It's that time! We go 1-on-1 with 5 QUESTIONS for Scout West Virginia publisher Kevin Kinder of BlueGoldNews.com ... and HD's Chip Brown provides his answers to questions posed to him by BlueGoldNews.com ...
5 QUESTIONS with Scout West Virginia publisher Kevin Kinder of BlueGoldNews.com
#1 ... What, if anything, about this 7-1 start by the Mountaineers has surprised you?
KEVIN KINDER: The overall play of the defense. WVU lost a number of players to the NFL draft, and had to rebuild the entire back eight of its defense. Combined with the loss to injury of at least four players who were expected to be starters or major contributors, prospects on the defense were dicey at best.
Yet, WVU has been able to limit opposing offenses, keep point totals down and set up wins. It hasn't been an issue of dominance, but one where West Virginia's defense hasn't given up big plays and has created enough disruption to keep foes from getting into a offensive groove.
#2 ... I had a coach in the Big 12 size up WVU this way: "The QB holds them back on offense. The defense plays really hard." Would you agree with that? Or no?
KEVIN KINDER: I'll take the second question first: Absolutely. WVU has to have great effort defensively to win, and on the few series when it hasn't been there, teams move the ball and score.
On the first, no. Skyler Howard may not be an All-American QB, but he's in the top 25 or so.
Consistent accuracy is his one stumbling point, but he is making very good decisions for the most part.
Also, his teammates love him and play like crazy for him. WVU might throw the ball a little more if he were laser-sharp on the accuracy front. But it would be silly for them not to run it, given the collection of backs on the roster.
#3 ... If anyone should have a scouting report on the Longhorns' defense it's former Texas offensive coordinator/O-line coach Joe Wickline. How has Wickline fit in at WVU and what has his impact been?
KEVIN KINDER: The addition of Wickline has been a major boon for WVU.
He's meshed well with current offensive line coach Ron Crook, and has brought some new wrinkles to WVU's offense, especially in the run game.
As a result, WVU is really balanced. It can truly take what the defense gives and attack at the D's weakest points, whether that's via the run or pass.
It's allowed West Virginia's offense to continue the evolution from pass-first to a varied, multiple attack.
#4 ... How is the relationship between Dana Holgorsen and the WVU administration? There was talk of a contract extension before the season, and then those talks died off. So is Holgorsen looking to stay or leave if he has options at the end of the season?
KEVIN KINDER: Like the Texas coaching situation, the talk of Holgorsen's contest status varies with each win or loss. With WVU on a winning upswing, he's getting more public support for an extension. If WVU loses the next couple of games, though, that situation will be reversed.
At this point, there's no expectation that any talks on his contract will occur until after the season. WVU athletic director Shane Lyons seems to want to take the long view, and to evaluate the season as a whole, and not make a knee jerk reaction based on one or two games. Of course, Holgorsen will listen to other offers, and a 10-2 season would give him a lot of leverage. He's not pre-disposed either way, so I think he'll take the best deal that's available to him.
#5 ... Who are the WVU players to watch - the difference-makers you think will have the most impact on the Mountaineers' chances of winning Saturday? And what's your prediction for the game?
KEVIN KINDER: WVU's linebackers and strong safeties have to have a great day against the run, and that's a huge challenge.
Safeties Kyzir White and Jarrod Harper have to be able to fill gaps and keep D'Onta Foreman from finding gaps.
I don't expect WVU to shut Foreman down, but if the Mountaineers can hold him in the 120s or 130s, they have a chance to win.
Also keep on eye on WVU's relatively undersized defensive front. Texas will have designs on simply washing them out with an avalanche of beef up front.
The Mountaineers will have to at least hold some ground to keep their linebackers free enough to respond to Texas' rushing game.
Offensively, WVU must hit some deep balls in the passing game and keep Texas' pass rush from being effective.
It's a matter of balance. WVU would trade four sacks on defense for hitting 2-3 deep strikes on offense for scores or big gains downfield.
Here's how I answered the 3 QUESTIONS posed to me by BlueGoldNews.com:
1) Texas' offense has morphed from excitement over Shane Buechele and the 18-Wheeler to the dominance of D'Onta Foreman. How much does passing still figure in the attack, and with the two stops that the 18-wheeler suffered last week, is that formation on the shelf now?
CHIP BROWN: I think a lot of fans would like to see the 18-Wheeler on the shelf when it comes to picking between that and RB D'Onta Foreman, who has now run for at least 100 yards in each of the last 10 games - one shy of Earl Campbell's 11-game streak of 100-yard rushing games.
The passing game - especially the deep balls thrown by Shane Buechele - play a huge role in this offense. Typically, the more success Texas has with the deep ball, the more the back half of the defense has to respond/back up, opening running lanes for Foreman.
But West Virginia will be the best defense Texas has seen this season. I think it will be a tough test for Sterlin Gilbert, Buechele and Foreman.
2) With all the noise around coaching hot seats and up and down play, how is the crowd at home games supporting the team? What kind of numbers and environment can West Virginia expect on Saturday?
CHIP BROWN: The crowd for Notre Dame was ridiculous - sold out and even 30 minutes after the 50-47 double OT win, no one had left. The crowd at the last home game vs Baylor was really loud and into it, even though a bunch of students didn't show up to the game. (At that time, UT was coming off the Kansas State loss in which Texas seemed to find new ways to lose a game.)
This game Saturday should be bonkers. It's close to a sellout.
3) The reshuffling of coaching staffs in mid-season usually don't yield great results, but the changes on the defensive side appear to have done so at Texas. What have been the major changes and the key to the improvement?
CHIP BROWN: Charlie Strong has simplified things so he can get his most energized players - OLB/DEs Breckyn Hager (44) and Malcolm Roach (32) as well as CB Kris Boyd (2) - onto the field.
Boyd has even been flipping between left and right CB, so he can always be next to the Texas sideline, where coaches can tell him exactly what to do on each play. Sounds crazy, but it's worked. Boyd is one of the team's most athletic, physical and energized players.
Strong also moved backup nickel back John Bonney (24) to the corner opposite Boyd, because Bonney is smart, dependable and athletic. Until the last three games, Bonney was known as the guy who constantly got beat by good receivers. But Strong and the defensive staff got tired of waiting for preseason award candidate CBs Holton Hill (5) and Davante Davis (9) to get out of whatever sophomore funk they were in.
So Strong and the coaches just started building up Bonney, and he has really responded with his best two games at Texas - vs Baylor (key pass breakup in the end zone and helped force a safety taken by Baylor that sort of turned the game) and at Texas Tech (key pass breakup in the end zone and a forced fumble).
Meanwhile, against Baylor, Strong took preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year LB Malik Jefferson (46) and leading tackler LB Anthony Wheeler (45) out of the starting lineup and replaced them with LBs Ed Freeman (35) and Tim Cole (30), who simply had been playing better (both came up with big plays vs K-State in a loss the week before: Freeman had 2 INTs and Cole had a big-play sack).
Fans panicked/feared that by taking Jefferson and Wheeler out of the starting lineup Strong would probably lose his team. But the opposite happened. He got his team back by jump-starting/waking up some of his underperforming players.
Jefferson responded against Baylor with his best game of the season coming off the bench (10 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 TFls) - as did Wheeler (9 tackles). The defense has been getting better and better, really since the OU game, including the play of CB Holton Hill (5), who finally made a big play at Texas Tech last week (a key, open-field tackle of Patrick Mahomes on third down).
For the first time this season, I think the concern in Saturday's game against WVU will be with the Texas offense - and its ability to move the ball against WVU's D - as opposed to the Texas defense holding up.
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