West Virginia Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Mountaineers' Loss to TCU
West Virginia lost a 39-38 heartbreaker at home to TCU on Saturday, falling in double-overtime on a successful two-point conversion from the Horned Frogs.
Despite the discouraging outcome, WVU can take a lot of positives away from the game.
We learned that the Mountaineer defense is improving—something thought to be impossible a week ago.
However, we also learned that the WVU offense isn't quite back up to snuff in comparison to where it was earlier in the year.
On both sides of the ball, all the Mountaineers can do now is focus on moving forward on continued improvement.
Here are a few other takeaways from WVU's loss to TCU:
College Football Is a Crazy Game
This game was yet another testament to the fact that college football is just crazy.
After three lead changes and four ties, TCU won on a two-point conversion in the second overtime period.
On Saturday evening in Morgantown, there was a little something for everybody.
On top of the lead changes, overtimes and conversion, there was a blocked field goal, a fumble by both a punter and punt returner and a punt return for a touchdown. There were touchdowns of 76 and 94 yards, trick plays, five sacks and five total turnovers.
Both offenses made great plays. Both defenses made great plays. Both teams looked like they were going to win, and both looked like they were going to lose.
A ho-hum finish just wouldn't have done justice to the previous four-plus quarters of action.
WVU fans have to be devastated with the outcome, but for any college football fan, that game was fun to watch.
Gary Patterson Could Daylight as a Fortune Teller/Magician
Right before the game, Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweeted this:
"We have a couple new wrinkles up our sleeves." -- #TCU coach Gary Patterson on pregame radio interview.
— Stefan Stevenson (@FollowtheFrogs) November 3, 2012
Well, I almost completely forgot that this even happened until four quarters of regulation and one overtime period later when TCU ran a reverse pass that went for a touchdown, setting up the game-winning two-point conversion.
Earlier this week, in his weekly press conference, Patterson spoke on the best way to slow down Tavon Austin:
"The best way to slow him down is for him to not have it in his hands. Don't kick to him, don't punt to him, try to not let them throw it to him."
Well, the Horned Frogs tried to follow this blueprint, but like many teams before them, they found out that stopping Austin is easier said than done.
He ended up with two touchdowns on the day from 43 and 76 yards.
WVU's Bowl Situation Is Looking Grim
Now at 5-3, WVU still hasn't attained bowl eligibility. The likelihood of the Mountaineers not making a bowl is still pretty low, but their situation has seriously deteriorated recently.
In a matter of weeks, West Virginia's outlook has gone from a possible national title berth to the Fiesta Bowl to a BCS at-large to the Alamo Bowl and now to the Meineke Car Care Bowl or worse.
There is still plenty of time for the Mountaineers to salvage a respectable finish, though.
As it stands right now, WVU sits at No. 7 in the Big 12 Conference with a 2-3 record in league play.
Tavon Austin Is West Virginia's Best Player
Geno Smith and the WVU offense struggled, yet again, but Tavon Austin, yet again, earned his nickname Tavon "Awesome."
He has been WVU's most consistent player all year long, and that was true again today.
The senior led the team with 11 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown reception was absolutely sensational. He took a flip pass to the left that appeared to be bottled up, until he cut it back all the way to the right sideline, leaving the entire TCU defense in a cloud of dust on his way to the end zone.
The Baltimore native also had a mercurial punt return, taking the kick back 76 yards untouched for a touchdown.
On the play, it looked like a few would-be tacklers had a shot at a shoestring tackle, but no one even laid a finger on him as he took it to the house.
WVU Made Some Defensive Changes...And They Worked
After all the scrutiny, WVU came out and played its best defensive game of the season.
In this one, Joe DeForest went up to the press box, where he retained his play-calling duties, while co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was at field level.
Cecil Level moved from cornerback to earn a start at safety in place of Darwin Cook, while Ishmael Banks started at corner in replacement of Brodrick Jenkins and Nana Kyeremeh.
WVU held TCU to 279 yards through the air, nearly 100 yards less than the Mountaineers' previous average of 360 yards per game. Take away TCU's 94-yard pass at the end of regulation, and the Frogs are below 200 yards passing.
The pass was really unfortunate for the defense. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin was bottled up and almost sacked in the end zone but escaped the WVU rush. Meanwhile, his favorite target Josh Boyce went out of bounds and came back in just in time for Boykin to find him near the sideline.
