Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

October 28, 2012

Warning signs were there for Tech, WVU

BLUEFIELD — What a difference two weeks has made?

Two weeks ago, West Virginia was 5-0, had the Heisman Trophy favorite, had just beaten (once) mighty Texas and had moved as high as fourth in the national polls.

Yet, there were warning signs, as I mentioned in a column prior to West Virginia traveling to Texas Tech. Could the West Virginia offense, which had allowed 108 points in two Big 12 games — and won both — keep outscoring teams as they did with 118 points against Baylor and Texas?

Apparently not. Since then West Virginia has scored 28 and given up 114 in lopsided losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State.

That national championship talk is over and, while Geno Smith is still having a Heisman worthy season, the chances of that trophy being sent to Morgantown is becoming about as likely as Virginia Tech filling that empty trophy case in Blacksburg with the national title crystal in the near future.

Both high-profile regional football programs are struggling right now, and the fans of West Virginia (5-2) and Virginia Tech (4-4) are screaming for answers.

Honestly, it’s pretty obvious if you will just sit back and be realistic, which is often the problem. I was fortunate enough to win an award for an article I wrote a few years ago in which Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer expressed his opinion that too many fans aren’t dealing in reality.

He should be used to it by now. Most fanatics — and many of them are just that — expect their team to win every week, no matter what. No where is the term ‘we’ used more by fans than when talking about their college team.

A reporter at Virginia Tech’s football media day back in August used the ‘we’ word so often I was ready to interview him as a member of the Hokies.

Seriously though, the warning signs were there from the start.

Virginia Tech lost nearly all of its offense off last year’s team and has a quarterback who is starting just his second season of college football. The Hokies are just now whittling down its rotation of four running backs to find one steady back, and Marcus Davis was supposed to replace the top two receivers in school history and he drops more balls than he catches.

Plus, the offensive line, a work in progress all season, is now on its third center this season.

Usually Virginia Tech can depend on its Bud Foster-coached defense, but not this season. The Hokies are ranked 32, 48, 49 and 71 in the four major defensive categories, and that is about 22, 38, 39, and 61 positions higher than when they were a dominant unit.

Virginia Tech also had a difficult non-conference schedule, and it proved to be an issue in losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. In fact, the Hokies are undefeated at home and winless away from Lane Stadium.

Guess where they play on Thursday when they meet Miami?

As for West Virginia, it starts with the defense. That unit switched to a new scheme under Joe DeForest, who was a defensive assistant at Oklahoma State, which hasn’t exactly been stingy over the years in giving up yards and points.

Not to mention the Mountaineers simply haven’t had the time to recruit the players needed to compete in the Big 12. West Virginia coaching staff is out this weekend visiting junior colleges looking for the quick fix, which isn’t a long-term answer.

As for the offense, the Mountaineers are one-dimensional. True, they had had some success running the ball at Texas, but mostly the ball is in the  air. They came into the Big 12 with a high-powered offense, but everyone else already had one.

This is not the Big East, where no team scores like they do in the Big 12. Did you know that West Virginia was scoring 41.1 points a game heading into Saturday’s games, and is ranked 7th out of 10 teams in scoring in the league?

A prolific offense without the threat of defense simply won’t work. Just look at my San Diego Chargers of the Air Coryell years. No team was more exciting, which drew me to them to begin with, but there is a reason the Steelers have six Super Bowl rings and San Diego is looking for one.

Internet chat rooms and social media are usually a waste of time, but I like to get there on occasion and read what folks are thinking. I also will listen to call-in shows on occasion and I managed to hear Beamer try to answer questions on the Tech Talk show on my way home from covering soccer last week.

Most of these folks are fanatics who think their team can do no wrong. I used to be one of those guys who lived and died with his team, but I suppose this job has changed me.

Alabama is my team, as most of you know and hate, and they have the same kind of fans. Right now they don’t have much to complain about, but if the Tide was to lose this season, then everything from firing St. Nick (Saban) to replacing A.J. McCarron — who had 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season — will arise.

What fans have to realize is sometimes the other team is simply better. Very rarely will your team win every week. Alabama will lose too, just hopefully not anytime soon.

Just this past week, the West Virginia board had writers wanting to fire Holgorsen, Oliver Luck and DeForest, and even bring back Jeff Casteel, Rich Rodriguez or Don Nehlen.

Casteel joined Rodriguez in Arizona, and even though the Wildcats upset USC on Saturday, they still gave up 36 points. The ‘Cats entered that game ranked 111th in the nation in pass defense, which is still better than West Virginia, which is 120th (or last) in the nation in that category.

It isn’t the coordinator. The players are young, learning a new scheme, playing in a completely new league and they’re being asked to play way too many plays because the offense is trying to go up and down the field.

Another issue is that when West Virginia is forced to punt and they have been lately, they are 114th in net punting.

Those are just a few reasons that both the Hokies and Mountaineers are facing this season.

Virginia Tech is 4-4 and could be 4-6 after consecutive Thursday night games with Miami and Florida State. The Hokies would then have to beat Boston College and Virginia, and if the win over Austin Peay doesn’t count against them, they will go still go bowling.

West Virginia is 5-2 and up next are TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, which isn’t like anything like the Mountaineers faced in the Big East. True, the Mountaineers proved able to win bowl games over Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson, but now they have to do it against teams like that on a weekly basis.

Both Beamer and Holgorsen are being bombarded with questions, either from the media or their fans. Beamer received advice earlier this week on everything from coaching assignments, trick plays, changes in personnel, and even one question was rather they should go ahead and start using that empty trophy case without the biggest trophy of all.

He answered some, worked some others and went to the next question on others. Holgorsen is answering or skipping many of the same questions.  

Some of the questions are more serious than others. I was listening to Holgorsen’s talk show last season when an older man called and asked him if he could do something about his hair.

Not even he knew what to say to that question.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor at the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

He can be contacted at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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