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As always, there was a lot of good and a lot of bad from the most schizophrenic team in all of college football.
West Virginia 70, Baylor 63:
- You watched the game, so you know I didn't make that score up. It was the shootout everyone expected it to be and more. The O/U set by Vegas at the start of the game was 84. The teams combined for a Big XII-record 133 points (3 off the FBS record according to helpful folks on twitter) that probably won't be bested when West Virginia visits Waco in men's basketball. These two offenses apparently decided that the Alamo and Orange bowls were sadly boring affairs.
- I'm going to say some things here about Baylor's defense that are not positive. I want to make two things clear before I do: 1) I'm not taking anything away from WVU QB Geno Smith in doing so because he was simply transcendent today, and 2) I don't think we need to fire Phil Bennett. Yes, we're paying him for a lot more than we're getting right now. Yes, everyone expects for the defense to perform much, much better than it did today. No, we can't get where we want to be with that kind of performance. All that taken as fact, Phil Bennett is a good defensive coach. Despite the scorn I heaped upon him in the heat of the moment on twitter, it's not his fault that our players don't tackle when they have the chance, and it's not his fault they make terrible decisions like leaving Tavon Austin wide open down the sideline. Our biggest problem at this point is clearly the defensive line, where we're playing a redshirt freshman in an alignment we've never used before because we lost our starter before the season. Over and over again before the game I stressed that pressure would make all the difference; we couldn't expect any secondary, much less ours, to cover receivers like WVU's indefinitely. Today, we got almost zero effective pressure even when we did bring extra rushers. They were close on numerous occasions, but not close enough to impact the play and Geno Smith picked us apart. With better talent, close plays missed become important plays made. That we lack that talent in certain important areas now is not Bennett's fault.
- But, of course, the buck stops there on defense. Art Briles brought in Phil Bennett to be basically the head coach of the defense, and no matter what the reason is, the job isn't getting done. That falls on Bennett before it does anyone else. And I guarantee you that with his background, experience, and personality, he knows that better than anyone. The idea that we suck on defense because Bennett isn't trying or doesn't care should never enter your mind. It's not a question of desire. If I thought it was for a moment, I'd be all over riding him out of town on a rail. But it's not and we shouldn't. For the reasons I said above, our struggles are not really his fault, he will make it better, and even if we did go that direction this offseason, we're probably not getting anyone better, anyway. Let him continue to recruit, build, and be patient. It's extremely difficult, and I know I sound hypocritical suggesting it, but it's the only reasonable thing to do at this point. Recruiting is on the upswing; we can't torpedo that now by changing DCs again.
- Having said his position is secure, Bennett has got to figure things out quickly. We need to know before the TCU game how Bryce Hager ended up with responsibility for Tavon Austin in the open field, why receivers ended up totally uncovered on the outside of the formation, what we can do to keep our DBs from giving up on the play and getting burned, etc. etc. Our depth took a serious hit today, and this off week might be the perfect time to audition a few spots.
- Moving to happier subjects, I can't say enough about how our offense performed, even taking the turnover into consideration. Nick Florence (29/47 for 581 yards and 5 TDs with 1 INT) moved the offense nearly at will, the running game looked better than it had before even if it isn't where we want it to be yet, and our wide receivers absolutely dominated WVU's secondary. We scored 63 points, the most ever in a losing effort by a FBS school, our highest output ever in a Big XII game, and by far the most we've ever scored on the road (in a non-bowl game). 700 yards is always worth celebrating. It just wasn't enough.
- Never forget that this game was on the road, in a charged-up stadium on homecoming, with a fanbase celebrating their welcoming party into the Big XII Conference. I was extremely impressed with the fact that our team never once gave up, even down 56-35, and even though I did myself. I'll own that. They showed character, determination, and tremendous poise today. Past teams would have lost this game by 40+ even with our talent. This team earned its way back into the final drive of the game actually mattering. They went to the home of a top-ten team and lost by a touchdown!
- I'm sad for Demetri Goodson that it looks like he'll miss significant time with another injury. I like watching him play and his story is worth rooting for no matter who you are. I feel terrible for him. Jarred Salubi getting back into the game was good to see since he wasn't seriously injured, as well.
- Terrance Williams is incredible. School records today for catches (17) and yards (314), the latter also being a conference record. What a player. He was a man among boys in the WVU secondary and deserves more praise than he will get. That actually goes for the entire offense; in the aftermath of the Geno show Baylor's offensive game will go largely unrecognized. That's too bad.
- I'm going to do something this week about wrapping up the first third of the season and asking for views looking forward to the rest, so think about that. We're probably where we thought we'd be at 3-1 (0-1), and I've never been more convinced that we will make a bowl this season. I don't know exactly where the necessary wins will come from, but our offense is enough to get us there. The defense ... couldn't be worse than it was today.
- I have to say again how impressive Geno Smith was in the pocket. Yeah, it's easy to find wide-open receivers, but I'd only ever seen him play live in the Orange Bowl last year and don't think he looked as good then as he did today. He was amazing and deserves the praise he'll get. He has a huge arm and just did not miss. His receivers, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, were also extremely good. It's really hard not to like this WVU offense.
- Really don't know what to think about our offensive line at this point, to be honest with you. For the most part they protected Florence well against a very strong pass rush, and at times they made WVU's defense look as helpless as our own. But other times they lost their assignments and our offense paid the price. Two drives ended because of sacks on third down, one by missed field goal and one right before the half by punt. Those were killer missed opportunities in a game we knew would be a shootout all the way.
- I'm going to have to go back and look at what they did in the third quarter to keep our offense largely in check, because that was the game. That's where they built the lead we couldn't close.
- Lastly, lest I be called a whiner, we need to talk about the officials for a moment. #76 Pat Eger held on almost every play of the game. If he didn't, #67 Quinton Spain did. On the TD where WVU went up 35-28 in the first half, Spain literally tackled Chris McAllister from behind. I don't understand how officials miss things like that. Or the facemask that should have been in the second half when Florence was sacked. I'm not saying those things decided the game by any stretch-- our putrid defense did that-- it's just frustrating to watch obvious calls missed.