West Virginia Football: Winners and Losers from Mountaineers Week 10 Loss to TCU
West Virginia dropped its third straight Big 12 Conference contest of the season on Saturday against TCU. The Mountaineers held a touchdown lead with less than two minutes remaining in the game, but the Horned Frogs stormed back, eventually securing a victory in double overtime thanks to a successful two-point conversion.
The Mountaineer offense still wasn't back to its full potential in the game, leaving much room for improvement.
However, the maligned WVU defense came through with an improved performance, forcing nine TCU punts.
Here are some more individual winners and losers from WVU's gut-wrenching loss to TCU.
Winner: Tavon Austin
Senior receiver Tavon Austin proved against TCU that he is not only the best player in gold and blue, but that he is one of the most talented players in college football.
He added another 11 receptions, 101 yards and one receiving touchdown to his already stellar 2012 campaign, while also netting his first punt return touchdown of the season.
Austin now has a punt return, kickoff return and receiving touchdown this season. Only one other player in the nation—Toledo receiver Bernard Reedy—can make that claim.
However, Austin does lead Reedy in all purpose yardage, where he ranks No. 4 in the nation, averaging 202.8 yards per game.
No. 1 is also No. 1 in the country in plays of 30 yards or more, with 19 in just eight games.
Simply put, no other player in college football has been as lethal with the ball as Austin has been in 2012.
In the game, Austin also became the first player in WVU history to net more than 3,000 yards receiving in his career.
Loser: Geno Smith
Geno Smith struggled yet again on Saturday, leaving us all wondering what happened to the old Geno.
He ended up with 260 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, along with 28 yards on the ground.
However, that one interception—his third of the season—was the worst throw I have ever seen from the senior in his three years as a starter.
On a deep ball to one of his favorite targets, Stedman Bailey, Smith chucked up an ugly underthrown ball that fell about 15 yards short of its intended destination and into the hands of TCU's best defensive back, Jason Verrett.
That, along with numerous other throws off target, showed that Smith just isn't in the same place he was early in the year.
All reports out of WVU are that the Miramar, Florida native is at or around full health, so his issues must be predominantly mental.
Smith has the ability to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but he has seemed flustered in recent weeks.
In his postgame press conference, head coach Dana Holgorsen said of Smith, "Geno was probably as bad as he’s been since he’s been here."
Something needs to change with Smith quickly, or WVU will continue to struggle.
Winner: Travares Copeland
I had to do a double-take on a few of Travares Copeland's receptions on Saturday, because at first glance, I thought it was Stedman Bailey making the catch.
Standing at 5'10" wearing No. 2, it is easy to confuse the freshman for Bailey who is also 5'10" and wears No. 3—especially when we are so used to seeing Bailey haul double-digit receptions on a regular basis.
After entering the game with just four receptions for 15 yards, the Port St. Lucie, Florida native finished as WVU's No. 2 receiver on the game, netting six receptions for 40 yards.
Copeland had his redshirt rescinded last month against Texas Tech and has already emerged as a legitimate target in this offense.
This is exactly what this offense needed after the injury to Bailey and the inconsistencies shown by some of the other receivers in the group.
Losers: WVU Offensive Line
In the return of power running back Shawne Alston, the West Virginia running game still struggled.
The team averaged an abysmal 2.2 yards per rush and didn't have a single player with more than 40 yards on the ground.
Even against a tough rushing defense like that of TCU, netting only 78 yards on the ground will kill and offense.
WVU has shown repeatedly that when it is one-dimensional, it is very average offensively.
This was exactly the case against the Frogs.
As a result of the struggles on the ground, the TCU defense was able to drop more players back in coverage and disrupt the rhythm of the WVU passing attack.
This whole process started up front, as TCU made a mockery of the WVU run blocking by shooting gaps and stuffing the WVU running backs at the line.
Winner: WVU's Defensive Changes
West Virginia showed a wealth of defensive improvement against TCU.
If it wasn't for one 94-yard pass in which the receiver (legally) left the field of play and came back in to make the catch, WVU would have allowed less than 200 yards passing and right around 300 yards of total offense—a solid day for just about any defense.
The effort was far from perfect and there are still some questions about the WVU secondary, but its performance this game was a world of difference from what we've seen previously this season.
The Mountaineers made numerous changes, starting with the coaching staff. Co-defensive coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest switched places, with Patterson taking the sideline post and DeForest moving up to the box—DeForest, however was still in charge of the play calling.
On the field, Ishmael Banks did a solid job starting at corner in the slot that has been fielded by Brodrick Jenkins and Nana Kyeremeh. Former cornerback Cecil Level was equally impressive in replacement of Darwin Cook at safety.
At the end of his postgame press conference (via BlueGoldNews.com), Holgorsen was asked about the status of Cook and he replied, "He's not playing very good."
The fact that Cook was taken out of the lineup shows that WVU is willing to make changes wherever it is necessary.
Will we see more changes in the coming weeks?
Winners: Karl Joseph and the WVU Front 7
On a strong day overall from the WVU defense, a few Mountaineers also had some excellent individual performances.
Freshman safety Karl Joseph showed yet again that he is going to be a great defender for some time in Morgantown, netting a team-high eight solo tackles, one forced fumble (nearly two), a tackle for a loss and a pass breakup. No. 8 flies all around the field and brings a lot of energy to this defense.
Another freshman, Isaiah Bruce, had another solid game eating up nine tackles while also notching his first career interception. He has been WVU's leading tackler since netting 13 tackles in Week 1, and it doesn't look like he's willing let anyone catch him anytime soon.
WVU's sack leader, senior Josh Francis, also came through with another big game. These three have been arguably the most consistent performers for the Mountaineers on defense this season. Francis registered five tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and combined with Shaq Petteway for 1.5 sacks.
Petteway, along with a team-high 1.5 sacks, also recorded a team-high 10 total tackles. The sophomore also had a pass breakup—all of this without being listed on the starting lineup. He was solid on special teams last season and has been improving and earning more playing time in just about every game this season.
Though it won't show up on the stat sheet, the WVU defensive line had a solid game as well. Kyle Rose, Dozie Ezemma and the three starters were all solid in run defense and contributed to generate a lot of pressure on the TCU quarterback, making life easier on the WVU secondary.
Just like with the offense, it all starts up front—and WVU was solid up front on defense.