That said, some of the reporting from this past week's WVU - Marshall game leaves me less than surprised -- but more than a little disgusted.
As we stood on the sidelines in the fourth quarter after WVU had taken a slim 62-20 lead over the Herd, the discussion immediately turned to the fact that Doc Holiday had not pulled his starters on offense, while WVU was trotting out true freshmen and walk-ons on defense. The result was 10+ minutes of offensive possession for Marshall, 27 offensive plays, 183 yards and two touchdowns, one on a fourth-down conversion.
I was conflicted as to how I felt about the fact that Marshall was still playing starters during garbage time. On one hand, I saw MU racking up yards and points against the youngest portion of West Virginia's young defense.
On the other hand, I understand that Herd head coach Doc Holliday is trying to get his team ready for their season, and that the best way to evaluate your team is playing them against another team. Every coach believes that. WVU's defensive backups got some valuable experience against another team, and Marshall's offense got some important work in while preparing for their C-USA schedule.
However, all I read about is that WVU gave up 545 yards and 34 points. Nobody mentions that WVU cleared the bench with a 62-20 lead and that the offense, after a three-yard Paul Millard to K.J. Myers TD pass, managed just one drive of five plays for 11 yards, followed by one play and an interception. That certainly had something to do with MU's fourth-quarter productivity.
Make no mistake, the WVU defense has plenty of things to work on and plenty of room for improvement. But let's call it more for what it was than what it ended up on paper. Marshall racked up 362 yards on 76 plays before WVU cleared the bench. And while it is obvious that the defense cleared the bench, you should not ignore the importance of the offense taking the rest of the day off. Had WVU left Geno Smith and the first team in the game, it is more than likely that WVU takes up at least four more minutes on the field and scores at least once more. That eliminates at least one of Marshall's drives just due to time running out.
The statistics don't tell the story when you have a team that scores as many points as West Virginia does. Overall, the defense did a pretty good job overall. Two turnovers led to two touchdowns. Marshall was forced to punt four times and was stopped on downs once. Meanwhile, WVU was scoring on eight of its first nine possessions and 10 of its first 12. When the staff shut it down and put in the reserves, the game was over.
The fact that Marshall's reserves did not get any valuable experience in a hostile setting is a problem for Marshall to be concerned with. The WVU coaching staff at that point was only concerned with getting game action on film for all of their young guys so they could evaluate them under fire. Think they didn't accomplish that? Thirty players made tackles for WVU. There were 10 tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery, one interception, four pass breakups and two quarterback hurries.
Another point that not everyone may have accepted yet is that the days of 13-10 defensive slugfests are over. That's what fans wanted. They were tired of seeing nine-minute clock eating drives in the fourth quarter. They wanted fast and furious with scoreboards looking like slot machines, and that's just what Oliver Luck and Dana Holgorsen have delivered. That offensive philosophy is going to cause other teams to open up their offense and attack in the same manner just to try to keep up.
Of course, the defensive coaches want to shut out every team, hold them to no first downs and zero yards. If anyone thinks that defense isn't important to this team they aren't paying attention. However, the sheer pace of the game, not to mention the talent of the opposition, makes dominating defense a rarity.
Now, I don't know how well the defense really did. The coaches have a better idea after watching game tape, and we'll certainly see adjustments next weekend. I only know what I saw out there on Saturday and how I felt about what I was watching. But I do know what the players and coaches had to say after the game about their performance, and I know that WVU was winning by 49 points when Holgorsen shut it down. We shouldn't lose sight of that.