The West Virginia Mountaineers ended their disappointing season with another disappointing loss, this time at the hands of the Syracuse Orange in the Camping World Bowl on Friday, 34-18. Here are some thoughts on what transpired.
1 - As of right now, Jack ain’t it
Jack Allison’s performance in the Camping World Bowl didn’t exactly inspire confidence as we prepare to head into 2019. Allison finished 17-of-35 passing for 277 yards and an interception. There were more than a few passes that were just flat out bad, including missing a wide open Tevin Bush in the endzone near the end of the fourth quarter. That touchdown would’ve been called back due to Sills’ offensive pass interference, but you at least want to see your quarterback make that throw to his receiver anyway. Add in Allison’s lack of mobility, and you have the making of a disaster if there’s no improvement over the offseason.
So, where does Dana Holgorsen turn? Do we head into the Spring expecting everything to work itself out and let Allison and Trey Lowe battle it out for the starting job? In the few times we got to see Lowe in at quarterback he at least looked mobile in the pocket. Lowe only attempted two passes, but completed both for zero yards. The idea of a true four-year starter in Dana Holgorsen’s offense is intriguing. We’ve seen how quarterback improve year-over-year in the system from Clint Trickett to Skyler Howard and then to Will Grier. Is it worth settling for another possible disappointing season with a redshirt freshman quarterback in 2019 if it means we are in a better position to win in 2020 and 2021?
Personally, I think it’s time to go back to the transfer well - which has been the plan all along, to my understanding. The coaching staff intended on finding a guy with 2-3 years of eligibility left that could sit out next season before competing for the job in 2020. I think you may have to reevaluate that idea, and look for someone that can contribute right away if you’re not going to give Trey Lowe a realistic shot at taking the job from Allison.
2 - That contract extension just got harder to sell to Shane Lyons
Following the Oklahoma loss, Shane Lyons was noted as saying he believes contract extensions for the sake of recruiting purposes were not something he, as West Virginia athletic director, would be interested in handing out to coaches. Behind the scenes, Dana Holgorsen has been angling for an extension to the contract he signed following the 2016 season that expires in 2021. Had the Mountaineers reached their goal of making the Big 12 Conference championship game, an extension would’ve surely been on the table.
That extension just became a tough sale following this evening’s loss to the Orange. Holgorsen is now likely to enter 2019 in a position similar to that he faced following the 2015 season, when he and Lyons mutually agreed to break off contract negotiations and reevaluate after the 2016 season. Fortunately for Dana, 2016 turned out to be rather positive, with the Mountaineers winning 10 games with Skyler Howard, landing Holgorsen that extension. I don’t see a similar turn of events happening this time around.
3 - I’d love to spend the next few days in Shane Lyons’ mind
Oh, to know what is going on up in that brain of his.
There’s obviously going to be a very vocal segment of the West Virginia fanbase that screams “FIRE HOLGORSEN” from the rooftops after this loss. According to our FanPulse, that segment is the minority, but I expect that 76.9% polling on fan confidence in Dana Holgorsen to drop dramatically when we take the poll again next week.
If you’re Lyons, you have to look at the big picture and evaluate on performance as a whole and not on a microcosm that consists of these last three games. As I said above, that contract extension seems rather unlikely after the bowl game, but does the thought to cut ties with Holgorsen after January 1st when his buyout drops $3 million cross his mind at all? Do you give him the benefit of the doubt and ride with him through what is probably going to be a rocky 2019 season, and reevaluate next December?
If you stick with him, do you force another offensive coordinator on him and make Holgorsen give him the playcall duties, similar to what happened when Jake Spavital returned to Morgantown after 2016?
I don’t envy the decision making that is going to have to take place, but I’d love to be there for when everything goes down.
4 - Tackling will forever be an issue for the Mountaineers under Tony Gibson
If there’s one thing that drives me absolutely insane about Tony Gibson’s defense, it’s the lack of tackling fundamentals. Gibson seemingly teaches his guys to attempt to force turnovers and in the process, form tackling goes to the wayside. I can’t even begin to count the times that a Mountaineer defender has had an opponent locked down and within reach, only to completely whiff on the tackle and allowing the player to break through for a huge gain.
It happened time and time again in the Camping World Bowl and throughout this season, and I’m not sure it’s ever going to get any better unless Gibson stops putting an emphasis on turnovers and focuses specifically on the fundamentals.
5 - Is David Sills a product of Will Grier?
This question was posed by Matt Kirchner in our Slack channel, and I’m kinda leaning toward the affirmative on this one.
Through four games in two seasons, Sills was mostly ineffective without Will Grier there to throw him the ball. This could be chalked up to Chris Chugunov being abjectly bad last season after Grier was injured but in those same games, Sills looked just as lost. That trend continued this evening in the Camping World Bowl, with Sills not making any impact in the game until that 48 yard reception in the fourth quarter. His lack of effectiveness was so obvious that the broadcast team repeatedly pointed out how absent Sills had been.