As the season wears on, I find myself growing more impressed with WVU's defense and less impressed with its offense—something I never saw coming.
First, the defensive numbers:
- WVU is allowing only 254.7 total yards per game, fourth in the NCAA behind only Ohio State, LSU, and Southern Cal.
- WVU's rush defense is ranked 12th, and its passing defense—which finished the 2006 season 109th in the NCAA—is now fifth.
- WVU is ranked 10th in scoring defense, allowing 16.6 points per game.
On the other hand, WVU's hyped-up offense, while not too shabby, is ranked...
- 12th in total offense, compiling 481.3 yards per game. The Mountaineers have the No. 2 rush offense (behind Navy) but the 103rd-ranked passing offense, behind just about everybody.
- Seventh in scoring offense, at 42.1 points per game.
WVU's defense has been improving all season, allowing 277, 387, 269, 160, 274, 202, and 214 total yards in each game.
The offense has declined in production as the season has progressed, compiling 542, 511, 448, 599, 437, 486, and 346 yards to date.
Coach Rich Rodriguez says the improved defense is a product of experience. I see two other key factors:
- A pass rush dominating play along the defensive line, thanks to Johnny Dingle, Keilen Dykes, and Scooter Berry.
Yes, that Dingle-Berry combination really clings to opposing running backs. I could say they've taken opposing offenses and rectum...but that would be cheap humor, and I would never make WVU players the butt of a joke.
- Significantly improved play in the secondary—which is obviously helped by the D-line, but also by the presence of 12th-year senior and Michigan transfer Ryan Mundy, who plays safety like a grown-up man.
Given all that, I'm starting to become a bit, well, disenchanted with WVU's offense.
First, let me say that Pat White and Steve Slaton are spectacular players. Same with Darius Reynaud and the young'uns.
I don't think I'd take any set of skill players in the country over the Mountaineers' bunch. And it's almost silly to take issue with an offense averaging more than 40 points and nearly 500 yards per game.
WVU's offense begins five yards behind the line of scrimmage and goes sideways. More than ever before, it's getting stopped.
Teams are shutting down the boundary option on the zone read, even as WVU is still able to make hay up the middle on the option.
(See: White's untouched, game-opening 64-yard touchdown run up the gut against Mississippi State, which came when the defense followed Slaton to the sideline.)
There's also the issue of the passing game. It's hard to remember five deep balls in the entire season. Almost all of White's attempts are sideline-to-sideline to wide receivers and slot backs.
I know the theory is to get the ball to the playmakers and let them do their thing, but Coach Rod's "bubble screen" is getting punctured left and right.
And fans are noticing.
I spent the first half of Saturday's game against Mississippi State in the stands. I heard more than a few derisive moans of, "Not another bubble screen!"
I spent much of the second half in a skybox, surrounded by better-heeled but just no less knowledgeable fans. After another bubble screen got blown up, one fan in the box said, "Why don't you run another bubble screen, Rich?"
Naturally, fans shouldn't be calling plays. But we're all seeing the same thing.
I was equally mystified and frustrated when WVU took over at their own one...and Coach Rod ran Owen Schmitt right-tackle for no gain and Owen Schmitt left-tackle for no gain before calling a deep route to a double-covered Reynaud, which White overthrew.
WVU had to punt from the back line of the end zone, and Mississippi State recovered inside the WVU 40.
Not a problem when you're leading by three touchdowns...but a real problem when you're not.
Doesn't WVU have a fast and mobile quarterback?
Doesn't Coach Rod have a rollout play in his book that would give White the option of running or throwing to a receiver dragging across the middle—just like LSU did against Auburn when faced with the same situation (with a much-less mobile quarterback) on Saturday night?
Very legitimate questions.
The bottom line is this: As counterintuitive as it sounds, I'd like to see Coach Rod display the kind of creativity with his ballyhooed offense that I'm starting to see weekly from his underappreciated defense.