West Virginia Football: Lessons We Learned from the Loss to Texas Tech
Embarrassment, disaster, exposed and collapse are just a few of the words you could use to sum up West Virginia’s poor performance in a 49-14 loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock in Week 7.
Not only did the Mountaineers look like they didn’t deserve a top-5 national ranking, they didn’t even look like they belonged on the same field as a Big 12 team.
West Virginia’s defense had one of the most terrible showings in school history, allowing the Red Raiders to accumulate 676 yards of total offense.
The Mountaineers offense didn’t play much better, as QB Geno Smith had his first truly bad game of the season.
There certainly weren’t any positives to take away from the game.
Here are a few of the lessons we learned from the loss.
Geno Smith’s Heisman Hopes Have Taken a Hit
Geno Smith garnered some serious Heisman buzz following his performance in West Virginia's first five games of the season. Many were even touting him as the early front-runner.
Smith deserved the praise, given that he came into the game against Texas Tech having completed 81 percent of his passes for nearly 2,000 yards and had thrown 24 touchdowns to no interceptions.
After the blowout defeat at the hands of the the Red Raiders, the senior signal-caller will surely gain plenty of critics and doubters, especially since he completed just 29 of his 55 passes in the loss.
Remember, though, Robert Griffin III had a few less-than-stellar performances last year, most notably in a 59-24 loss to Oklahoma State, and he still won the award.
Smith's Heisman hopes have taken a hit, and he may not be considered the favorite any longer, but he's definitely still a legitimate contender.
West Virginia’s Defense Lacks Toughness
OK, maybe we had already found out that West Virginia's defense was severely flawed after its lackluster showings against Baylor and Texas. However, the unit's lack of toughness was on full display against Texas Tech.
There were no Mountaineer defenders who looked like they wanted to get physical and make a big hit on a Red Raider ball-carrier.
ABC announcer Chris Spielman absolutely lambasted the West Virginia defense during the game, and the Mountaineers deserved every word of his criticism.
When you play hesitant and try to arm tackle against an explosive offense, you're going to get embarrassed and exposed, and that's exactly what happened to the Mountaineers defense in Lubbock.
You can blame the unit's poor play on youth and inexperience at key positions or the transition to a new 3-4 defense under new coordinator Joe DeForest, but there are no excuses for playing soft.
Scheduling Back-to-Back Games in Texas Isn’t a Great Idea
Most normal college kids aren't asked to make a 1,400-mile trek across the country and back home on consecutive weekends, but that's what the West Virginia players were asked to do in the past two weeks.
Traveling to Texas then back to West Virginia then back to Texas obviously had an effect on the Mountaineers' energy level for the game against Texas Tech.
Every major college football team has to deal with long road trips, so you can't really use that as an excuse for a bad game. Hopefully, though, the school will learn from the mistake and try to avoid scheduling such grueling road trips in back-to-back weeks in the future.
Still, no amount of schedule-maneuvering is going to change the fact that the Mountaineers are a geographic outlier in the Big 12, so they better get used to dealing with long road trips.
Mountaineers and Wind Do Not Mesh Well
There wasn't a cloud in the sky during the game against Texas Tech, but you could tell from the way that passes were fluttering and debris was tumbling down the field that the wind was definitely swirling inside Jones AT&T Stadium.
The 20-25 mph gusts may have hindered West Virginia's normally explosive passing attack, and Dana Holgorsen even noted during his halftime interview that it was playing a factor. Nevertheless, this is football. You have to be able to adapt to the conditions no matter what they might be.
Obviously, the wind didn't seem to have much of an effect on QB Seth Doege, who completed 32 of his 42 pass attempts for 499 yards and six touchdowns.
The Offensive Line Is Still Struggling
West Virginia's offensive line may include plenty of experienced veterans. But so far this season, the unit has not been as good as expected.
The front five previously showed signs of struggle against a blitz-happy Maryland defense and an athletic Texas defensive front seven. Once again, those same problems were on display against Texas Tech.
Geno Smith may not have been sacked, but that's because Smith was able to use his pocket awareness to avoid the almost constant pressure he was under from Texas Tech's defensive line.
The Red Raiders defensive front features a few quality players, especially future pro Kerry Hyder, but there's no excuse for not being able to handle a three-man pass rush with five blockers.
Dana Holgorsen Isn’t a Perfect Play-Caller
Dana Holgorsen and the term "offensive guru" have been used together in a lot of sentences in the past couple of years. Holgorsen rightfully deserves that kind of respect, considering he's been in charge of some of the most productive and potent offensive attacks in college football during stops at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State.
Still, the Mike Leach disciple does seem to make a few quirky play calls and decisions sometimes.
I can partially understand going for it on fourth down from your own 30 when you're down by 28 in the third quarter and going into the wind.
What I can't understand is throwing a running back screen at midfield on 3rd-and-long when you have two of the most explosive receivers in the country, or deciding to give a cold Dustin Garrison his first carry of the day on a crucial 3rd-and-six in the third quarter.
It's always easy to nitpick and criticize from the stands, but you have to admit, Holgorsen does make a few head-scratching calls some times.
Will Clarke Is Hurt
Judging from the many puzzled reactions of fans on Twitter after Will Clarke was shown standing on the sideline in sweatpants, apparently I wasn't the only person who was caught off guard about Clarke being hurt.
The absence of the team's top pass-rusher was certainly felt, as the Mountaineers failed to mount any type of consistent pass rush on Texas Tech QB Seth Doege.
Doege always seemed to have plenty of time to sit in the pocket and pick apart the secondary.
Hopefully, whatever injury Clarke has, he can make a speedy recovery because the defense is not the same without him.
Ryan Clarke Is Still on the Team
Hey, remember Ryan Clarke?
In case you forgot that yes, Clarke is still on the team, don't worry, you probably weren't alone.
That's because the senior back hasn't had a single carry since Dana Holgorsen took over as head coach. Noel Devine and Jock Sanders have carried the ball for the Mountaineers more recently than Clarke has.
For some reason, that changed today, as the Clarke carried the ball twice for 12 yards.
If Shawne Alston doesn't return from his thigh injury soon, we may actually see more of the big back in the weeks to come, since he's got the size and power to handle a short-yardage role.
There Is Still Hope
West Virginia may have just watched its dreams of competing for a national championship disappear. But with the way things are going in the Big 12 this year, the Mountaineers are still very much alive in the conference race.
Obviously, the team still has a lot of work to do on defense. But, one bad offensive performance is not the end of the world.
Next week, the team will get its shot at redemption when a highly ranked Kansas State team pays a visit to Morgantown.
If West Virginia can take down the Wildcats and move to 6-1, it would help put the ugly loss to Texas Tech in the rear-view mirror and help the Mountaineers build some much-needed momentum for the stretch run of the season.
As bad as this loss may seem right now, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel.
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