There aren't a lot of positives that you can take from the West Virginia game. It was obviously frustrating to go through. I think we are a better football team than how we played but looking back at the film, I was extremely impressed with West Virginia. I don't think it was that we lost it so much but that West Virginia won it. [The Mountaineers] are a very talented and motivated group that is playing for respect right now. They wanted to win and win big. Offensively, they have dangerous speed. Rich Rodriguez said after the game that he thought Pat White played his best game ever. He was 20-of-22 throwing the ball, which is unusual for him as it is not his forte. I think we could have played our best and it still might not have mattered.
We did not play well in any facet of the game. We also didn't tackle well but a lot of that had to do with [West Virginia]. Offensively, I think we were ready to play. Someone told me that they thought that we came out flat. I made the decision to take the ball after winning the coin toss because even if we didn't get a first down on the first series, we could flip the field and make sure that we started fast on the road. However, we got that penalty on the kickoff and started at the 15 instead of the 30. It made it hard after we punted because they were able to get such great field position. I thought our defense came out well as they forced the field goal and got us the ball back. We moved the ball pretty consistently and moved it down the 35-yard line. I got a little excited and thought if we could put it in the end zone it would put a lot of pressure on [the Mountaineers]. It didn't work out that way though so I give a lot of credit to West Virginia and what they were able to do.
I thought we played hard but also at the same time we were tentative. I think West Virginia had something to do with that because of their offense and the schemes that they use. They put us on our heels. I take blame for that because I don't think I had them ready to play. We became flatter as the game went on and it reminded me of our game against Tulsa in my first year. I talked with the upperclassmen and I think we agree that although the score was not what we would like, that there are still some things from which we can learn and grow. Everyone is upset that we lost but in the big picture, it shows us how far we have to go before we can play at this level. I believe that we have gotten better in a hurry as a football program but Saturday showed the void between us and a top-10 football program. It won't happen overnight. Sometimes we will take two steps forward but this game Saturday was one step back.
The biggest concern I have right now is the injuries. We are very nicked and beat up. Willie Barton and Jonathan Williams are doubtful with their ankles, Jeremy Chambliss is a question mark, Marcus Hands is doubtful with his shoulder and Khalif Mitchell is a question mark. We will just have to see how they respond to treatment as the week goes on. We do return J.J. Millbrook, Darryl Reynolds and J.R. Kraemer after his surgery.
I thought Matt Dodge did an excellent job of punting the football. He averaged about 55 yards in the first half and only had two pooch punts in the second half. We were able to play a lot of people in the game. About 28 on offense and 26 on defense saw time and a lot of our younger guys that are inexperienced were able to play. We need to create more depth so that when we have injuries, we will be able to overcome them.
On Houston: We are getting ready to go play a great Houston team. From a statistical standpoint, I wish we were better on both sides of the ball. However, we have played two top-10 teams and then the best defensive team in the conference. It doesn't get any easier though as we go to play Houston. [The Cougars] are 2-1 right now, losing to a very good undefeated Oregon team. They return eight players on defense and seven players on offense from a team that won the conference a year ago. I think Coach Briles has done a great job with his team and he is beginning to establish a program that is solid every year.
Offensively, they have great speed and they throw the ball all over the field. They do things differently than West Virginia in that their first intent is to throw the ball. However, their running backs are averaging six yards per carry. It will be a great challenge for us this week because they are explosive and can score points.
We have to get ourselves off the ground and brush off. I told the team that nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems. Reality falls somewhere in between and I think things are not as bad as they seem right now. We have to step up because life is a series of battles. You will rarely, if ever, be on the very top or bottom. We have to go back to basics and come out here on Tuesday to try to replace some of the injuries as we go get ready to play the conference champions.
On Leon Best's Position Change:
I think it is great for our football team. He has played more football than Chris Mattocks. We moved him there not just to be a run support player. You say he didn't give up the deep ball but that is because West Virginia didn't throw one. Our secondary's challenge this week was not coverage in space but tackling. Hopefully Leon can be the fourth starter that we are looking for right now.
On the Team's Tackling Struggles:
I think the Southern Miss game was more of a fatigue factor because we lost two of starters on the defensive line the first play of the game. Suddenly, guys that are playing 20 plays have to play 58. On Saturday, it was much more about their guys getting into space. There aren't five teams in the country who can tackle their players when they get space in which to move. That is the best West Virginia team that we've played. I think White and Slaton have matured because they have gone from wanting to play to wanting to win. There is a reason they are averaging over 500 yards per game. We haven't played a team with that type of speed since I've been here.
On Looking Past the West Virginia Game:
One of the things we do is to meet on Sunday. Whether it's a big win or painful loss, you can watch the film and put it to bed. Monday is their academic day when they can just go be students on the other side of campus. I don't think it's necessary to sit down and show guys not being able to tackle some of the best running backs in the country because that demoralizes you. We pulled out the clips that we can control, whether it was a missed coverage or a zone bust. I had a 45 minute talk with the juniors and seniors just to see where we are right now from an attitude standpoint. If we can use [the West Virginia game] as a wake-up call and as something to where we can hold each other accountable, it will make us better.
On Using Different Offensive Schemes:
With offensive linemen as young as ours, we won't go out to pound the ball just for the heck of it. We did it a little at the end of the game Saturday but we haven't run the power I as a package because we haven't had a lot of success with it. That doesn't mean we won't do it, but the teams we are playing are very good against the run. I think we will use it more as we get into the conference race. We have been playing more of a two-tight end set and used Jay Sonnhalter as a motion guy. We haven't gotten into the I but it doesn't mean we haven't tried to run it. We are not good enough offensively to be one-dimensional. We were going to be much more of a drop-back team with Rob Kass under center but we were thrown some curveballs and had to adjust on the run going to Virginia Tech. There is a need and there is room for two quarterbacks in this offense.
On Patrick Pinkney:
No one feels as bad as Patrick about the interception. He didn't see the safety coming across and got picked off but outside of that, he didn't play that poorly. Patrick has had success getting on the perimeter and West Virginia did a good job of containing him. In [West Virginia's] three-down line set, they did a good job of getting pressure on the edges to make Patrick throw out of a well and that is not his strength. We need to be able to play two quarterbacks but Patrick has never needed confidence. I have never had to pump him up or get him to believe in himself'. For example, after the North Carolina game, someone said that it had to give Patrick a lot of confidence but I believe that it gave everyone else a lot of confidence in him. We really rallied around him.
On the Quarterback Rotation:
We can't ask Patrick to do everything right now. We have to formulate different packages so that Patrick and Rob can be successful. It will be much harder for a defense having to prepare for multiple packages. The blocking schemes for the offensive line won't change much but we will use our personnel where they best fit.
On Getting Into the Conference Schedule:
We sat the team down and broke our schedule into three parts. The first part is over and now you begin to get into the conference race. The middle part isn't any easier when you look at Houston, UCF, UTEP and NC State. We are at a stopping point now and we want to evaluate where we are and where we are going for the next four games.