Although their traditional rivalry football game with Maryland is currently put on hold, the Terrapins have been widely regarded as a barometer of West Virginia’s prospects for the season.
However, with Maryland no long on the schedule, the game that may turn out to be the truest barometer of West Virginia’s 2009 season is the date with East Carolina.
While the Pirates are clearly not the toughest, non-conference opponent on the Mountaineer’s schedule, their contest with East Carolina will likely be critical to West Virginia’s success or failure this season.
If the Mountaineers win their game in Morgantown with the Pirates, then anything is possible! If they lose, then it is quite likely that there will be several other disappointing outcomes in the season for Coach Bill Stewart.
In 2008 at Greenville’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, the Mountaineers came out cold and uninspired. Perhaps they were also somewhat overconfident, following their 48-7 victory over the Pirates the previous season.
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the fans in Greenville treated their game with West Virginia as another chance to show the country that their program had arrived
And why shouldn’t they have thought so?
The Pirates’ season-opening victory against the Virginia Tech Hokies, then ranked at the No. 12 best team in the country, had certainly given them reason to believe that a BCS bowl berth might definitely be in their future.
The Mountaineers’ embarrassing 24-3 defeat at the hands of the Pirates proved to have a devastating affect on their season. I also believe the let-down over that game was still felt the following week in the Mountaineers’ 17-14 overtime road loss to Colorado.
Defensively, the Mountaineers were young and still hadn’t gelled as a unit. Moreover, the absence of Reed Williams in the young linebacking corps played a huge factor in the outcome of the game. The West Virginia secondary was inexperienced as well.
I’m certain that nobody will argue with the fact that the defense came together as the season progressed. But on that day, the Pirates easily had their way with them.
The team simply could not make a critical stop on third down.
In the past, East Carolina Coach Skip Holtz has enjoyed some success at limiting West Virginia’s running game. In fact, he quite often shut down former Mountaineer, Steve Slaton.
Even in Rich Rodriguez’ predominantly, run-oriented spread offense, much of the Mountaineers recent success against Holtz’s defense has been a result of the passing game.
Before last year’s Meineke Car Care Bowl with North Carolina, several of Patrick White’s best passing performances had come against the Pirates.
In last year’s version of the Mountaineers, offensive coordinator, Jeff Mullen hadn’t fully implemented his version of the offense. While making a difficult transition that was fully realized in West Virginia’s victory over the Tarheels, Pat White and the Mountaineers looked like a team in a rebuilding year. In truth they were!
And they paid a huge price for it in their game against East Carolina.
With Jarrett Brown replacing Patrick White in the quarterbacking role, you can be certain that Mullen will repeatedly have the Mountaineers going to the air to defeat the Pirates. In turn, that should free up the running game for the ever-dangerous Noel Devine.
I also think the Pirates are in for a big shock at the wealth of talent West Virginia will have in their receiving corps.
Following their season opener with Liberty, the Mountaineers absolutely need a good win against East Carolina to prepare them for their next two challenges, a home contest with Colorado and a road game against Auburn.
If the Mountaineers’ lose to the Pirates, then the best they can possibly hope for in their next two games is a split.
But unlike last year, this West Virginia squad should have no difficulty in getting up for their game with East Carolina. After the humbling defeat they suffered last year, the Mountaineers should have all hands on deck to scuttle the Pirates!