1. It seems like West Virginia has played three very different games so far this season. How would you describe the Mountaineers' personality, or are they still a work in progress?
"Work in progress" is one of Dana Holgorsen's favorite phrases to date. He's using that to describe the change from previous offensive schemes to his system, which is fast-paced (although not as fast as Oregon) and typically uses the pass to set up the run. WVU wants to attack at all times on offense, and won't sit on the ball or try to nurse a lead. It will throw the ball in any situation, and will go for fourth downs in the green zone (from the 20 yard line out to about midfield), rather than punt. The Mountaineers want to be aggressive, and will continue that pattern against LSU.
2. How well have the WVU offensive players adapted to Dana Holgorsen's system and how it's supposed to work? Any hiccups so far or have they been better than expected?
While fans have expected immediate 50-point scoring outbursts, and some are disappointed so far, the transition has actually been very good. There certainly have been hiccups, as the Mountaineers have struggled to establish a running game and have looked out of sync offensively in parts of its first three games, but 126 points in 11 quarters of play is very good. There is still room for improvement, but so far the results have been very good.
3. From the outside it seems like the Mountaineers go as Geno Smith goes. True or is he more a product of the offense and are the receivers/backs the bigger keys?
Geno is the key. The idea that you can stick anyone in this system and have success is incorrect. Certainly, most QBs could complete some passes in this attack, but the biggest thing is finding the open receiver and delivering the ball on time and on target. Smith excels at that. Add in his accuracy, and there's no way to label him a "system QB." Certainly players such as Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and the emerging Ivan McCartney add yards after the catch, but Smith is the engine that makes the offense go.
4. With so many new faces on defense, how well has the WVU defense come together so far? Can that unit be as effective as it was last season because of the 3-3-5 scheme or are there likely to be some growing pains?
There are definitely some growing pains. WVU lost a lot of NFL-level talent from last year's squad, and the experience that went out the door means West Virginia hasn't been able to disguise things as well or mix up its defensive looks as much as it did a year ago. The progression so far has been solid, and coordinator Jeff Casteel is excellent at taking his available pieces and molding defense from them. The good thing on this side is that last year's backups, who are now playing this year, haven't had to learn a new system. Progress has been good, but reaching the level of last year's unit, which was #3 in the nation, will be tough.
5. I know Dana Holgorsen has tended to downplay the largeness of this game to his program, but what exactly is the potential magnitude for the Mountaineers considering the national spotlight, the chance to knock off No. 2 at home, etc.?
WVU has been in this situation before, and it responded well, crushing Virginia Tech in 2003, beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl following the 2005 season and knocking off Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Of course, none of those players from those wins are around now, but the idea that this is West Virginia's first time in the spotlight, or that it's a program-defining game, isn't accurate. It would obviously be a huge accomplishment for the Mountaineers, as LSU is clearly loaded for a run at a national title, and the hoopla surrounding a visit from Game Day will only increase the excitement. However, it's not a one-shot deal for WVU.
6. How do see this game playing out?
The key, as we've highlighted in our game previews, will be LSU's ability to run the ball on WVU. Last year, the Mountaineers kept the Tiger offense reasonably in check, and were in the game throughout. This year, WVU has struggled at times against the run, and if LSU is able to control the ball, it could pile up a dominating win. West Virginia will have to figure out a way to attack LSU's outstanding defense and score more than the 14 points it managed a year ago, but that task might be about as simple as figuring our the solution to the national debt crisis.
To sum up, West Virginia isn't as good on defense as it was in 2010, but it is much better and more explosive on offense. Whether that combination is enough to spring the upset remains to be seen -- and isn't that the fun of it all?
SIX-PACK: With Kevin Kinder
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