Head coach Dana Holgorsen said that for the first time since the Geno Smith era that he could call plays and they would work. But there are several areas that haven’t exactly hummed along as well as others. WVU is still struggling to create a push inside the opponent five-yard line, and has come away with at least 14 fewer points that what it should have had over the first two games. Three straight runs by Rushel Shell, for example, netted zero yards from the two-yard line against Towson, and WVU had to settle for a chip shot field goal.
Against Alabama, the Mountaineers didn’t convert well on third down (five of 14), then hit eight of 10 in the first half against Towson and12 of 17 overall, while also flipping the stats defensively in stopping the Tigers on 11 of 15 third downs after the Tide converted nine of 16 tries. Towson was also zero for three on fourth down. But the foe certainly has much to do with that, and the next two games will reveal much.
In the placekicking department, Josh Lambert is struggling for consistently. Lambert missed a 34-yarder against Towson, badly hooked a long try against Alabama and just such a few extra points in. He’s also made field goals of 42 and 41 yards, and remains perfect inside the 20-yard line. On defense, blitz schemes got home in both games, but players failed to finish against Alabama. They finished against Towson. Again, talent had much to do with that, and West Virginia will get a better feel for what it can legitimately do against solid – but not spectacular – foes that will make or break its 2014 season.
“We will look at the tape and evaluate everything and be prepared to move on quickly to a pretty challenging game,” Holgorsen said. “I know our entire team will be fired up about playing (Maryland).”
Can the defense contain Maryland’s running game? Can it continue to get off the field in key situations? Is it able to bully anybody but the smallest kid on the schedule? This defense is improved, no question, but it’s far too early to pass any judgments. A fortnight from now, those answers will be far more reliable, and the WVU fan base – and coaching staff – should have a solid set of data, with legit cluster points with which to operate.
And what of William Crest? Will he play in situations in which the game remains in doubt? Is he a true back-up? A situational quarterback? A package player? None of these have been fully answered by either Crest or the coaching staff, and any solid answers shouldn’t be expected for quite some time as Crest continues to develop within Holgorsen’s scheme. There’s no questioning his physical talent and abilities. What isn’t known is if he can handle a top flight game experience, with the pressures and demands that come against superior foes. Of course, that’s true of any player until he actually accomplishes something in said situation. Still, it’s likely a bit early to test Crest in that manner. It’ll be interesting, this weekend, to see how the Mountaineers utilize Crest, if they do at all.
“We kept evaluating him, and I made the decision early in the week that if we had the chance to put him in, he would be the next guy in. We’ve talked to Paul (Millard) about redshirting, and I still don’t know if that’s going to be possible. William has been getting reps, and the only way he can continue to get as many reps as he can to be effective down the road is to keep repping him. If you put him in there and play him, that gives you a reason to rep him a bunch. He just keeps getting better. He understands things better and he bring a different dynamic to the game.
“He was calm. You never know how guys are going to go in. His attention to what I do on the sideline is off the charts. It was great for the situation we were in last week. I looked at him and he had his helmet on. I said ‘Get in there,’ and he just sprinted out there. I didn’t have to calm him down. His mood and mentality is very good, very mature for a quarterback at this level for being a freshman.”
Maryland will also challenge WVU’s defensive backfield, perhaps more than Alabama. One-time WVU commit Deon Long and Stefon Diggs are among the better one-two combinations the Mountaineers will face this season. Can the defensive backfield hold up under that pressure, and the added throws to the tight end? Are the tackling issues mostly behind it, the one game anomaly against Alabama being the outlier? All that will be, at least in part, more further revealed this weekend. West Virginia is likely a bit better than what even it expected to be over the first two games. But it has the expected split for its work. It’ll not get any harder, or any easier, than the first two weeks of the season. What West Virginia does from here out will obviously dictate the success of the season.