The Times West Virginian

October 22, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: There’s no substitute for muscle

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Sometime early in the fourth quarter of a game that was an “embarrassment” to West Virginia University – the word embarrassment in this case was simply a thought in this corner until it was verbalized by coaches and players themselves outside the Mountaineer locker room – Anthony Becht issued a tweet for the Twitterworld to read.

“Physical will always trump finesse,” opined Becht.

Now let me admit that if this came across Twitter from some of the Twits who Twitter on a regular basis, it would be dismissed outright as so much more Internet babble, but Anthony Becht carries impressive credentials.

For the freshmen, sophomores and sophomorics in today’s readership, Becht was probably the best tight end ever to play at West Virginia and had a long and successful career in the National Football League, one he only reluctantly gave up this year after more than a decade.

When he talks football, it pays to listen, and what he was saying was the honest to goodness truth today, yesterday and tomorrow.

Dana Holgorsen can come to town with all the sophistication in his offense that he wants, but Syracuse showed in battering the heavily favored Mountaineers, 49-23, that there is no substitute for muscle and determination in football.

Holgorsen’s offense was simply manhandled by the Syracuse defense, and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s group was treated no less gently by the Syracuse offense.

The only statistic WVU was able to lead in was bruises received.

“We knew what we were getting into,” Holgorsen said. “Syracuse put it to us on all three sides of the ball – offense, defense and special teams. They outplayed us and outcoached us.”

To Holgorsen’s credit, he was out to meet with the media within minutes of the final gun, and while his media session lasted only 3 minutes and 46 seconds, it was not because he was uncooperative or cutting it short. He didn’t have much to say and the media really didn’t have very much to ask short of “what the hell happened out there.”

“The kids were embarrassed on national TV,” Casteel would admit after Holgorsen finished his spiel, speaking for the defense. “Syracuse put it to us.”

“I’m embarrassed. That was a very tough loss,” wide receiver Stedman Bailey said from the offensive side.

In truth, he was one of the few who had little to be embarrassed about, having caught 7 passes for 130 yards, his fifth consecutive 100-plus-yard receiving game which extended his own school record.

One of the catches as an impossible, acrobatic catch in double coverage where he pulled the ball in on the sideline, shook the two defenders, barely kept his feet in bounds to survive an official replay and trotted the final yards of 64-yard TD into the end zone as the defenders looked around, thinking the ball had to have been incomplete.

So much for the highlights … well, that’s an exaggeration. Bradley Starks made another magnificent touchdown grab of his own for a 25-yard score, but the rest of the night the Mountaineers were being knocked silly by the Syracuse offensive line and hard-running backs and by a savage blitz that got to Geno Smith four times for 35 yards in losses.

And that says nothing about the passes that were batted down or the throws that were rushed.

“Up front we were really exposed,” Holgorsen said. “They showed us up there on both sides.”

There really wasn’t any area of the game WVU played well. They even obliged by allowing their weekly kickoff return for a touchdown to be put into the mix, Syracuse’s Dorian Graham returning one 98 yards for a score.

Somehow you believe by the time the weekend is over the Mountaineers will have found a way to fall from 99th place in the national rankings on defending kickoff returns into triple figures.

The problem has been politely broached a physical one up to now, but when you get down to trying to translate that into English what you are really saying is that the Mountaineers weren’t tough enough.

That’s not questioning their manhood, but it is questioning whether or not the idea of being tough is emphasized enough on this team. When you run a finesse offense, as the Mountaineers do, the linemen and runners are not toughened up, and because the defense goes against that offense in practice, they are not ready for the kick-in-the-groin style of football that Syracuse plays.

Oddly, though, Syracuse’s passing game must have had some measure of finesse to it because they found a way to free their tight ends for four touchdown passes, three of them running so loose that it would have been a long distance call for the defenders to talk to them.

The only positive to come out of this was probably one you never really want to have.

“You do not want to say it,” defensive tackle Julian Miller said, “but we may have needed this to happen.”

If it gets across the idea that the Big East is a league where toughness matters, then maybe there is something to take from the disaster.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.