On Saturday, we had a birthday party for my 10 year-old son. The party started out well, kids and parents showed up, we got them signed in for bowling and began to play. Then the hostess kept asking when we were going X, when we needed Y and I’m wondering why I’m making these decisions when the itinerary is clearly spelled out. The party ends and I’m trying to get everyone in the car so we can get home and unpacked before we get back on the road, heading to a campground for a Halloween trick-or-treat party. I wanted to be there at 3 so that required us to be on the road by 2:15. We don’t leave the bowling alley until 2:15 and now everyone is hungry so we need to get food. The line is backed up. We don’t get home until 2:45. Everyone piles out of the car and begins to strip down and lounge on the couch. “No, we have to get on the road!”. Kids are screaming, the wife is unhappy and I’m flabbergasted. We did not leave and make the Halloween party.
I feel like that is a microcosm of the West Virginia Mountaineers the past two weeks. Things have started out well enough but before you know it, one bad decision has spiraled out of control and we’re sitting here wondering “why were we unable to make those plays?”
Tykee Smith Makes Plays
It is prophetic of head coach Neal Brown that he singled out cornerback Tykee Smith on Tuesday during his press conference saying “Since he came on campus, he’s had an infectious attitude. He loves football… he enjoys the grind of it.”
Smith played well the previous week against the Texas Longhorns and then this week, he makes a play when Vic Koenning dialed up the turnover play. Defensive tackle Dante Stills displayed the speed and explosiveness that makes him one of the best players on the defense. Stills knifed through the offensive line faster than the Cyclones were expecting and forced quarterback Brock Purdy to rush his throw. His throw was tipped and Tykee Smith picked off the pass and raced into the endzone. It was an incredible display of awareness and even more impressive was the speed and explosiveness of Smith.
I Don’t Understand the Offense
The first two games I understood that the coaches needed to flesh out the personnel and find who was a dawg and who was a pup. I understood that when we got to NC State they needed to make some schematic changes. I don’t understand the schematic changes. Against NC State we ran horizontal zone run plays and movement passes to help the offense along. We’ve seen glimpses of that but we haven’t seen consistent schematic progress. Now the offense is limited by some inexperience and youth that is going to hinder what the staff can do but I’m still waiting on that breakthrough moment of “this is what the offense can be like”.
The Defense Is Working
The past two weeks we’ve seen what I feared. A defense capable of competing against everyone but Oklahoma (and we’ll find out this week just how far down we are) but ultimately when you’re down to your third-string freshman corner who hasn’t played before, mistakes are going to be made and inexperience is going to show. Also, when your offense is struggling to find an identity and can’t sustain drives, the defense suffers. I wrote about it last week when I said the offense can only operate under tempo and that weakens the defense because either we score but the defense is back on the field in two minutes or we slow down and go threee-and-out and again the defense is back on the field quickly. There is serious talent on the defensive line and youthful inexperience in the secondary that in a couple of years could be the backbone of a championship squad but its going to need some help.
I was happy to see Allison in a game where he had a coaching staff that worked to have him succeed. Allison was given the rawest of deals in the bowl game last season and, in my opinion, given a short straw in the spring game. I wrote then and I still think that Allison played better than Kendall in the spring game. He threw the ball with greater strength. the coaching staff got to see the quarterbacks on a daily basis so I can’t speak to how they responded day in and day out, nor can I speak to how the players handle coaching or their decision making.
Kendall has his strengths; he makes quick decisions and he is accurate on short throws and gives his receivers time to make moves. What he lacks is timing on the crossing routes and the strength to put the ball deep. Allison is different. Allison doesn’t make great decisions (check out the NC State game) but he does put more air under the ball deep and he can fit the ball into tighter spaces. If Kendall is out for an extended amount of time, Jack Allison needs to be given a gameplan suited to his strengths.
Don’t Judge On The Next Two Weeks
Let’s be real. The next two weeks could be real ugly. Oklahoma is the cream of the crop and they are looking to be playing in the Playoffs. Baylor will be looking for revenge and has their eye on a conference title. Both teams are significantly better than the Mountaineers. Don’t judge the overall team based on these next two weeks. Expect to be run out by both teams. Expect ugly games that are over before halftime. Don’t lose faith.
However, look at where those teams are and see how far we need to come. You will see what championship teams look like and what we need to expect from Brown and his staff. After Baylor, the team will likely need to regroup and look towards the final four games, trying to find three wins. Get to a bowl and get those practices.