Tough Road Tests Await
MORGANTOWN – As much fun as No. 8 West Virginia’s offense had in its Big 12 debut, the Mountaineers have to put all that behind with two road challenges ahead.
Their defense must look for ways to improve – fast – with games looming against two more unbeatens, at No. 11 Texas on Saturday and at Texas Tech on Oct. 13.
Records were toppled while Twitter accounts and message boards lit up during the Mountaineers beat Baylor 70-63 on Saturday in the highest-scoring game in Big 12 history.
“We weren’t clicking. We weren’t tackling, we weren’t doing what we were supposed to do,” West Virginia safety Darwin Cook said. “Our defense has to get better.”
While West Virginia’s offense amassed a school-record 807 yards, the defense gave up 700.
West Virginia’s Geno Smith had more touchdown passes (eight) than incompletions (six), but that was barely enough. The game wasn’t decided until the Mountaineers ran out the clock.
Baylor’s Nick Florence was no slouch, torching West Virginia’s defense for a school-record 581 yards and five touchdowns.
West Virginia (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) has allowed quarterbacks to throw for 300 or more yards in three of four games.
And with many more high-scoring offenses on the Mountaineers’ schedule, there’s an urgency to get things fixed.
They can start by eliminating blown coverages, cloaking receivers and putting more pressure on the quarterback. They did sack Florence three times and got an interception, but for the most part, he had his way.
“Obviously, it’s not acceptable to do what we did today,” West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. “But it’s the way of life against those (Big 12) offenses. Ultimately, you have to make one more stop than they do, one more turnover than they do, and that’s what we did. It’s still unacceptable but that’s what we did to win the game.”
One that will be talked about for some time in these parts.
“Not every Big 12 game is like this,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “It was a situation where both offenses were playing at a pretty high level and it just started steamrolling, I guess.”
Holgorsen would like to substitute more players on defense to keep fresh bodies on the field.
“I don’t think we did a very good job on defense playing as many people as we needed to,” Holgorsen said. “We have to keep improving on what we’re doing. We have eight more conference games. We have to get better.”
Especially knowing what’s in store the next two weeks.
Texas’ David Ash may not have the gaudy stats of Florence, but he has poise. Ash threw three TD passes and led Texas (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) on a long drive for the go-ahead score in the final minute of a 41-36 win over Oklahoma State.
And in two weeks, the Mountaineers get to face Seth Doege, a 4,000-yard passer from a year ago who threw for 331 yards and three scores in a 24-13 win for Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0) at Iowa State.
Until West Virginia’s defense comes around, the Mountaineers will continue to lean on Smith, the Heisman Trophy hopeful who’s got the nation’s attention. LeBron James even tweeted Smith’s 656-yard performance against Baylor was “ridiculous.”
Big 12 defenses better get accustomed to it. Smith, the nation’s passing and total offense leader, is completing 83 percent of his passes. He’s averaging 432 yards passing per game and has 20 touchdowns without an interception.
But Texas and Texas Tech will bring by far the best defenses Smith has faced so far this year.
“He’s the one kid on our team who is not fazed by anything,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t care what you throw at him. Whatever situations are put in front of him, he’s going to take it head on. He’s got higher expectations for himself and he can handle any situation that you can throw at him.
“I do worry that about him. He expects perfection which perfection is impossible. In the game of football, perfection is impossible. But that’s just something that makes him great.”