Well, that was a wasted nine-hour round trip.
Everything about my drive into Tropical Storm Hanna from D.C. went perfectly (drove to Emporia, Va., just as the rain started and by the time the game started at 4:30, the sun was out) except for the game.
I have been thinking hard about comparably awful losses and had to go back a long way. For the record, it was the first time since a 45-3 loss to Miami in 2001 that WVU failed to score a touchdown.
The Pitt loss comes to mind last year, as does last year’s South Florida loss, but at least WVU was competitive in those games. I had to go back to WVU’s 41-7 loss to Florida in the Sugar Bowl following the 1993 season for a loss that was as complete, as dominant by the other team and as wholly unexpected following such a run of success.
The credit in Saturday’s loss goes to ECU. They dominated WVU in every aspect of the game. ECU’s offensive line controlled WVU’s defensive line and WVU’s vaunted and experienced offensive line looked muddled against the pressure applied by ECU’s rush.
Further, I am not convinced Saturday’s loss was an aberration. If these two teams played 10 times, I think ECU would win the majority.
This loss exposed major structural problems with WVU on offense and defense.
I will readily admit that I bought into the “reload, not rebuild” idea. The loss of so many starters on defense has been devastating. They may gel this year, but they may not.
There was plenty of blame to go around in Saturday’s loss:
It doesn’t matter how many new wrinkles and motion and H-backs and gimmicks you have, if you don’t control the line of scrimmage, it doesn’t matter. ECU disrupted WVU’s offense from the snap.
The offense never looked in control and often looked confused. Everyone wondered if Pat White could pick up the new offense, but what about the offensive line? For years, they’ve been used to doing one thing: zone-block for the run. Now, they’re asked to pass-block, as well. On Saturday, they did neither well.
For the past couple of years, I have been thinking that WVU’s offense has two speeds: sail and stall. When it gets going (against ECU, UConn and Oklahoma last year) it seems to take on a life of its own and everything works. When it stalls (Pitt and South Florida last year, ECU Saturday) it seems like nothing can get it started. It looks horizontal, weak and inspires no faith that a first down is achievable.
White bears some blame, as well, for killing a second-quarter drive that would have brought the game to 10-7. He had just hit Tito Gonzalez on a drag route that produced a first down and it looked like WVU’s offense was starting to click.
Noel Devine had just ripped off a 34-yard run to take the ball down to ECU’s 17-yard line. But then White took a seven-yard sack (Selvish Capers just whiffed on the ECU pass rusher), making it 2nd and 17, something a senior shouldn’t do. On the next play, ECU blew up a screen pass to Devine, making it 3rd and 18. Amazingly, White scrambled for 17 yards, leaving WVU one yard short of the first down. It was that kind of day.
You can point out the lack of a pass rush and the inexperienced secondary and the absence of Reed Williams, but the story Saturday began and ended with poor tackling.
ECU ran through arm tackles and in the open field, they broke down WVU defenders, who bit on fakes.
Scheme-wise, they were out of position, fell for draw plays and blew coverages. ECU was 50 percent on third-down.
The worst part about the defense: Because they can’t get anybody off the field, White and the offense must score on every possession because they’re getting fewer of them. The pressure is tremendous.
Last week, Villanova ran 87 plays to WVU’s 56. On Saturday, ECU ran 71 plays, WVU ran 54. Halfway through the second quarter, the tally was 24-9 in ECU’s favor.
Pat White’s fumble-that-wasn’t-a-fumble went unchallenged, for some reason, by WVU’s coaching staff. The replays clearly show his hand touched out of bounds as he set the football down inbounds.
Even the ESPN announcer said: “He was touching the ball when he was out of bounds and that means it’s out of bounds unless they rule it a fumble first.”
It looked like he still had possession when the ball touched the ground. From game-management, well, it didn’t look like the coaches had any.
The offense didn’t look like the offense that beat Villanova last week and it didn’t look like the one that won 11 games last year. It looked like a bad patch-together of the two.
Again, this means the offensive line can’t get into a groove. At one point, two WVU running backs, confused, ran into each other in opposite motion.
This goes last because officials almost never cost a team a victory; the team itself does that. Further, when you go on the road, you just build in one or two blown calls and have to overcome them.
The field crew, in this game, was a Big East crew and the replay crew was a C-USA crew. So it was the C-USA crew that failed to initiate a review of the non-fumble.
Further, the Big East crew blew a key interference call on Ellis Lankster in the second quarter that was a textbook cornerback play. Also, it gave ECU a first-down on a very generous spot on a fourth-down play that WVU had stopped.
I don’t know where WVU goes from here. The skeptics who looked at WVU this year and saw Louisville last year (new head coach, senior quarterback, depleted defense) may end up being right. Or WVU may take the week off and show up ready to play Colorado on Sept. 18.
I’m going to that game, too. I just hope it’s not another miserable trip.