Towson, an NCAA runner-up last season, has much the same issues as Alabama with the obvious talent differential also a factor. The Tigers, like the Tide, are replacing a quarterback, lack some of the skill at linebacker it had last season and doesn’t have near the semblance of proven leadership that can elevate programs from very good to exceptional. Towson ran the ball effectively against CCSU, racking up 190 yards on just 34 carries, an average of 5.6 yards per carry. But it struggled to stretch the field vertically, completing 14 of 26 passes for 125 yards. Those numerics are decent, but they don’t pop enough to rouse what might be a sluggish Mountaineer team.
Holgorsen said his toughest coaching job this year would come the Sunday following the opener, as the staff tried to prioritize the next foe while still learning from a first game that had the team’s attention – at least in motivational aspects – for the better part of the offseason. The 33-23 loss to the second-ranked Tide might have had enough of a mix to actually help the WVU coaching staff. The Mountaineers made enough plays to emerge with confidence while also amassing enough missed opportunities and self-inflicted errors to banish any thoughts of a mere cakewalk against Towson.
“We played a team that made less mistakes than we did,” wideout Jordan Thompson said. “We need to kick it up a notch. We know the ability is there. We need to transfer that to the game.”
And how. The focus this week is as much on the Mountaineers as it is on the opponent. Towson is a fine program, and certainly on the rise under head coach Rob Ambrose, who has invigorated a once-downtrodden squad. The Tigers have won 29 games the last three-plus seasons under Ambrose, including records of 9-2 and, last season, 13-3 with a trip to the title game after defeating the Nos. 9, 2 and 3 ranked teams in the playoffs. But with the personnel losses, Towson is also the least talented team WVU will face this season. The Mountaineers, who figure to be heavy favorites, must showcase far better execution and crispness, with an ability to offensively finish in the red zone.
“I thought we played really well, but not good enough to win,” quarterback Clint Trickett said. “That’s the botttom line. A lot of people were probably surprised by how well we played, but we weren’t. We had a lot of confidence heading into this game. We did a good job responding to adversity but didn’t capitalize when we had opportunities.”
The missed tackles, misses passes, miscues and missed assignments all should be cut down this week. That’s really what this match-up is about. Secure the win as needed, and do so in a manner that shows a finer overall performance, a bit cleaner play sans the sloppiness and unforced errors that ruined a solid chance at an upset against the Tide. West Virginia took care of the ball, it blocked well in pass protection, it played with enthusiasm and an edge against a very talented foe.
It had Alabama believing, as head coach Nick Saban noted that he “really thought West Virginia had a lot better team than anybody thought. They scored a lot of points on a lot of people last year. They have the right people in the right places.”
So there are definite aspects to carry over – and definite needs to be addressed. Let’s see if West Virginia can accentuate the positives while tidying some of the lax play, or if the propensity for a letdown comes to fruition.
“Everybody chipped in, whether it was a dropped ball or an errant pass or a blown protection, and you can’t do that,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “The effort was good, we just have to play better. Our guys are confident. We can build on some things, but there are some deals that stick out pretty heavily that we have to address.”