It's far too early to make any long-lasting judgments, and no, I'm still not over the Bob Huggins thing (nothing personal, WVU fans), but I'm beginning to think we could be friends with these West Virginia folks. Today blogger Country Roads of The Smoking Musket tells us some things about the Mountaineers and what he expects to see on Saturday in Morgantown.
I'll report back Monday to let you know if the sbnation representatives of our new Big 12 rivals are really as friendly as they seem, and of course give you a full review of the quality of their moonshine. Don't forget to check out my answers over at The Smoking Musket.
Note that I've stolen Country Roads' clever strategy of packing two to three questions into every Question. We're sticking with the traditional Five Question format, but you're getting a lot more bang for your purely metaphorical buck.
AA: How are you guys liking the Big 12 so far? Up until last Saturday, it seemed to be treating you pretty well, and I feel like you guys are a good fit in every way except geography, which I have to admit still makes me a little uncomfortable. On the plus side, it's the closest Big 12 campus to where I'm living now, so I'll be in Morgantown for the game. Are you guys still in the honeymoon phase where you're trying hard to be nice to opposing fans or should I be concerned for my safety? What are the odds I see a burning couch? [Ed. note: This question was submitted and answered prior to all the goEMAW nonsense and WVU complaints yesterday. Hopefully the answer hasn't changed.]
CR: I think I speak for Mountaineer fans everywhere when I say that we absolutely love it. It's so much more fun as a fan to play against quality programs and ranked teams on a weekly basis than to have to try to get excited to play a 3-4 UConn team. Then again, the number of good teams on the schedule probably means more losses at the end of the year so maybe we should be careful what we wish for. And while I had my doubts at first, a third of the way through conference play I 100% agree that we are a good fit in every way except geography. Before the move, I think most fans would have preferred to be in the SEC (and that may even still be the case) where the games are closer and we have natural rivalries with Kentucky and Tennessee, but we probably don't fit with schools like Florida, Alabama and LSU culturally. The same can be said for the ACC, which would be even more convenient and would have allowed us to continue all of our historical rivalries, but we're obviously not a fit culturally there either. In terms of size, culture, and fan passion, though, I'd group us right in with K-State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Iowa State, and probably TCU and Baylor as well.
As for our treatment of opposing fans, I think that stuff gets overblown. I know some fans have been treated horribly in the past (especially those from Pitt and Virginia Tech), and there is absolutely no excuse from that. But I have personally never seen anything happen to an opposing fan that I wouldn't expect to encounter when I visit another stadium. Not to say that we don't have our idiots, because every fan base does. I just honestly believe the culture as a whole has changed and I fully expect us to embrace opposing fans with open arms, delicious food and freeflowing booze not just this year, but in years to come. I know if you stop by to tailgate with WVUIE97, 5th Year Senior, and myself (depending on when I make it to their tailgate - I tend to roam around a lot) we will treat you very well with food, drink, and probably moonshine.
And I know that the university has put an emphasis on cracking down on the post-game burnings, but given that this is a night game against a top 5 team and that no matter what there will be students who just don't care about any sort of punishment...if WVU wins and you want to see someone burn a couch, you can probably find someone burning a couch.
AA: Texas Tech demonstrated last week that Geno Smith can actually be stopped, and the formula seemed to be putting some pressure on him and shaking him up a little early. Is this a serious weakness, or did he just have a bad day? Yes, I'm aware that his "bad day" of 275 yards and no interceptions really isn't bad at all by normal standards.
CR: I'm not sure that it was Tech's pressure that affected Geno as much as him just being "off" for whatever reason. Texas got plenty of pressure early and he seemed to respond fine to that, so as a WVU fan, I'm not worried if he takes a couple early sacks. Obviously anytime you can pressure a quarterback that's better than letting him sit back and pick apart your defense, but what made Tech so successful was that they shut down the run game, kept passing routes underneath them, blanketed receivers, and tackled extremely well. They basically dared Geno to beat them deep through the air, and that worked to their advantage as he was unable to hit on his deep throws. I doubt he'll be off that bad again with his deep throws, but it's still an approach I'd feel good about if I was a K-State fan given how sound you are defensively.
