By now, hopefully the gut-wrenching pain that is your memory of today’s game has subsided somewhat. It is that age-old feeling that West Virginia fans seem destined to feel at least once a season.
In the Big East days, we would drop game to sub-par opponents such as Syracuse, Connecticut, and/or Lousiville. New conference, same old issue. Goodbye Syracuse, hello Texas Tech.
The Mountaineers wandered into the biggest of trap games in Lubbock, TX and the Tubervilles sprang the trap. From the start of the game, the Red Raiders were all over the Mountaineers, jumping out to an early 14-0 lead. Geno Smith led the Mountaineers down the field for a touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey. At the time, it looked like the offense had settled into a rhythm and would be able to keep pace with the Red Raiders. That illusion quickly vanished as the Texas Tech defense proved that they are for real. The Red Raiders defense held the Mountaineers offense, averaging more than 45.7 points per game, to only 14 points today. The Mountaineers offense was able to rack up 428 yards, but could not convert most of their drives into scores. Holgorsen decided to push his luck with the offense on fourth down too many times, and the Mountaineers would often leave the field after failing to convert. The Mountaineers were just 1 of 6 on 4th down, a far cry from their 4th down efficiency against Texas the week before. Offensively, the passing game was not in sync for much of the afternoon. Geno looked to be flustered by the Texas Tech rush at times, over throwing open receivers. Once the Mountaineers got behind by a couple of scores, Geno tried to force the team down the field and did not look comfortable passing. The normally calm and collected passer finished with middling statistics; completing 29 of 55 passes for 295 yards and 1 touchdown. Of course, Geno did not get much help from his receivers today. Multiple times, reliable targets Bailey and Woods dropped many catchable passes. Perhaps the receivers were trying to hard to make a big play or perhaps it was the outstanding play of the Texas Tech secondary. The cornerbacks played tough, physical coverage all day. They prevented the Mountaineers receivers from getting any open looks and were able to poke a hand into almost every catch attempt. The offense was not totally lost on the afternoon. The rushing game was effective, gaining 133 yards on a defense that was only allowing 86.3 yards per game. Buie and Garrison were able to make the most of their carries, often finding gaps in the middle of the defensive front. With the Mountaineers trailing badly for most of the afternoon, the team was forced to forsake the running game in hopes of catching up to the Red Raiders on the score board. Had the Mountaineers been keeping pace with the Texas Tech offense, the running game could have really put a punishing on the defensive front. But it is difficult to keep pace with a team that piles it on your defense. The Mountaineers defense, much maligned this season, looked even worse this weak then in weeks prior. The defense, with a few shining moments, could not stop the Red Raiders attack. It got so bad that Texas Tech was almost gauranteed to go for 20+ yards on every pass attempt. A major portion of the blame rests solely on the shoulders of the secondary. Jenkins, Miller, Cook, and Joseph got down right embarassed today. The coverage was awful and it the tackling was worse. Outside of a fortunate interception, the secondary was outclassed. Scheme-wise, the secondary was put at a disadvantage, playing a lot of zone coverage and giving receivers big leads off the line of scrimmage. When you play that kind of coverage scheme, you had better have a good pass rush to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. Seth Doege felt next to no pressure all afternoon. Jorge Wright was able to register a sack in the first half on Doege, but that would be virtually the only time he was touched. Doege absolutely man-handled West Virginia’s secondary to the tune of 504 yards and 6 touchdowns. Those are the numbers we have come to expect from Geno. A sad commentary on how bad our defense is, that it can literally make marginal quarterbacks appear to be on par with the Heisman favorite. The loss puts West Virginia’s slim National Champsionship hopes out of reach. However, with only one loss in conference play, the Mountaineers are still very much alive for the Big XII Championship. They have a ton of work to do in preparation for the showdown with Kansas State this coming week. If the Mountaineers can pull off the upset of the Wildcats, they will be in the mix for the conference crown with Oklahoma and the top half of the conference. A bitter loss like this is hard to swallow, but by now, Mountaineer fans should be adept at stomaching these kind of head-scratchers. Coach Holgorsen and staff have plenty of adjustments to make this week. The Mountaineers will need to learn some humility from this loss and realize that it takes a top-notch performance week in and week out to win a conference like the Big XII. Lesson learned.