Great Expectations: Reflections on WVU's Season So Far

Shawn WithrowCorrespondent ISeptember 19, 2008

During the 17-14 overtime loss at Colorado, WVU appeared to be a team in transition with a new coaching staff and several bugs to work out.

That is probably because they are. The thing is that expectations (mine included) were much higher than they really should have been.

This somewhat naïve and overly optimistic outlook was most likely due to the pure speed and talent the Mountaineers returned offensively and how well things were coming along on the defensive side from camp and preseason reports.

In the season opener against FCS opponent Villanova, WVU's new offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen decided to focus almost entirely on the pass.

It worked beautifully, with Pat White throwing for a personal best five touchdowns.

However, I think that early success led Mullen to alter the offense even more and get away from the bread and butter "zone read" running game against ECU.

After the unexpected 24-3 loss against ECU, the coaching staff realized that they had messed things up and decided to return to the classic WVU attack in preparation for Colorado.

What we saw in the game against the Buffaloes was unfortunately, in many ways, a swing too far back in the other direction. 

The passes that were attempted were mostly quick outs to the sideline instead of vertical strikes.

ESPN commentator Mark May pointed out that WVU seemed to have lost its identity, and I have to agree with that in terms of the offense.

The problem, in my estimation, is the flip-flopping in play calling in all three of the games this year.

The best version of the WVU offense is what we saw in the Fiesta Bowl last year: Run first, but be ready to sprinkle in just enough long passes across the middle to keep the defense honest.

Pat White is not an NFL-style passer, that is for certain, but he is accurate enough to put the ball where it needs to be in those situations.

On the other side of the football, the Mountaineer defense has been getting progressively better from game to game, and they were further bolstered by the return of LB Reed Williams to the lineup.

In fact, I think the defensive performance against the Buffaloes is a really big positive that WVU can take from an extremely disappointing loss.

WVU held Colorado scoreless for three full quarters of the game. If this was not a team with such high expectations, one might even have been encouraged by the game in defensive terms.

The only real glaring defensive deficit came in the pass rushing. There is simply too much time for the opposing quarterback, which in turn places too much stress on a young secondary.

With all of the challenges and struggles, WVU was still in a good place to win the Colorado game. They just missed some very good opportunities, and the coaching staff made some rookie mistakes, including clock management errors.  

I think the key for the Mountaineer players and fans is to do the best they can to remain positive.

It is important to take a step back and make a realistic assessment. WVU is not going to live up to those preseason dreams, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this team for what they are.

I agree with fellow Bleacher Report writer Frank Ahrens, who wrote, “This team could be fascinating to watch” in his recent article about the Colorado-WVU game.

They are still an exciting ticket, and things are going to improve as these players get more comfortable and as the new coaches learn more about each other and their team.

The Mountaineer nation needs to reevaluate what were perhaps unrealistic expectations and learn to enjoy the journey this new team is on.