No need for a wordy introductory paragraph this week; if you missed Part 1, you can find it here:
Let's get to the game...
4) 1993 West Virginia vs 5) 2011 West Virginia
'93 Players to Watch: QB Jake Kelchner, QB Darren Studstill, RB Robert Walker, WR Jay Kearney, WR Mike Baker, LB Tim Brown, LB Wes Richardson, S Mike Collins, CB Aaron Beasley, CB Mike Logan
'11 Players to Watch: QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey, WR Ivan McCartney, LB Bruce Irvin, LB Najee Goode, S Darwin Cook, S Terence Garvin, CB Pat Miller, CB Keith Tandy
When 1993 has the ball...
The 1993 West Virginia Mountaineers were one of the few teams in history to achieve notable success without an "established" starter at quarterback. Both Jake Kelchner and Darren Studstill were used regularly throughout the season, and even freshman Chad Johnston was able to get in on some of the action. This rotation obviously served them well for most of the year, but ultimately came back to bite them in the Sugar Bowl when a Studstill interception just before halftime opened the floodgates against Florida.
However, despite having a pair of capable QBs and a trio of athletic playmakers on the outside, the '93 squad didn't generally define success by how well they threw the ball. With an experienced offensive line led by Morgantown native Rich Braham, Don Nehlen decided to build his attack around sophomore Robert Walker and the running game, handing the ball off almost 50 times per game. And it worked. Walker finished 12th nationally with 1250 yards and scored 11 touchdowns, and as a team the 'Eers were able to rack up nearly 3000 yards and 28 touchdowns on the year.
On the other side, the 2011 defense was a solid if unspectacular bunch. Led by the likes of Najee Goode, Darwin Cook, Keith Tandy, and Bruce Irvin, they finished 61st in points allowed and 33rd in yards allowed while forcing 23 turnovers. However, despite finishing 55th nationally against the run at a respectable 145 yards/game, the obvious worry for them in this match up would be their lack of size up front.
2011's most notable front-six player was probably Bruce Irvin, who everyone will remember much for his work rushing the passer than stuffing the run. Outside of Irvin and Najee, the most consistent performers near the line were probably Julian Miller and Will Clark, and neither of them were exactly world-beaters against the run, either. I'd expect Nehlen and Co to run the ball until 2011 proved they could stop it, and to be honest I think they'd be found wanting.
When 2011 has the ball...
West Virginia has been running some variation of the spread since Rich Rod came to town, but it wasn't until Dana Holgorsen took over in 2011 that we fully embraced its potential through the air. Consider that in 2010 our run:pass ratio was 57:43, and that in 2011 those numbers basically flipped with almost the exact same skill players; that's about a 15% difference, a huge swing for just a single offseason. However, as I mentioned in the preview, when you consider Dana's background and the talent he had available it was definitely the right move. Behind Geno's arm and the prodigious playmaking ability of Tavon and Stedman on the outside, our offense transformed from a middle of the road group in 2010 to one of the nation's best in 2011. Points per game, yards per game, and yards per play all went through the roof, and as a team we were held under 30 points just four times.
On the other side is one of the most physical units in school history. Even counting the Sugar Bowl massacre, the '93 defense gave up an average of just 17 points and 362 yards per game. They were also an extremely opportunistic group with regards to turnovers and had a knack for coming up with them at crucial times, with the games against Miami and Boston College swinging for the good guys on late-4th quarter takeaways. The defensive line was mostly just your standard WVU bring-the-lunch-pail type of group, but the second and third levels were littered with names that people still remember fondly today.
Despite that resume, however, think the '93 defense would have to be concerned by the sheer amount of space that 2011 made you defend. Six guys hauled in more than 20 balls that year (you’ll rememeber that last year we only had five guys catch more than 10), and with a running game that was just effective enough to keep teams honest, they really made you guard sideline to sideline. As physical as they were and as good as that secondary was, I'm not convinced that '93 had the athletes to be able to stick with Geno and the Boys for 60 minutes.
The match up between Tavon, Stedman, and Co against the 1993 secondary. Football games are generally won or lost in the trenches, but in this case I think the battle may hinge on what's happening a bit further downfield. Stedman and Tavon are arguably the most explosive 1-2 punch we've ever had at wide receiver, but the 1993 was one of the better secondaries in school history, intercepting 21 passes (absolutely mind-boggling - this number would've been tied for 1st nationally last year and they did it in an era when teams threw like 6 passes per game) and featuring future WVU Hall of Famers Aaron Beasley and Mike Logan alongside veterans like Vann Washington and Mike Collins. Could Beasley and Logan put the clamps on Sted and Tavon? I don't know, but it's sure fun to think about.
You couldn't ask for a better clash stylistically: 1993 and 2011 were nearly mirror-opposites of each other offensively, with '93 running the ball nearly 68% of the time while '11 threw it about 58% of the time. Unfortunately for the 1993 squad though, we already saw something of a proof of concept of this kind of match up in the Sugar Bowl against a Florida team that spread the field, and it didn't go all that well for them. Here's what Nehlen had to say about it after the game:
“We had wanted to play Nebraska in the Orange Bowl as the only two undefeated teams, but the Bowl Coalition didn’t like the match. Instead, we were slotted to play Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl Classic. Instead, the Sugar Bowl paid more money so the conference and administration wanted us to play Florida. If we wanted the best chance to win, we should have taken the Cotton; playing a slower, more physical team outdoors would have worked to our advantage a lot more than playing those Florida speed-burners indoors on a smooth surface.”
Unfortunately I don't think that bodes well for '93's chances. They'd be able to move the ball and put it in the endzone, but ultimately I think that 2011 pulls away and opens the tourney with an upset.
(4) 2011 WVU 38
(5) 1993 WVU 31