In the shuffle, the WVU secondary lost track of Boyce, allowing him to break open the huge play.
On the ground, WVU allowed just 126 yards, also less than its season average of 133 yards.
The defense forced nine punts against TCU after forcing just 22 in the previous seven games.
Aside from the touchdown near the end of regulation, WVU played an outstanding game defensively.
Something's Up with Geno Smith
I can't quantify what is wrong with Geno Smith.
He went from the best quarterback in the country to just average in almost no time at all.
This week, he continued to miss on throws that he would have nailed earlier in the year. He continued to force throws in situations where he would normally look elsewhere or just throw the ball away.
Against TCU, he finished 32-of-54 for 260 yards, three touchdowns and his third interception of the year.
The pressure from TCU was steady but by no means overwhelming.
On Saturday, he also made probably the worst decision and the worst throw of his career—in the same play.
For a senior third-year starter to force a deep ball into tight double coverage is bad enough, but he made it even worse by horribly underthrowing the ball right into the hands of TCU's best defensive back Jason Verrett.
It was an inexcusable play and a peek into where Smith's game is right now.
Shawne Alston Is Back
West Virginia's power presence is back in its backfield.
Shawne Alston entered the game Saturday for the first time since Week 3 against James Madison to a raucous cheer from the Morgantown crowd.
It was plain to see that he wasn't quite 100 percent, as he was a bit gimpy between plays.
However, he was still very close to the same hard-running Alston he was earlier in the year.
He came up with one of the biggest plays of the first half, punching in a touchdown from one yard out on 4th-and-goal.
I questioned the call when it was made, as it was just the type of play that would have had a high potential of being stuffed in prior weeks, but with Alston in, it resulted in six.
WVU has to be glad to to have Alston back for situations just like that one.
Stedman Bailey Is Not 100 Percent
Stedman Bailey may not be 100 percent, but he's still a very talented clutch receiver.
He was held in check throughout the game by TCU's Verrett, hauling in just one catch for five yards in regulation.
However, in overtime, he made his presence known.
No. 3 caught a 25-yard touchdown in the end zone on the first play of the second overtime period to give WVU the lead.
Unfortunately, it would be for naught once TCU answered back on the next play.
Bailey left WVU's loss to Texas Tech with an ankle injury, and he doesn't seem to be back at full form, yet. However, it doesn't seem like that will keep him off the field.
Travares Copeland Is the Future of the WVU Receiving Corps
Travares Copeland has solidified himself as the best young receiver for West Virginia.
True freshman Jordan Thompson began the year as the starter but is yet to blossom on the field. Other freshmen Dante Campbell and Devonte Robinson have also seen some playing time this season.
However, none of them have stepped up as consistent threats.
As for the upper-class receivers, J.D. Woods has been great at times but also inconsistent. Meanwhile, Ivan McCartney has been better off on the sideline, and Ryan Nehlen has been non-existent.
So, someone needed to step up—especially after the injury to Stedman Bailey.
Copeland had his redshirt pulled against Texas Tech after that injury and has seen more and more practice and playing time since.
Against TCU, Copeland wasn't awarded the start, but he may have earned it going forward.
No. 2 was No. 2 on the team with six receptions for 40 yards. Standing at 5'10" and wearing No. 2, on numerous receptions, I thought it was No. 3 Bailey (also 5'10") who caught the ball.
That's an excellent comparison for Copeland, as Bailey currently leads the nation with 15 touchdown receptions.
Karl Joseph Is WVU's Best Defensive Player
Just a freshman, safety Karl Joseph plays the game like a seasoned veteran.
He finished with a team-high eight solo tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. No. 8 just flies all over the field, making plays at all three levels of the defense.
He's going to be great for years to come in Morgantown.
Another freshman, Isaiah Bruce, also had another solid performance. He added nine more tackles for a team-high 75 on the year, and he also nabbed his first career interception.
Josh Francis is definitely right up there with Bruce and Joseph as this team's top defenders. He had five tackles, 3.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks, giving him a team-high 14 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks on the year.
Also of note, reserve linebacker Shaq Petteway came through with a career game. He led the team with 10 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup.
Starting time in the WVU linebacker corps is hard to come by, but he may have earned some on Saturday.