We at Bleacher Report are always looking ahead and moving forward. We leave the game updates to the wire services, which do that very well, and try to not overly re-examine games in the past, even if that past is just 23 hours old.
That being said, I have to as a writer get my brain around how Marshall gained over 500 yards total offense and put 34 points on the board on a talented West Virginia defense.
In my preseason work and study of the Big 12, I concluded that the Mountaineers D would match up on the average with Big 12 attacks.
I thought WVU could largely slow down opponents’ offenses enough to allow Dana Holgorsen to set up quarterback Geno Smith and allow him to work his magic. And, I thought the defense would do this well enough to avoid shootouts that can get sloppy and silly.
And most importantly, I thought that through this success on both sides of the ball West Virginia could end up with a 7-2 league record and maybe win the Big 12 if it all gets crazy, or get an at-large bid to a Bowl Championship Series bowl if the conference has a one-loss champion, or play in the Cotton Bowl if a Big 12 school runs the table.
Marshall has talent itself, especially at the ball-handling positions. The Herd’s quarterback, Rakeem Cato, dished out enough completions to move down the field for 413 yards in the air.
Sounds bad enough, but there was the matter of Marshall turnovers, which brings us to takeaways, a reason why fans shouldn’t be too worried about WVU defense
Cato, as truly brilliant as he was, was "encouraged" by West Virginia to hack up the ball twice. WVU’s Isaiah Bruce scooped up a Cato fumble in the third quarter and took it home for a touchdown, and Doug Rigg got a pick on Cato and was able to get to inside the Marshall 5-yard line before being hauled down. Rigg didn’t score, but West Virginia’s offense did on the next play.
The Mountaineer defense gave up 34 points, no doubt, but they scored a touchdown directly and got another touchdown effectively. Those scores from the other side of the ball are meaningful.
Seeing WVU's defense in this light brings to my mind a Darrell Royal football adage. Royal, of course, coached the University of Texas in the '50s, '60s and early in the '70s. He was highly successful in his 20 seasons guiding the Longhorns, winning national championships in 1963, 1969, and 1970, and dominating the old Southwest Conference, which along with the Big 8 Conference, is a precursor to the Big 12.
Royal would in Socratic fashion gather his 'Horns around the chalkboard in the locker room. He'd draw a football field gridiron on the chalkboard and say, “Men, this is a football field. These are the 20 yard lines (pointing to the appropriate lines). I don’t care what happens between these two 20 yard lines. Everything else (now pointing to the end zones) is ours.”
Darrell Royal and his folksy wisdom help me understand what happened to the Mountaineers yesterday in Morgantown, and it was good.
I am drawn to the game in Columbus, where Ohio State hosted Miami University of Ohio. There, Urban Meyer, in his nascent tenure coaching the Buckeyes, pelted the Redhawks with eight touchdowns for a 56-10 decisive victory.
It’s early in the season and all we have is one game to examine. Common sense tells us to put a few games under our belts before making judgments. Human nature says to just figure this out right now.
West Virginia and Ohio State began their respective seasons near each other in the second ten of a few media polls.
At the best, in my opinion, Miami (Ohio) and Marshall are equivalent in preseason stature. I can’t just leave it there, though. I think the Redhawks could win the Mid-American Conference East division on defense alone and Marshall will not win Conference USA’s East division for any reason. I’ll give a nod to Miami.
So, let’s forget that nod and assume again the two inferior opponents are equivalent. This means Ohio State completely dominated the inferior opponent in its home opener and West Virginia kind of manhandled the inferior opponent in its home opener, but that inferior opponent, The Herd, hung around way too long.
Which takes me back to worried. And this is how I’ll handle that: one game does not make a trend. Dana Holgorsen and his coaches and players have plenty of time to figure out why Marshall exposed weaknesses in the Mountaineer defense, and figure out how to correct those issues.
It’s 27 days until Baylor comes to town, and of course, there are also James Madison and Maryland before the Bears. I’m worried, but okay. More like okay.