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PREVIEW: West Virginia welcomes the Long Island Sharks to Morgantown

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The Mountaineers' season opener had an oddly familiar feel to it - what can we do against LIU to shake off a disappointing start and get things rolling ahead of Virginia Tech?

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NCAA Football: West Virginia at Maryland Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

OPENING THOUGHTS

Happy Labor Day, gang. Good, great, grand, wonderful. Week 2 is about two months earlier than I was hoping for in terms of the annual existential crisis, and yet here we are in early September and I have no idea what to make of our team.

There's losing to a surprisingly talented Maryland squad in a well-played, hard-fought contest, and then there's what we were made witness to on Saturday where literally all of the bad things that defined our 2020 season - poor ball security, poor decision making, mental miscues - reared their ugly heads again over the course of 4 quarters in our season opener. I suppose we should find some heart in the fact that we were in a position to win the game in spite of everything, but it was still frustrating to watch, and not the least bit because we've seemingly been gaslit all the offseason long about how much work had been put into improving those issues.

But alas, this is not a review but a preview, and since one game (hopefully) doesn't define a season let's move on to the Sharks.

I'm looking at Long Island this weekend the way I look at my play station controller after a particularly grueling weekend league on FIFA Ultimate Team - I know that smashing it won't solve anything and probably won't make me feel any better (read: probably), but I still very much want to smash. I have nothing at all against Long Island, but here's to them walking into an absolute buzzsaw as our Mountaineers look to right the ship and regain some mojo ahead of next weekend's showdown with Virginia Tech.

WHEN/WHERE

Date: Saturday, September 11, 2021

Kickoff: 5:00PM ET

Where: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium - Morgantown, WV

Tickets: General public

WATCH/LISTEN

Channel: Streaming only

Online Streaming: WatchESPN, with a valid ESPN+ subscription

Cord Cutters: Mountaineer fans can catch all the action on fuboTV. fuboTV is an over-the-top streaming service that carries all the major networks, including CBS, NBC, FOX, and now....the ESPN Disney networks! It also carries ABC, CBS Sports Network, FS1, SEC Network, and more. fuboTV comes with a cloud DVR feature, so you can record the game and watch it later.

Sign up for a free seven day trial of fuboTV, and get 15% off the base family plan, by following THIS LINK.

Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG (Radio Affiliates) | SiriusXM Channel 200 | WVU Gameday App (Apple | Android)

Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)

Reminder: It is against site policy to post links to illegal streams in the comments.

DEGENERATES UNITE

As of the writing of this article I haven't been able to find a spread for this game, but I think it's safe to assume that West Virginia will be heavy favorites with the O/U somewhere in the high 40s or lower 50s.

WEATHER FORECAST (as of Monday, 9/6)

If the forecast holds it should be a fantastic day for football - mostly sunny all day with a high of 77 and relatively low humidity. Look for that temperature to hold through kickoff before dropping into the 60s as the sun goes down. Tip top.

THE ENEMY

Where are they from? Long Island, right there in the name. Specifically the Sharks hail from Brookville, NY, which is just under an hour east of Manhattan.

All-time series record: This contest will be our first meeting with Long Island.

Last game: See above.

Head coach: Jonathan Gill (1st season, interim). Gill has been handed the keys in an interim capacity after spending the last 15 seasons as the Sharks' quarterback coach. As an LIU lifer you know he has his heart invested in this opportunity.

KEYS TO THE GAME

  • START FAST. The absolute worst case scenario in a game like this is letting LIU hang around for 2-3 quarters before putting the hammer down. They'll get frisky, the crowd will get antsy, and what should be a stress-free afternoon will turn into a hands-on-the-hips fest as we all try to figure out what to make of it. We need to avoid those vibes at all costs, especially after the Maryland game, and the best way to do that is to jump on them early and snuff out any hopes that they may have about hanging around and making a game out of it. A perfect day would include a multi-score 1st quarter lead and a nice, juicy 50-burger.
  • TAKE CARE OF THE DAMN BALL. It's easy to overanalyze what happened against Maryland on Saturday, but the simple fact of the matter is that you can't turn the ball over four times against anybody with a pulse and expect to win. Neal Brown seemed to want to give Doege the benefit of the doubt on that second interception in the endzone, which, ok fine I guess, but at the very least we had three unforced giveaways and at least two additional turnover worthy plays (the Sam James fumble and another Doege YOLO into double coverage) where we were fortunate enough to retain possession. I'm not a mathematician or anything but if my calculations are correct then the 10 points Maryland scored off of those turnovers may have made a difference in the outcome of the game. We need to clean that stuff up starting this week.
  • FIND AN OFFENSIVE IDENTITY. It’s easy to second-guess coaching decisions when you're not at practice every day, but there's time when I really have trouble understanding what we're going for offensively. Part of coaching is adjusting what your team does based on what your players are both capable of and comfortable with. In our case, I just don't feel like we're doing Jarret Doege any favors by asking him to throw 40+ times in a zone read RPO scheme considering that A) RPO requires consistent decision making and he’s made several questionable decisions in pretty much every game he’s played here, B) he offers no threat in the zone read, and C) our best offensive player is our running back. Seriously, why are we ever passing the ball on 66% of our snaps considering the respective gifts of our quarterback and running back? And if that's confusing then it's downright inexcusable that Leddie Brown didn’t get a single carry in the 4th quarter last weekend. As Jake Lantz covered in his review article, our best drives were the ones where Leddie’s usage was highest - why are we not leaning on him, especially with the game as close as it was? I'm on record about what I'd like to see happen at the quarterback position, but regardless of any changes there I'd really like to see us recommit to running the ball this weekend, whether that's with Leddie or one of the other two running backs we've heard so much about recently. After two years of Doege it feels like that's where our path to success lies.
  • LET THE KIDS PLAY. Unless we're worried about burning redshirts, which we absolutely shouldn't be, this game should be the perfect opportunity to let some of our youngsters to make their debuts in front of the home crowd. If the game is as in-hand as it should be we should be pulling the starters after the first drive of the second half anyways. May as well give the kids a chance to show us all something, and lord knows we need to develop the depth.

HOW AFRAID SHOULD WE BE?

0 out of 10 - LIU gave up 318 yards rushing in a 48-10 season opening loss to Florida International, and the chances that we actually lose to them are non-existent. However, after last weekend anything short of a raze-the-city-and-massacre-the-populace-style ransacking will definitely lead to some impatience in and around Mountaineer Field on Saturday evening.

PREDICTION

I think we come out and absolutely trounce them (as we should). Look for Leddie to go well over 100 with another hat trick and Doege to play well enough to keep his starting job for at least another week (sigh). Let's go.

West Virginia 52 - 10 Long Island