WVU 27, Marshall 3: Back On Track?

Frank AhrensSenior Writer ISeptember 28, 2008

I never thought I would be thinking what I was last week: The Marshall game is make-or-break for WVU football.

But, at 1-2, WVU needed a victory. It got one on Saturday, and really, that's all that counts.

It's become nearly impossible to gauge a team's performance against different teams in today's college football landscape, given how widespread parity is not only making the word "upset" meaningless but also colliding with long-head assumptions.

For instance, WVU is now 1-1 vs. Conference-USA. Up until a year or so ago, that would have been an embarrassing record for a BCS team. But no longer. East Carolina beat  two BCS schools—Virginia Tech and WVU—before beginning what now looks like a fade. Further, WVU held a Big 12 team, Colorado, to 14 points in regulation and a C-USA team, Marshall, to three points.

And during a week in which college football fans saw four undefeated elite teams— Southern Cal, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin—lose (only one to a ranked team), well, rankings are becoming even more meaningless than before.

So. WVU is now 2-2. The next two games are at home against Rutgers and Syracuse and WVU will be heavily favored in each contest. Assuming the Mountaineers don't falter, they will be 4-2 heading into the team's Game Of The Year, the Oct. 23 Thursday night ESPN game against Auburn, which is ranked No. 13 in this week's AP poll.

The Auburn game is a win-win for WVU. If WVU loses, there's no harm done to its Big East hopes, as Auburn is a non-conference game. If WVU wins, it turns the season around and gets WVU back in the rankings.

Observations from yesterday's victory over Marshall:

- WVU looked solid running the ball, but it's worth noting that many of the biggest gains came on broken plays, with Noel Devine cutting back against the field, much like last year, whe many of WVU's big running plays came from busted pass plays, with Pat White pulling down the ball and running.

- The defense looked very solid and I noticed only one broken assignment that left a Marshall wide receiver wide open in the end zone, only to be overthrown by the quarterback.

- White's touchdown pass to Dorrell Jalloh was one of the prettiest double-moves I have seen.

- My buddy Ken says that Coach Stewart should get a teenager to teach him how to handle a headset so he doesn't look like a doofus on TV while fumbling with it.

- I have to say I was impressed by the team's intensity, given that possibility of coming out flat. Teams that have had a great deal of success—such as WVU's three-straight 11-win seasons—can sometimes toss in the towel after losing one, much less two games.

But the coaches seem to have persuaded the Mountaineers that this is their season, they have two losses they can't erase, and that you can still have a great season if you keep working.

- The interception by Mortty Ivy—reaching behind him with one hand to snag a short-yardage rocket, then cradling it while falling down—was one of the most athletic I've seen.

- Very crisp opening touchdown drive by WVU, as offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen mixed pass and run with effectiveness. He's still learning is job, remember.

- Sadly, it has occurred to me that backup quarterback Jarrett Brown will throw an NFL pass before White. I hope White gets a legitimate shot at being quarterback in the NFL because it's a judgment position and he's got a great head on his shoulder. But at 6'4" and 220 pounds and an effortlessly slinging arm, Brown is more the NFL prototype.

- A solid source told me that, despite rumors, the Big East will not be in danger of being voted out of the BCS.