WVU-Liberty: No Blowout but No Panic, 33-20

Frank AhrensSenior Writer ISeptember 7, 2009

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 28: Quarterback Jarrett Brown #16 of the West Virginia Mountaineers looks to pass during the game against the University of South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium September 28, 2007 in Tampa Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

The first thing you need to take from West Virginia's 33-20 victory on Saturday over FCS opponent Liberty, is that Liberty, at its level, is no joke.

The Flames had something like eight starters who played D-1, including former South Carolina quarterback Tommy Beecher and his favorite target Mike Brown, who could not only play for WVU, he could start for WVU.

That's part of the reason it's no surprise this wasn't a 52-7 blowout; the kind we saw opening the 2006, 2007, and even 2008 season, when WVU scored 48 on Villanova.

The other part of the reason is—those days are over.

WVU's zone-read, spread-option offense, featuring probably the nation's two most skilled players at that scheme—Pat White and Steve Slaton—was a revelation in college football and had three clean years before defenses figured it out.

Again, that was a moment in time.

All that being said, here are the good things to take from Saturday's victory:

•Jarrett Brown (pictured) is as good as promised. He looks comfortable in the pocket, knows the offense inside and out, has a strong and accurate arm, and can see the whole field. Plus, he's not a lot slower than White, nor is he less elusive, which you saw several times as he shook free from tackles.

He's stronger than White, and seemingly brushed off a number of tackles. He's smart—his touchdown run was his call at the line. Brown spread around the passes to seven receivers and seemed in complete control of the offense.

•Noel Devine topped 100 yards rushing and, more importantly, scored a touchdown. Despite his nearly 1,300 yards rushing last season, Devine scored only four touchdowns. He's already one-fourth of the way there.

•WVU has found a place kicker. Redshirt freshman Tyler Bitancourt was four-for-four on field goals, including a 45-yarder, and perfect on three PAT attempts.

•Jock Sanders looked not at all rusty from his offseason suspension. He caught eight catches for 95 yards, including a nice, diving fingertip grab of a deep post pass from Brown.

•WVU converted two 3rd-and-shorts with a big running back! Ryan Clarke may be the answer. Can it be?

Now, here are the bad things:

•In the first half, the kickoff-return coverage was, again, terrible. As though Coach Stewart—also the special teams coach—didn't spend any time on it all. Granted, Liberty return man Brown is a good one, but so is Cincinnati's Marty Gilyard and any number of other Big East opponents.

In the second half, Stewart made wholesale changes, bringing in freshmen offensive players, such as running backs Shawne Alston and Jordan Roberts, and starting fullback Ryan Clarke.

This unit cost WVU at least one win last season. It will need to perform to its second half level.

•I know Devine averaged about six yards per carry and Brown was not sacked, but I was not impressed by the offensive line. Until Devine's touchdown run in the fourth quarter, it seemed he was getting all of his yards on cutbacks after initially running into a blown-up offensive line.

After the game, Brown graciously said that his offensive line allowed no sacks. That's a nice thing to say, but in truth, Brown was not sacked because of Brown.

He was nearly sacked three times on one play before eluding rushers on his own. I know this is an inexperienced line that was recently shuffled and is starting a freshman at center. That said, the center—Joey Madsen—was perfect on his shotgun snaps, something that was not true of his predecessors, Eric Jobe and Mike Dent.

•I'm not as worried about the defense as others seem to be, but I was distressed to see Brandon Hogan get burned on a double-move by a wide receiver that resulted in an incompletion only because the pass rush pressured Beecher. Also, as Stewart said after the game, he was "puzzled" that his defense didn't know Brown was going to keep getting the ball when it was clear to everyone else in the stadium.

All that being said, I emerge reasonably optimistic from this game.

Heralded freshman Tavon Austin was a non-factor in his handful of appearances because he clearly did not know where to run. But when he figures it out, he will be another weapon, as will freshmen receivers J.D. Woods and Logan Heastie.

Further, I am cheered by the fact that East Carolina, next week's opponent, barely held on to beat FCS foe Appalachian State—which was playing without star quarterback Amanti Edwards—and the Pirates' sixth-year(!) quarterback Patrick Pinkney looked far from sharp.