Auburn 41, WVU 30: Mistakes Thwart Offense

Frank AhrensSenior Writer ISeptember 21, 2009

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 19:  Noel Devine #7 of the West Virginia Mountaineers scores a touchdown against Neiko Thorpe #15 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I'll say this about West Virginia's offense: it doesn't do anything small.

Six turnovers, 509 yards of total offense.

A 71-yard Noel Devine touchdown run, an interception returned by a defensive lineman for the game-clinching touchdown.

As many have written, if WVU can get out of its own way, it could really be something special.

That being said, Auburn's defense had something to say about Saturday night's non-conference loss. You don't get five interceptions by being lucky.

Auburn made halftime adjustments to put pressure on Jarrett Brown, forcing him to throw before he was ready, and Auburn's defensive backs apparently shut down WVU's long passing game after Brown's long opening-drive pass to Bradley Starks that set up WVU's first touchdown.

And before we get into a breakdown of this game, let me say that I remain optimistic about this team, especially the offense. It's high-powered, it's balanced, and it's explosive.

Let's proceed, starting with the focus of the loss:

Jarrett Brown: My theory is that Brown got overconfident from two big games against two inferior opponents. That, combined with over-confidence in his big arm and accuracy—Coach Bill Stewart has said as much—led him to believe that he is Superman, capable of making any play, at any point on the field.

After making that throw to Starks—rolling to his right, heaving it with pinpoint accuracy 58 yards—there's no way he could think anything otherwise.

Brown was pressured in the second half like he was not in the first half. It looked like some of the receivers broke off routes as well.

And Brown got injured, hurting his left shoulder, late in the game. Stewart said on Sunday that Brown is "fine" but, frankly, I don't believe anything Stewart says about injuries anymore.

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He said on Friday, "Reed's going to play," of injured middle linebacker Reed Williams, and "I'll be surprised if both don't play," including injuring defensive tackle Scooter Berry. Neither played.

Noel Devine: Great to see Devine have a breakout game with one of his long signature runs. He ran better north-south than laterally, a play that Auburn consistently shut down. He's going to have a great season.

Jock Sanders: Not to make light of a serious issue, but Sanders' DUI is the best thing ever to have happened to his career. He was able to miss the entire spring practice and it hurt him not one bit. Through three games, Sanders has 29 catches for 309 yards and one touchdown. During all of last season, Sanders had 53 catches for 462 yards and seven touchdowns.

Brandon Hogan: With each passing game, I keep waiting to be sold on this super-athlete as a cover cornerback. With each passing game, so to speak, I keep thinking: Still not sold. He was beaten for two touchdown passes against Auburn and was looking at his receiver, not back toward the ball. Further, he hasn't broken a punt return yet. Not impressed.

Najee Goode, Ovid Goldbourne, and Josh Taylor:
These three took turns subbing for the injured Berry and Williams. The subs were not the reason WVU lost this game. Goldbourne had an interception that should have been the game-changer.

In the second quarter, with WVU leading 21-10, Goldbourne intercepted a pass, giving WVU possession deep in Auburn's territory at the 19-yard-line. Two plays later, Brown threw his first interception. Had WVU scored a touchdown on that possession, the Mountaineers would have been up 28-10, making it a three-score game. I think that would have put it away for West Virginia. Goode had two tackles and Taylor had a sack.

Kickoffs: WVU seems to have solved the kickoff-coverage problem. Auburn averaged only 17 yards per kickoff return with a long return of 21 yards. WVU, by contrast, averaged 27 yards per return, with a long of 44 yards. WVU has found a returner in backup running back Mark Rodgers.

Looking forward, the bye week comes at a good time. The next game is Oct. 1 at home, a Thursday-night ESPN tilt versus Colorado. Hopefully by that time, Williams and Berry will be better and ready to play, though we won't know it until they're on the field, the way Stewart evades on injuries.

After that: At Syracuse, home versus Marshall, and home versus UConn before going to USF. WVU will be favored in the first three games and possibly over the Bulls, given that they'll be without their starting quarterback, Matt Grothe, who is now out for the season with a torn ACL.

Then: Home versus Louisville, at Cincinnati, home against Pitt, then the season concludes at Rutgers.

Cincy and Pitt are doubtless the two toughest tests left on the schedule. Especially the "at" part of "Cincinnati." They are impressive.

So Mountaineer fans should not despair, even in the wake of five interceptions.