West Virginia Football: Bill Stewart and Company Take On NC State

Jeff Woollard@JeffWoollardCorrespondent IIDecember 6, 2010

The West Virginia University Mountaineers earned a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando Florida with their win over Rutgers on Saturday. WVU will face the North Carolina State University Wolfpack.

Head coach Bill Stewart had hoped his Mountaineers could pull out the Big East’s BCS bowl bid with Saturday’s victory. The University of Connecticut defeated the University of South Florida to earn the BCS bowl bid.

45 BCS football programs averaged over 400 yards of offense per game in 2010. WVU averaged 396 yards per game on the season and finished 64th in total offense.

It would seem that it was the year of offense in college football. Leave it to the Big East and its football members to buck the trend. WVU (third), Syracuse (fifth), Pitt (11), Louisville (12) and USF (21) are on the top 25 list for team defense.

The Big East did not place one football member in the top 25 for total offense or scoring offense.

The Mountaineer defense ended the regular season ranked third nationally in total defense. WVU is still the only team that has not allowed more than 21 points in a game this season.

For posterity, the team that scored those 21 points on the Mountaineer defense was Marshall University. Marshall ended the regular season averaging 20.8 points per game.

Ironically, Texas Christian University is the top ranked defense in the FBS. TCU is also the newest member of the Big East. The Ohio State University is the second ranked defense in the FBS.

Stewart has won 28 games as the head coach of WVU. He is 7-8 in games outside of Morgantown. WVU’s match-up with NC State will give Stewart the opportunity to improve to .500 in those games.

It also provides the opportunity for WVU to win 10 games this season. Something Stewart has not accomplished yet as head coach at WVU.

NC State represents the best offense that the Mountaineers have faced all year. The Wolfpack average 406 yards per game and are tied at 39 with Michigan State for total offense. NC State averages 32.6 points per game.

WVU represents the best defense that the Wolfpack have faced all year. NC State has never faced the Mountaineers’ brand of defense; the 3-3-5 odd stack is confusing to opposing offenses that have never played against it.

Jeff Casteel, the Mountaineers defensive coordinator, is a master of disguising his intentions through alignment. “Casteel’s Curtain” has continually covered for sub par offensive play throughout the season. The Mountaineer defense is the reason the team has nine wins this season.

Still, you win football games by outscoring your opponent. In WVU’s four game winning streak to end the season, the Mountaineers have been doing just that. WVU averaged 31 points per game during that span.

The Mountaineer offense has also continued to fumble the football regularly; the Mountaineers have fumbled a brilliant season away.

While 9-3 is impressive, none of those three losses would exist if WVU had not literally turned over the win. WVU will have no chance at a win if the offense continues its propensity for turnovers.

Jock Sanders, a senior receiver, predicted earlier in the year that if the Mountaineer offense scored 21 points, the Mountaineer defense would do the rest to win the game.

Starting nose tackle Chris Neild injured his hamstring against Pitt. Casteel stated in the Rutgers postgame press conference that Neild could have played if they needed him.

Starting corner Brandon Hogan injured his knee in the Rutgers win. Initial reports are sketchy, there is a concern that Hogan may not be able to play against NC State.

Stewart has often referred to Neild as the heart and soul of the defense, Hogan is WVU’s best cover corner. If one or both cannot play against NC State, the WVU defense will feel the effects.

The first question that needs addressed for Mountaineer fans is the health of Neild and Hogan. Without those two, the fate of the Mountaineer team may rest on the offense’s ability to put points on the scoreboard.

Ironically, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen may be WVU’s best hope for a victory in Orlando. Mountaineer Nation’s equivalent to a “Maalox Moment“.