West Virginia Football: Geno Smith, Defense Conceal Holes Along Front Line

Jesse RutterContributor ISeptember 6, 2011

When Dana Holgorsen was acquired by West Virginia football this offseason, all controversy aside, the fan’s expected one thing to be certain: offensive fireworks. Despite a week one 34-13 thrashing of in-state opponent Marshall it appears clear, at least to this alum, that ‘Eers fans will need to be a little patient.

That’s not to say big things aren’t to come. West Virginia seemed poised to open it up in the second half before Mother Nature rained, literally, on their week one parade. It is to say, however, that the Mountaineers still have some coming-together to do, especially on the offensive line. 

It’s unclear whether the possibly season-ending injury to starting left guard Josh Jenkins is a bigger concern than initially thought, or if the line just hasn’t meshed yet as a unit. What is clear is that Marshall defenders were in the backfield for the whole game (all three quarters of it) and, as a result, West Virginia never had the chance to stretch the field. 

If it wasn’t for quarterback Geno Smith, who’s pocket presence did everything it could to back up his preseason dark horse Heisman candidacy, this would be a much bigger concern. Smith was under constant pressure.  If it wasn’t for his uber-awareness and mobility, stepping up in the pocket, spinning out of the pocket, and throwing beautiful darts on the run, Smith might have been sacked ten times in this game.

Even more troubling, West Virginia’s traditionally explosive rushing attack was nonexistent throughout. The Mountaineers’ tandem of freshman backs was a question mark heading into this season, due simply to their lack of experience, but it’s hard to judge how well they played based on the fact that they had nowhere to run. Andrew Buie gained a measly 30 yards on 15 carries before being replaced by Vernard Roberts, who scored the game’s final touchdown but averaged just 1.7 yards per carry.

Furthermore, the two trick plays Holgorsen attempted to run, a flea flicker and a reverse, were both thwarted by the line’s inability to hold on to their blocks. Granted, Dana may have only called those plays to try and please the fans in what was sure to be an opening game rout, but regardless, the trick play has been a staple of Holgorsen’s offenses wherever he’s been. 

I don’t mean to be Negative Nancy about what turned out to be a good win for the ‘Eers, as there were certainly some good things to take away from the game. As mentioned, Geno Smith looked every bit the stud everyone thought he would be and wide receiver’s Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney both looked very solid. Game-breaking wide receiver Tavon Austin was keyed by the Marshall defense all day, but did manage to take a kickoff 100 yards to the house.

Additionally, West Virginia’s defense, which replaced eight starters but retained standouts DE Bruce Irvin, DT Julian Miller and CB Keith Tandy, looked every bit as solid as last year, keeping Marshall’s offense out of the end zone.

Their performance further solidifies defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s place as one of college football’s best-kept secrets. Irvin, who had 14 sacks a year ago, got his first of the season and the defense, while not forcing any turnovers, looked stout against the run and didn’t give up any big plays.

The bottom line is there’s no need to panic just yet.

The Mountaineers showed a lot of good things on Sunday and I expect them to only get better as the year goes on. Having said that, if they want to beat LSU in Morgantown in week four, that offensive line better start clicking, and fast.