How West Virginia and Geno Smith went from Top of the Mountain to Off the Cliff
Lately, there's been a ton a talk about America's fiscal cliff. Unfortunately, one of America's most beloved cities has already gone over the cliff.
Morgantown, West Virginia. The 10th-best small city in America to conduct business in, according to Forbes. Land of coal, wind energy, natural gas and burning couches.
Land of the almost-first Heisman winner at the University of West Virginia. Land of the almost-first BCS Championship for the University of West Virginia. Land of the Mountaineers.
Land of the cliff divers.
What happened to West Virginia and its freakishly athletic quarterback, Geno Smith? What happened to the genius of Dana Holgorsen?
What the hell happened to that 5-0 record in early October?
The answers, unfortunately, were already there as early as the first week of football when West Virginia beat Marshall 69-34. The defense was a tad suspect, especially when you consider how suspect Marshall is—the Thundering Herd could only muster 24 points against the Ohio Bobcats.
We ignored the Maryland 31-21 game, although that defense was really starting to set off red flags. And then it happened.
Baylor vs West Virginia. One hundred and thirty-three points were scored. it was like a reenactment of those annoying infomercials. But wait, there's more!
The 70-63 victory by West Virginia proved one thing: The worst team in the Big 12, the 1-5 Big 12 Baylor Bears, made West Virginia's defense look like a dumpster fire in progress.
It also proved another thing: Victories over Marshall, James Madison, Maryland, Baylor and a then-floundering Texas weren't worthy of a No. 5 AP ranking in Week 7.
Of those five teams West Virginia played, Maryland had the best defense (No.16), and true to form, held the Mountaineers to 31 points. If Maryland had an experienced quarterback instead of a freshman, it may have beaten West Virginia, but its No. 123-ranked offense also stayed true to form.
What happened to West Virginia was what happens to a lot of teams facing opponents that offer little resistance—a false sense of security.
Quarterback Geno Smith had already won the Heisman in late September, according to some experts. No interceptions, a 5-0 record, running a Dana Holgorsen offense and a Heisman moment in pocket spelled instant success.
And then it came crashing down in Lubbock, Texas.
The horrible tackling by the Mountaineers lit up the Texas Tech's offense—receivers and running backs left wakes of bodies on the ground as they ran through the sieve-like defense. The Mountaineers defense gave up 676 passing yards.
Texas Tech's defense made West Virginia play catchup, a position that the Mountaineers were not used to being in. The running game became stifled and could only muster up 130 total yards. The Mountaineers could not keep the Red Raiders defense honest, and that began their downward spiral.
Against one of the Big 12's better defenses, West Virginia could only score one offensive touchdown on Kansas State. Geno Smith became impatient and threw two interceptions while the Mountaineers defense continued to implode; Kansas State scored on their first eight possessions.
The confidence was now gone. Surely, the Mountaineers would beat TCU and turn around the skid. While Geno Smith had a much better game, the defense did him no favors. Quarterback Trevone Boykin stood in his own end zone and threw a 94-yard touchdown pass to Josh Boyce and the hapless Mountaineer secondary sent the game into overtime.
Against Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers fell for the same trick play that TCU pulled on them the previous week: the wide receiver reverse. And like the previous week, a touchdown was scored. West Virginia's special teams also broke down on a kickoff return when the ball bounced off a player's helmet and was recovered by the Cowboys on the Mountaineers' 14-yard line.
When an offense feels it can't overcome the defense's mistakes, the ensuing outcome is usually a total collapse by the team. That's what has happened to West Virginia.
That once Superman-like feeling of invincibility was destroyed by its own Kryptonite.
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