This one is going to be a long one, and I'm sorry for that. Last night against Oklahoma with a Big 12 Championship spot on the line was.. very adjective filled. At the end of the night, typical WVU disappointment set in, and we're all left here scratching our heads, becoming keyboard warriors, and vocalizing the want to fire the entire staff. Different people cope in different ways (see this Reddit comment that is hilarious: https://www.reddit.com/r/CFB/comments/9zvn5v/postgame_thread_oklahoma_defeats_west_virginia/eacd3ql), and I'm not telling you how to cope, I'm offering to shed perspective. The overwhelming doubt never left my mind, we've seen this story before, and I've been burned too many times to think this time was different. Sure, a piece of my heart thought it was, but as a WVU fan you can't shake that sickness that creeps into your stomach as you watch the events of a big game unfold, a lot of us are wondering, what the hell happened? I'm going to pose some questions throughout in order to stimulate some discussion in the comments.
Knowing we were 30 minutes away from a Big 12 Championship game spot two weeks ago to staggering into a fourth place finish this year is a tough pill to swallow. It seemed we were primed for this season. An elite Heisman capable QB, surrounded by three All-American WRs, we knew our offense would be damn good, the biggest question was, how will our defense look? In my opinion we exceeded my pre-season expectations, I didn't think our defense would be as good as it was throughout the season, but defense has left a lot to be desired the past two games. It's maddening to watch a third down, and only rush three while dropping eight. Why is Gibby not bringing pressure? Should we make a change here, what would that do for us? I'm a Tony Gibson supporter, I think he brings a lot to the table in terms of developing talent, and getting a lot out of his players. Think of the guys he's sent to the NFL from his time here, but the fundamentals are still lacking, we're not disciplined, we are missing tackles, and not fundamentally sound. I will always respect Gibson, the man is just like us, he bleeds West Virginia through and through, but he has his shortcomings. If there were a chance to make a change, who would we even bring in? What connections does Dana have to the defensive side of the ball that would be a marked improvement over Gibson?
Our offensive game isn't safe from critique either. Plenty of games where we pack it in and go scoreless for long periods of time. With this offense, that should have never happened. I'm very critical of Jake Spavital, I feel he is predictable in many aspects of the game, however, I have no qualms about his play calling last night. We put up 56 points in a loss.. 56. He did well to start the game out with easy throws for Grier who is very much so a rhythm passer as well. When Grier gets a few in a row, that's when he really starts to shine. The offense hummed, granted Oklahoma's defense would probably get shredded by Martinsburg at this rate, but our offense was in position to win this game. Spavital's major weakness in my opinion is controlling the rhythm of drives. Too many sputter out, our offense can't slow down and just dink and duck their way down the field while controlling clock. We need to be efficient in all game situations, not just when we need to put points on the board. If Kliff Kingsbury is fired, I think we should throw everything at him in order to get him to become our offensive coordinator. I know that's an absolute pipe dream, but I'd have no worries about the way he could call a game and get out the most of his QBs. Spavital obviously wouldn't take a demotion, so maybe he finds a job as an OC somewhere else, or a low level HC position, people are sold on him, I'm not.
And now, Dana Holgorsen. I wrote a piece on Holgy last year titled "perspective" and we should keep that in mind. I'm still fully convinced Holgorsen is the man we should keep in charge of our program. Again, he hasn't figured everything out, but every single coach in America is still adapting and changing. Did you ever think Nick Saban would have a high powered offense? Probably not, but knowing that change is necessary he did what he had to do in order to continue to be successful. I find that Holgy does still adapt and change. The time out at the end of the third quarter in the TCU game for field position was a stroke of genius, the two point conversion call against Texas was genius as well. A lot of people are clamoring about the lack of time out in the Oklahoma State game, but the same scenario played out against Texas and we just happened to score on that one. I think Dana doesn't use the time out on the last drive in order to keep the defense in check, and also because Grier is a rhythm passer, keep him in tune to the offense. We drove 70 yards in a minute against Okie State, it's part of his philosophy that he stands by, and I don't blame him for that. He's also improved recruiting. Though our classes are in the 30s, it doesn't tell the whole story. Imagine if they added the weight of the transfers we pick up to each class, our rankings would shoot up a ton. He's finding unique ways to get the talent at WVU to succeed, and as he and staff continue to develop our guys and get them into the NFL, our recruiting will only get stronger.