AA: I'd probably put Paul Rhoads at No. 1, but Dana Holgorson seems to be a close second when it comes to best quote among Big 12 coaches. How does his brash style, not to mention his fearless offensive attack sit with the average West Virginia fan? How does it compare to what you all were used to before?
CR: Holgo is an absolutely perfect fit for WVU. For a state with a massive inferiority complex used to being thought of as country yokels by the rest of the country, a lot of folks didn't think the late Bill Stewart did much to change that perception. Stewart was a fantastic human being and, IMO, an underrated coach, but he didn't exude the same type of progressive confidence that Holgorsen shows. Holgorsen is young and "hip" (as the kids like to say) and has brought an exciting and innovative scheme to Morgantown. We're never going to recruit at the level of Texas or Oklahoma, so it's important for us to have a good scheme if we want to compete with that kind of talent. And it doesn't hurt that we play a fun brand of football that attracts fans to stadiums and attracts attention from television viewers and the national media. Those are all extremely important factors for a program that is trying to gain exposure and elevate itself in the college football pecking order. As for his personality, we like our coaches to be brash and a bit quirky. That's why Bob Huggins is such a great fit. He tells it like it is, and while he may be flawed in some ways, we're okay with that because he's genuine. Holgorsen is much the same way---we just hopes he sticks around for a while.
AA.: All we hear about is Geno Smith and his amazing technicolor receivers, but this Andrew Buie fellow rushed for more than 200 yards against a Texas defense that we know by now is not even close to as good as advertised. Still, is he a serious threat to do some damage against a Kansas State rush defense that ranks third in the league but did somehow give up 120 rushing yards to a running back from Kansas?
CR: Probably not. Holgorsen will try to establish the run to take pressure off of Geno, but I don't think he will emphasize it to the same extent he did against Texas. And more importantly, K-State won't be caught off guard by it. Not to mention they're a better defensive team anyway. WVU's best chance for success in the running game would be for Shawne Alston to come back from his thigh bruise. Alston is a bigger back who can pick up a few yards after contact on almost every carry, which seems to be important for us. We don't need to gash opposing defenses play after play, but if a running back can get 5-6 yards on first down, that's a huge help. And Alston seems better equipped to fill that role than Buie.
AA: It's pretty obvious by now West Virginia doesn't know how to defend the passing attack of a spread offense, but the Mountaineers' rushing defense numbers are actually pretty solid. Is that simply a function of playing pass-oriented teams or is this defense actually built to stop strong running attacks like the one K-State will bring to town on Saturday? Does this give West Virginia a good chance to win?
CR: I'm not sure our defense is built to stop much other than DC Joe DeForest getting a contract extension, but we have had some success against the run. Obviously our Achilles heel has been our pass defense, and teams have tried and succeeded at throwing it all over the lot against us. But if you look at our yards per rush average, it's not all that bad. So that indicates to me that we are better against the run, and not just because nobody runs on us. I think our most talented unit is our linebackers, and our rushing defense probably bears that out. The issue I see is that we're thin on defense, and we've sustained some injuries. If you do have success running the ball and you end up eating a ton of clock, I could see our guys getting worn down in the fourth quarter and giving up a couple long drives.
The main reason I like WVU in this one is because we are playing with our backs against the wall a bit. I think we got a little overconfident and came out flat against Tech, which is pretty much on par with our historical inability to handle success. Now that the entire country is down on us (okay, except maybe Vegas), I'm betting we have a great week of practice and come out fired up on Saturday. In addition, we have a great history of success in home night games against highly ranked opponents, notwithstanding games against LSU last year and a certain game at the end of 2007 that I won't mention. A night game in Morgantown is special, so you're in for a real treat this Saturday. Best of luck to you and I genuinely hope you enjoy your trip aside from the outcome of the game. Let's go, Mountaineers!