Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

September 22, 2013

Four games in, plenty of work left on gridiron

BLUEFIELD — After the first week of the high school and college football season, my advice was not to panic over one game.

Four games in, and it might be time to panic, especially if you’re a West Virginia fan.

Two years after scoring 70 points in the Orange Bowl, the Mountaineers have scored 81 points ... in four games. Against FBS schools — those are Division I teams eligible for bowl games — Oklahoma (7) and Maryland (0) — West Virginia has scored seven.

That is not a good sign in the Big 12 where many of the teams seem to score at will. Three of those are next on the slate for the Mountaineers, who, at 2-2, could be facing a December without football this season.

What awaits? First up is Oklahoma State (4-0, 38.8 points per game), Baylor (3-0, 69.7 ppg) — yes, that is correct — and Texas Tech (4-0, 38.8).

True, only two of the 10 wins among those three schools have been against quality competition — Texas Christian and Mississippi State — but that is still lots of points.

Keeping up with them will be a problem.

West Virginia has found life difficult without the trio of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. All three are gone, and so is that potent offense that brought Dana Holgorsen to Morgantown.

The defense, surprisingly, has been better, but they need help. Before allowing 37 points in the loss on Saturday to Maryland, the Mountaineers had given up just 40 points.

It wasn’t their fault. Maryland forced six turnovers, which left the West Virginia defense on the field forever, and the Terrapins had the ball 17 minutes longer than the Mountaineers.

Meanwhile, the offense managed just 175 yards — they were getting that in a quarter last year — in getting blanked 37-0, the first time the Mountaineers have been shut out since Virginia Tech did it to them in 2001.

West Virginia has seven games left, and they need four wins to get to 6-6 and earn a bowl bid. Hmmm...not in the Big 12. All that awaits after the three teams listed above are road trips to Kansas State and TCU, and a home game with Texas.  

At least there is Iowa State and Kansas at the back end of the slate. Finding two other wins among those other five teams will be the problem.

• • •

Finally, the ACC season is here for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech has played four games, and won three of them, thanks to its defense, and the offense that made key plays down the stretch to tie Marshall late, and then win in overtime on Saturday.

Up next is perhaps the biggest three-game stretch of the season if the Hokies have any hopes of returning to the ACC championship game.

Since the creation of the game in 2005, the Hokies have never gone two years in a row without an appearance.

The Hokies will visit Georgia Tech on Thursday — and the Yellow Jackets are already 2-0 and in the driver’s seat in the Coastal Division — followed by a visit to Blacksburg the next Saturday by North Carolina.

Pittsburgh, which hammered the Hokies last season, will follow next.

Virginia Tech has played well all season on defense — holding Alabama’s offense to just 10 points — but the Hokies are still struggling to move the ball and score.

It will be up to the defense to keep the Hokies close, and perhaps Virginia Tech will be able to win at least two of those games, and will later face Miami and Maryland, which is suddenly a threat in the ACC.

• • •

Much the same can be said for Marshall, which has lost two straight after starting with a pair of wins. That includes a two-point loss to Ohio, and then the three-overtime heartbreaker at Virginia Tech.

A bye week awaits, with the Conference USA on tap the following week.

Prepare to the learn the following initials: UTSA, FAU and MTSU.

Those are the schools that the Herd will meet first in the revamped C-USA slate. If Marshall expects to compete for the East Division title and make the final game of the season with East Carolina matter, the Herd must win games like these.

• • •

Virginia has started 2-1, with wins over Brigham Young and VMI and a loss to No. 2 Oregon.

The schedule ahead remains brutal so getting to six wins for bowl eligibility will be challenge. They still have home dates with Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia, and have to visit Pittsburgh, Maryland and North Carolina.

Whew.

• • •

Bluefield College does have hope. After attending the Rams’ first home game of the season on Saturday, the final result — a 38-7 loss to Kentucky Christian — wasn’t as bad as it might seem.

The Rams’ defense allowed just 10 points. The rest came on a ‘crazy’ start to the game when the Knights scored on two fumbles and a punt return to take a 21-0 lead three minutes in, and didn’t even run its first offensive play until a few minutes later.

The final score was a pick-six, but the defense held.

Of course, Bluefield allowed 56 and 55 points in the first two games of the season, and was facing a team that was on its fourth string quarterback in the second half, but perhaps the Rams are starting to improve.

The offense is still a work in progress. The Knights simply didn’t give them anything other than one 78-yard touchdown. The rest of the time the Rams were swallowed up in the backfield.

The first win? It is coming, just not sure when.

• • •

The high school football season will reach Week 5 on Friday, and there are currently four undefeated teams in the Daily Telegraph coverage area, That includes Giles, Summers County, Honaker and Haysi, and two winless teams, Tazewell and Bland County.

There are plenty of intriquing matchups waiting this week, with the best possibly being at Mitchell Stadium when Giles (4-0) brings its single wing attack to face Graham (2-2), which scored 67 points in a rout of Grundy last week.

If you have never seen the single wing, check it out, it is a treat to watch. Good luck keeping up with the football.

There are plenty of other good matchups, including several home games — even in Tazewell after four straight games on the road — so there is plenty for your entertainment on football Friday night.

While there are plenty of home games on the prep slate, only one of the six area college teams are at home. West Virginia will host Oklahoma State at noon in a game that will be televised by ESPN.

All the rest of the schools are on the road, other than Marshall, which is off this week.

Sometimes I wish Morgantown wasn’t so far. A four-hour trip after a long Friday night of high school football can make for a long day ahead.

That’s it for now. Time to go home.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. —bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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