Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

October 10, 2012

How far can the offense take the Mountaineers?

BLUEFIELD — How much longer can this last? It’s been a dream season so far for West Virginia football ... at least for the offense. Can the Mountaineers continue to simply outscore teams?

A legendary football coach once said the following: “Good offense will win you games, but good defense will win you championships.”

Wonder what Vince Lombardi would say now?

Football has long been a sport built on running the football, rugged defense and good special teams. That foundation seems to be on shaky ground.  

Another adage has been quoted often about passing the football: “When you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them aren’t good.”  

Among the coaches given credit for that comment is Darrell Royal, who didn’t like incomplete passes or a dreaded interception.

West Virginia hasn’t had many of the former and none of the latter.

What must Royal — whose name is on the stadium at the University of Texas — have thought last week when the Mountaineers and Longhorns threw the ball 64 times, completed it 47 times and never had a pick.

West Virginia didn’t, however, just throw the ball. They ran it effectively and made a few key stops on defense to secure the win. Could that prescription continue to work, and possibly lead to big things at the end of the season.

This comes from a team that allowed 35 points in the opening half to Baylor, the same number of points that Alabama has allowed all season.

Who would have thought it was possible? The nation’s fifth or fourth ranked college football team — depending on the poll — is ranked 102nd in scoring defense, 102nd in total defense and 117th in pass defense.

That is out of 124 FBS teams. Rarely is a team that allows that much on defense considered competitive, much less a national championship contender.

 Yet, that team is 5-0, and ranked among the top teams in America. The defense has surrendered 63 and 45 points in two Big 12 games, but the offense has been better, scoring 70 and 48 points.

That is the way college football has long been played in the Big 12.  Defense still matters, just not as much, except, it seems, in the SEC.

West Virginia has found a home in the Big 12 with an innovative coach in Dana Holgorsen and the perfect quarterback to run his offense. That unit is currently ranked third in total offense, fifth in scoring offense, second in pass offense and first in passing efficiency.

Geno Smith has thrown for an amazing 24 touchdowns and no interceptions, and has completed a remarkable 81.4 percent of pass attempts to talented receivers like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.  

Forget the Heisman hype, there is no competition. The trophy could be shipped now to Morgantown. Just don’t let it get burned in another fire following another win.

As for the national championship, let’s don’t give that to the Mountaineers just yet.

Oregon was another team with a similar high-octane pinball type of offense that managed to get to the final game in 2010, and scored just 19 points in a defensive struggle and a loss to Auburn.

Could West Virginia win a similar style of game?

The SEC has won the last six BCS national championships. Wouldn’t it be fun to match one of these high-octane offenses — Oregon or West Virginia — against Alabama or South Carolina with the same prize on the line.

Who knows how it would work out, but it sure would be fun to watch.

There is little doubt that West Virginia is in the perfect league for its offense. Missouri, which fit in just fine in the Big 12, might be rethinking its move to the SEC.

 Prior to Missouri making its SEC debut with Georgia last month, Tigers’ defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said the Bulldogs and the SEC played ‘old-school football’ and if his team executed, “no one in the league could touch us. Period.”

 It is doubtful that he is allowed to talk to the media anymore.  

Missouri, which was known for a prolific offense in the Big 12, scoring 32.9 points per game last season, has found the SEC a tall task, even with many of the same cast of characters on the field.

The Tigers are 95th in total offense and 80th in scoring offense. They have scored 20, 10 and 15 points in three SEC games, and they’re still looking for that first SEC win, even losing at home to Vanderbilt.  

Up next for Missouri is Alabama, and the Tigers will play without injured  quarterback James Franklin. Ouch.

West Virginia’s next opponent is Texas Tech, which was West Virginia a few years ago when Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator and the Red Raiders threw the ball all over the field, put up lots of points, but never came close to a national championship because their defense allowed the opposing team to do much the same.

If anyone knows the difference between the SEC and Big 12 it is Tommy Tuberville, the former coach at Auburn, who is now at Texas Tech. He has tried to provide more balance for an offense that is still putting up 39 points a game. His defense allowed 43 points in four games and was ranked best in the nation — against a schedule full of cupcakes — before surrendering 41 in a loss last week to Oklahoma.

The Raiders have dropped behind Alabama in defensive statistics, but staying second against West Virginia won’t be easy.

Will Texas Tech make it tough on West Virginia, or will the scoreboard light up again. It could come down to simply outscoring the Mountaineers.

What is the better style of football? West Virginia and Texas Tech, which promises lots of points, or South Carolina at LSU, which will be all about defense?

Would you rather see a point-a-minute offense like West Virginia and Baylor. Those same Bears defeated Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl last year and one national columnist called it the best game he had ever seen. Or, would you rather see LSU beat Alabama in a 9-6 battle of field goals, pleasing fans of hard-hitting defenses, while the other side was bored out of their skulls.

What non-SEC fan didn’t want to put their high-powered offense on the field against either of those teams last year — Oklahoma State almost had the chance — in the national championship game.

It could happen this year. What will win, offense or defense?

The question becomes? Which is better, lots of points or lots of wins.

West Virginia has had the answer through five games.

Why not both.

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

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