Note to WVU Fans: How About Calming The Freak Down?

Frank AhrensSenior Writer ISeptember 10, 2008

One game does not a season—or a trend—make.

Yes, WVU was soundly beaten on offense and defense in the 24-3 loss to East Carolina on Saturday. The offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time in seven years and the defense couldn’t get off the field.

Perhaps it is out of anger of a ruined season —i.e., no 12-0—that some WVU fans are throwing Coach Bill Stewart under the bus and writing off the season. Indeed, the spoils of victory have been so great over the past three seasons that WVU fans now expect to challenge for a national championship each season.

In a way, that’s good. But in several others, it is not.

So angry are some fans, they are working backward, dissecting the 48-21 opening victory over Villanova and diminishing it in the wake of the loss to ECU.

See, the brain seeks patterns. It seeks to create order from randomness and connect events into narratives. It’s simply how we think.

But that’s not how scientists think and not how fans should, either.

It is impossible to deduce a predictive pattern for the rest of the season from the ECU loss. Indeed, the evidence up to that loss of quarterback Patrick White’s performance is overwhelmingly positive, so much so that the ECU game probably ought to be regarded as a statistical outlier.

So let every outraged Mountaineer fan, who is feverishly trying to cancel a reservation to Miami, which they shouldn’t have made in the first place, pause, take a deep breath, reset and look at the facts:

Fact: ECU may be very good. It is a veteran team with a savvy coach and a senior quarterback who does not take risks. The team may well go 12-0, playing in C-USA and having already won its two toughest games. The longer ECU keeps winning, the better WVU’s loss to the Pirates looks.

Fact: It was a non-conference loss. WVU does not need to go undefeated to win the Big East and go to a third BCS bowl in the past four years. Further, neither Colorado nor Auburn are conference games. And WVU has its toughest Big East game—South Florida—at home.

Fact: WVU lost seven starters on defense, including the two that may have proved the most valuable through the end of the season—defensive linemen Keilen Dykes and Johnny Dingle. Their strong pass rush allowed linebackers and safeties to blitz, the lifeblood of the odd-stack defense.

Fact: The odd-stack defense is a complex scheme and it takes time to learn. See: Seven new starters, from above.

Now, some opinions:

Last year was WVU’s shot at the national championship, and they blew it. That was a team with a junior quarterback, three quality running backs and a senior defense playing at its peak. I don’t know if a Rich Rodriguez-coached team would have beaten Ohio State in the title game, but I bet a WVU team coached by Bill Stewart would have. But the whole argument is moot.

Opinion: I’m not saying it will, but WVU can still go 11-1. If that is the case, with wins over wins over non-Big East foes from BCS conferences, WVU will be right in the thick of the title hunt.

Opinion: Up until two games ago, this offensive line was taught to do one thing: zone-block for the read-option. Now, they’re being told to pass block, run block out of the I-formation and zone-block. It’s a lot to remember. And I believe it’s why the offense looked stuck in first gear against ECU. Also, ECU’s defense has a say in the matter.

Opinion: I believe WVU will return to a primarily zone-blocking, read-option run-based team and pass only when it has to. That has been the formula for success over the past three years. The difference now is when WVU has to pass, it will have more plays and more proficiency doing so. I would not be surprised to see White and Noel Devine run for more than 100 yards against Colorado.

Opinion: I’m still more comfortable rooting for Stewart based on what we know about him rather than Rodriguez, based on what we came to know about him.

In summation, I counsel patience and calm.

One game does not a season make.