By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Midway through the 2013 football season, one question lingers above all others – and there are more and tougher questions than you will find on a chemistry midterm – and that question is this:
Who are the real Mountaineers?
Are they the West Virginia University team that stunned the college football world with an upset of Oklahoma State and a solid performance against Oklahoma, or are they the team which lost to Baylor, 73-42 – two of their touchdowns gifts after falling behind 42-7 midway through the second quarter – and which struggled to beat William & Mary?
This is a team that gave up just 16 points to Oklahoma but also gave up those 73 to Baylor.
It is a team midway through that has either too many quarterbacks or none at all.
It is a team that lost 37-0 to Maryland which then watched that same Maryland team go to Florida State be on the wrong end of a 63-0 shutout.
It is a passing team that runs better than it passes, yet doesn’t run well.
It’s a team whose coach seems completely overwhelmed by what has happened, who has created an offense that he used to say was easy to learn and could be adapted to any style of quarterback but that, in reality, has proved to be difficult to learn for a quarterback who began taking college courses in high school and graduated early from college.
It is a team that was muscled around on the line of scrimmage by Baylor both sides of the ball while also being shown to be far too slow to keep up with the Bears.
Worse, five games into last season there was talk of playing for a national title and of giving the Heisman Trophy to quarterback Geno Smith without playing the final seven games.
That all dissipated into five victories over the last 14 games — four of those victories being against Big 12 doormats Kansas and Iowa State and FCS opponent William & Mary and Georgia State, perhaps the worst FBS school as it transitions into major college football.
Through it all, head coach Dana Holgorsen, to his credit, has tried to keep matters as upbeat as he can … accepting the bulk of the blame for what has happened and actually saying he sees things to build up beginning with No. 20 Texas Tech arrival in Morgantown at noon next Saturday following WVU’s first bye week of the season.
“You can see some things happening that show improvement,” Holgorsen said, perhaps trying to fool himself, perhaps his players or perhaps the public. “Whether you want to believe that or not, you can see some things. We need to improve so we can win some games.”
The truth is that there have been some signs on defense of a team that can play better than Baylor allowed it to play, the Bears being a member of the Big 12 but playing as if they came from a far, far better conference.
Offensively, though, there is much to do for the line has been bounced around badly, not at all taking to the offensive football new line coach Ron Crook brought from Stanford.
Being a team without a quarterback – caught with Clint Trickett nursing an injured shoulder and still learning the language a Holgorsen QB must speak and with Ford Childress also injured and too inexperienced to put a football team on his shoulders when healthy – is enough to drag a team down without having a center who just recently moved to the position and who is still in the process of being consistent with his snaps.
“We need to understand what to do. The guys are playing with effort. They care,” Holgorsen maintains.
It isn’t effort. It isn’t “want to,” but it is a matter of being technically deficient.
“They are trying. (Redshirt-senior offensive lineman) Pat (Eger)’s the new center. The snap is a little off at times, which affects the run play,” he noted. “The backs can’t hit it because the timing is all screwed up.”
Eger is working hard at perfecting his snapping ability, but this doesn’t come easily when you are forced to engage in on-the-job training.
“We try to attack, and we will try again,” Holgorsen said. “We are going to try and put ourselves in the best situation we possibly can. If it doesn’t work, we need to do it again and again and again until it works out. You can’t use a magic wand or put some sort of a spell over them to make that stuff work. You just have to play. You need reps, time and practice. It’s a hard game, and we’ve played good teams. It is what it is.
The same can be said of Trickett and/or Childress or Paul Millard – all of them starters in two games this season, working with a new offense line and new group of receivers.
“We’ve got a quarterback trying to throw a post route to five different guys that he’s never thrown that to. Based on how fast the receivers are and the relationship between the quarterback and that specific receiver, the ball needs to be thrown accordingly. This is stuff that happens in the course of a second.”
Trickett has had two games – not years – of working with these receivers.
What do you do for the second half of the season?
Certainly, you don’t give up. You need to get at least six victories to receive a bowl bid, which will allow you to have an extra month’s work.
You expect two to come against Kansas and Iowa State, although nothing is assured, but you still have to find a victory from among Texas Tech, TCU, Texas and Kansas State.
It is not a gimme by any means.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.