Four games into a season, a football team starts to develop its identity. The identity of the Mountaineers: turnover-prone, explosive offense, suspect pass defense.
WVU lost four fumbles in the first half of Thursday night's nationally televised ESPN game vs. the Buffaloes, though it's worth noting the offense had no turnovers in the second half.
(Wide receiver Bradley Starks, who lost a fumble in the first half, dropped the handoff on a reverse in the second half but recovered the fumble.)
Where the six turnovers in the Auburn game led directly to the loss, Colorado was able to convert WVU's four turnovers into only three points.
The Mountaineers are now so fumble-prone, the *defense* is coughing it up. Linebacker J.T. Thomas (who, by the way, is having an outstanding season) intercepted Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins, but then fumbled when he was tackled.
The conventional wisdom is that WVU can't commit that many turnovers and hope to hang with the three toughest teams left on its schedule, in the following order: Cincinnati, which is now ranked in the Top 10; South Florida, ranked in the Top 25; and Pitt, which is unranked.
That may be true, but then again it may not. No team has been able to stop WVU's offense yet. Six turnovers in a game (as at Auburn) is an aberration. That almost never happens. I can't imagine it happening again this season.
Further, if WVU fans think it's only their team turning the ball over, then they didn't see the first half of the Pitt-Louisville game or the first five minutes of the Syracuse-South Florida game, in which the two teams exchanged the ball four times, which Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus going on to throw five interceptions.
That brings us to WVU's offense. The first two plays of WVU's first possession Thursday night illustrated perfectly the pick-your-poison nature of the offense.
On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Jarrett Brown overthrew wide receiver Alric Arnett, who was open by 10 yards, having easily run behind the Colorado secondary.
On the next play, Brown handed to running back Noel Devine, who knifed into the line, made one cut, then outran the secondary for a 77-yard touchdown run. He ended up with 220 yards on the night, with a 10-yards-per-carry average.
The play I found most impressive was the long throw-and-run touchdown pass to Starks. The Buffaloes were showing a corner blitz on Brown, who looked over at Starks and saw he was in single coverage.
Starks said after the game that he signaled Brown to throw him the ball. As soon as the ball was snapped, Brown threw it to Starks in the right flat, getting rid of the ball before the cornerback could get to him.
Starks caught the ball, put on inside move on the safety, then ran around him to the right and beat him to the end zone for a touchdown.
On TV, ESPN's Chris Fowler called the Buffaloes secondary "outmanned." Analyst Craig James said it looked like a "track meet" at the snap, watching the WVU receivers run downfield.
Brown also overthrew a ridiculously wide-open Tavon Austin on a fly pattern later in the game. It wasn't Brown's sharpest night, but he still managed to go 12-for-19 for 148 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, though he had one fumble.
Which brings us to the last point: the WVU secondary; specifically the cornerbacks. They are my biggest concern about this team, not the turnovers.
When WVU's linebackers are forced to defend the pass, they do great. Reed Williams had three pass deflections Thursday night and Thomas had the interception. The safeties I'm fine with, too. Both Robert Sands and Sidney Glover had interceptions.
It's cornerbacks Keith Tandy and specifically Brandon Hogan I'm worried about.
Hogan got beat for another touchdown against Colorado on a double-move by the receiver. Hogan bit on the fake, stumbled and was able to make up the distance with his speed.
But then he played the receiver instead of the ball...again. Hogan seems incapable of believing that once a ball is in the air, it's as much his ball as the receivers.
Hogan is quick and can break on come-back and under routes, but if I were an opposing coach, I'd throw deep against him all day. Worth noting: It was a fourth-down touchdown Hogan got beat on.
On the other side, Tandy got burned for a touchdown with three seconds left in the game.
The prevent-playing defense gave up 73 yards in 1:57 on that final drive and left Tandy alone on the outside edge for the corner. But I haven't seen the big-play ability from Tandy.
Speaking of which, true freshman cornerback Pat Miller almost got an interception in the fourth quarter by breaking quickly on an underneath route.
I know that playing cornerback is exceptionally difficult and it's almost impossible for a true freshman not to get embarrassed repeatedly, but it is worth noting that Miller has been playing cornerback longer than Hogan, who was only switched to the position last season.
Also, I realize that Hawkins threw the ball 54 times and if that happens, you're going to give up some completions. Part of that is credit to the WVU rushing defense, which gave up only 100 yards on the ground. WVU is tied for 13th nationally in rushing defense.
On passing defense, it's another story. WVU is ranked 94th of 120 Division I teams in pass defense, allowing 244 yards per game.
That's trouble, especially with Cincinnati's airshow coming up later in the season (the Bearcats are averaging 330 yards through the air, sixth best in the country).
Coach Stewart said in a conference call on Sunday that he was going to concentrate on cleaning up the turnovers in practice this week.
Instead, he and cornerbacks coach Dave Lockwood ought to spend their time on Hogan and Tandy. And whoever may soon take their places.