler Howard and Howard did it in the Big 12. Geno Smith didn’t win 10 games in the Big 12. Clint Trickett didn’t win 10 games in the Big 12 and unless Grier and the team fix their attitudes and their playing, Grier will not win 10 games in the Big 12. That is also relevant.
Howard won 10 games utilizing a power-run, zone-read concept with deep passing plays. It was very similar to the type of offense that Kansas State wants to run. The scheme allowed West Virginia to control the tempo, clock and speed of the game. We could speed you up and go over the top, we could run the ball and slow it down. My belief now is that West Virginia will not win the way fans want to (9-10 games annually) with the Air Raid.
Up until Saturday, I’ve been a huge fan of Jake. The criticisms of the run game I thought were unfounded because we often tried to run the ball. This year, fans kept saying “we need to throw more” which is hysterical given the way they cried to run the ball. Yet, it is clear that Jake does not want to run the ball. He does not want to grind teams down and slow down this team. His team, his offense is built to go fast. He is a Ferrari. 15 MPH is a school zone doesn’t work for him. Matt Kirchner said what needed to be said in his piece. Dana needs to put the black pullover back on.
Jake either was woefully unprepared or willfully ignorant of Iowa State on Saturday. It was pointed out early in the broadcast that Iowa State was rushing three, dropping eight and then blitzing a deep safety right at Grier. Time and time and time and time again, the line didn’t pick up the blitz, Grier was flushed out, refused to throw the ball away and was sacked. At some point, you have to adjust. Run a bubble screen behind the blitzer. Run a freaking drag route behind the blitzer. Do something to take advantage of the void space instead of doing the same god damn thing and watching your Heisman trophy quarterback get sacked on five of its first seven drives.
Many fans love Tony. He’s from West Virginia, he’s been a part of this team for a long time and he eats and breathes West Virginia. He brought back the 3-3-5 defense, which was the defense WVU ran in its heyday in 2007. All should be right in the world.
Just one problem, the 3-3-5 is built to stop the spread speed attack. It is not built to stop a power run attack. Every year the same deficiency is shown, run right at the defense, be physical and by the time the fourth quarter starts, we will be tired and refuse to tackle. Iowa State punched us in the mouth until we got tired of being punched in the mouth.
I thought this year would be different with Kenny Bigelow. I thought having a stud nose tackle would allow us to utilize some different concepts with the defense, but once again we have shown that if you want to beat a West Virginia team, push them around and we will not respond.
I’ve saved the head coach for last because, in all honesty, the fault lies with him. Dana admitted in his post-game press conference. I watched that conference twice and he looked shell shocked and angry. I like Dana. I think Dana has done more for the state of West Virginia than Rich Rod and Bill Stewart. You can come at me all you want but Dana has put this team out there and put touches and tradition both inside the locker room and outside that talk about West Virginia. I think Dana is a good coach. I do not think he is a great coach.
I don’t know that I want him fired. I’ve said before and I keep coming back to it that WVU is not a 10-win team annually and expecting them to be is setting yourself up for failure. Kirchner again said “I don’t ask West Virginia for consistent elite play as it would be a fool’s errand, and unreasonable expectations are the worst part of fanhood. I do expect West Virginia to take advantage of their chances to be special”
He’s right and you are right to demand better for this season. You have every right to expect WVU to contend for a Big 12 title this season. That might being 10-2 and being 3rd best in the conference because Good OU and Good Texas are not typically going to lose to anyone but each other. We could be in that universe where both teams are good. IF so, 3rd in conference with 10 wins (in a 12 game slate) is fantastic, especially if it means on the last Saturday of the year you are playing for a title game berth.
But the worrisome nature of all this is the most damning thing I can write about Dana Holgorsen. His teams are soft. They are flashy and they think they are bigger than world because they overwhelm teams in the early part of their schedule. Come October and November, once teams have tape on them, they get punched in the mouth and they walk away. It is the same old song and dance. I don’t call a football team soft easily. These are young kids who are playing a game that will impact their body for their lifetime, but the fact is that this team and many of Dana’s teams cannot handle adversity. They are bullies and when they are confronted with a team that refuses to go away, they struggle and they struggle often.