Before the season, I considered this to be a successful season if we won nine regular season games and had a chance at the Big 12 Championship. We're sitting at eight wins with a missing data point in the form of a cancelled game. We have a bowl game (please match us up with Pitt and let us curb stomp them) with the opportunity to pick up another win. We competed for a chance at the Big 12 Championship, it was so close but slipped away the last two weeks. That leaves a bad taste in our mouths for sure, but does that mean this season is a total failure? I think we performed on par, the Big 12 wasn't as down as I thought it was going to be, though this season should have been the one. It hurts now, but we still are 8-3 heading into a bowl, that's a season a lot of programs would die for. A mantra for WVU fans is should we accept mediocrity, and I don't think we should. We're fans however, the biggest part is if the team and coaches accept mediocrity. I believe everyone that puts on the blue and gold want to win every week, our guys are probably reeling right now. They're just as hurt as we are, and I don't think we realize that at times. I beg of you to stop tweeting at guys like TJ Simmons who has sacrificed a ton, and understands the importance of what WVU means to us. I think once the guys are embedded in our culture, they get us. They know us. Look at this interview from Grier or example: https://twitter.com/WVUfootball/status/1065968212313964545 They know what it means to represent our state. Please, lay off the guys.
Finally as for next season, we replace a lot but I don't think the outlook is as grim as the general feeling in the program right now. Jack Allison has the size, listed at 6'6, and a good strong arm. The competition with him and Trey Lowe should be interesting to keep up with throughout the off-season. Dana Holgorsen won 10 games with Skylar Howard at QB, I respect Skylar Howard but the guy wasn't the most accurate or best QB in WVU history. I think with Allison or Lowe we'll be set for a solid two years. We have all of our RBs coming back, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Petteway really turned it on towards the end of the season, Leddie Brown and Alex Sinkfield flashed potential all year as well. Tevin Bush will be a interesting wrinkle for opponents with his speed and agility. Our receivers should be fine as well with TJ Simmons back, and possibly Marcus Simms though he may declare. I never worry at receiver, we always reload there, not to mention coveted Isaiah Hazel getting to campus. The question is the offensive line and if we can get it together there. Our defense also has promise, losing Kenny Bigelow and Jabril Robinson will hurt, but if Dante and Darius Stills can continue to develop, we'll have a strong NT and end. Not to mention the ability of all the underclassmen who could take a leap. Vandarius Cowan will lead our LBs with a huge, physical frame, and we built depth by throwing guys into the fire with injuries. Will David Long come back? Probably not, he's been through some injuries, with his size being his biggest quip, there's nothing he can do to change that with an extra year. Our secondary has experience returning in Josh Norwood, Keith Washington, Derek Pitts, Kenny Robinson, and sprinkle in the potential of guys like Kwantel Raines and Osita Smith when he gets here, we have a chance to be fine there too.
It seems every year, we fall into the "we'll get them next year" cycle. We bleed for WVU, we get that hope in our bodies, we believe that we have finally turned a corner, and it seems to crash down in different ways every year. This was supposed to be our year to win the Big 12, a lot of questions are coming about us, but I say this. Be thankful. We have a program that we as West Virginians should be proud of. We're never in any big scandal, we do things the right way, and are pretty competitive. I don't think this is settling for mediocrity. I would love to get to the next level, but we're just not there yet. The parity in college football is much less than in college basketball, but all signs are pointing towards us trending upwards as a program. We're spending money on improving some of the worst facilities in the P5 conferences, we're earning much more money being a member of the Big 12, and the ways we get talent to West Virginia is increasing the type of talent we get here. A lot of us have been fans have been here through thick and thin, and patience is waring thin around these parts, but I genuinely believe this program is in a good shape and can catch lightning in a bottle. Our HC is happy to be here, he's the definition of a transplant West Virginian. He loves us, and has shown improvement, as long as we keep trending upwards, what's to say that we are proven wrong eventually in one of these games that always seem to disappoint? This is a vicious cycle that batters you mentally, but I will say, no matter what, I will always be there on Saturdays, rooting us on, because no matter how hard last night was, or how you feel to today, wherever you may be, it's always a great day to be a Mountaineer.