Several things were puzzling during WVU’s loss to Cincinnati on Saturday night but one thing became achingly clear: Coach Bill Stewart must relinquish his duties as special teams coach.
Because whatever he’s doing, it’s making things worse, not better.
WVU was already ranked 119th in the NCAA in kickoff “coverage,” giving up long returns to every team, including two of 60-plus yards to Auburn.
But that was before WVU gave up a 102-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff against Cincy. There is never any excuse, ever, for giving up a 100-yard kickoff return.
It’s clear that Stewart, and probably no one, can be an effective head coach and an effective position coach. Stewart maintained his duties as special teams coach when he became head coach and it’s clear now that it’s a mistake.
And please, coach, your down-home routine about “yelling at the special teams coach” is really, really wearing thin. You can’t aw-shucks yourself out of this one.
I don’t know where you find a special teams coach in the middle of the season, but Stewart’s got to get the job off his hands and give it to one of his assistants, maybe wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway or running backs coach Chris Beatty, both of whom are young and possibly more innovative than Stewart.
In his interview after the game, Marshwan Gilyard, who returned the opening kickoff, said one of his coaches last week called him into the office to watch film of WVU’s kickoff coverage and they saw what he called “weaknesses.”
“Why is West Virginia doing it that way?” Gilyard recalled he said.
So that means an undergrad is seeing things that Stewart is not.
Further, I don’t understand WVU’s kickoff receiving scheme. Mark Rodgers could break one if he got any blocks, but it seems WVU’s plan is to bunch all 10 players into not so much a wedge but a clot up against one sideline which, naturally draws all the defenders and Rodgers is stopped short of the 25 yard line.
I don’t care what Stewart does but he’s got to give up his special teams duties -- in this case it literally cost WVU the game.
Now, on to other observations from this heartbreaking loss:
- All props to Cincy’s defense. Clearly, the best, fastest defense WVU has played all year. And easily the best-tackling. I don’t think I saw one missed tackle. Neither Pat White nor Noel Devine nor Jock Sanders could break down and beat any defender in open space. This was a clinic in tackling.
- This game reminded me so much of the Pitt game last year, right down to the punter taking a safety. All through the Pitt game, fans thought, “Okay, the comeback is going to start now.” Same way against Cincy, especially after WVU came from behind to win big over Auburn and UConn. And WVU nearly came back -- saving its customary second-half comeback for the last minute of the game.
- I have absolutely no confidence that WVU can convert a third down of any distance. WVU was 4-for-20 in third-down conversions. What has happened to Jarrett Brown as a third-down back? Is he more injured than we were led to believe? (Which brings me to another point: I wish Stewart would a) either actually understand what is wrong with his players or b) stop dissembling so much when he does. Earlier this year, he said one of his offensive linemen had phlebitis, a vascular condition typically found in senior citizens. Instead, the player had plantar fasciitis, a foot inflammation caused by excessive wear, which can happen at any age. Did Stewart not know what was wrong with the player or did he lie about the condition? Neither is good. Further, Stewart never mentioned all last week that starting center Mike Dent had an injury that would keep him out of the Cincy game. Is Stewart taking a page out of the Belichick book? To what end?)
- Again, what has happened to WVU’s vertical passing game and why was it in hiding until the last drive of the game? Maybe Cincy was in a soft prevent defense that allowed it, but they weren’t in a prevent when Dorrel Jalloh (underused, again) beat his man one-on-one for a touchdown.
- Worse still, where were WVU’s plays? Do they have any actual plays? When it comes down to crucial situations, the coaches seem to panic and seize up and simply run White out of the shotgun. You want plays? Look at what Cincy coach Brian Kelly had on the touchdown that won the game in overtime: With the WVU defense bunched up anticipating a run from two yards out, Kelly had his quarterback fake into the line then roll out, hitting a tight end who peeled off the right end, wide open. That’s a play.
- The offensive line looked weak and consistently beaten. Offensive line coach Dave Johnson, hired in the offseason from Georgia, has done something to destroy this group. And remember, this is a group that returned intact from a dominating performance over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
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