Formula for WVU's success revealed in opener

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia came into its season opener with plenty of questions to answer, and a few of those answers were revealed during its 44-0 romp over Georgia Southern.

How much can you learn about a team during a total blowout? In most cases, you can’t learn much. Most teams reveal their true nature when their feet are put to the fire, but sometimes you can find out a good bit about a group even when the going isn’t tough.

Despite the easy nature, at least in the second half, of West Virginia’s blowout win against Georgia Southern, I believe we learned a lot about how this team is going to play this season Saturday night. The formula for success was as follows: Play stifling defense, force turnovers, and let the new faces on offense find a rhythm in the process. While Tony Gibson’s unit clearly won’t pitch a shutout every night, this is how West Virginia is going to win games this season.

With a relatively new quarterback, I say relatively because he does have three starts under his belt now, and an inexperienced, albeit talented group of receivers, there is going to be a feeling out period for Dana Holgorsen’s offense. It may last a few games, it may last half the season, but it will take time for this offense to learn each other’s tendencies and develop some semblance of chemistry.

We saw it on display in the first half against Georgia Southern. There were flashes of brilliance: Howard’s long bombs to Jovon Durante and Shelton Gibson, but there was another side to the coin. The Mountaineers found their way into the red zone four times in the first 30 minutes of play and managed just nine points in those trips. The outcome could have been a sure thing at the half, instead it was a two-score game.

Were it not for the defense playing as stout as it was, who knows, Georgia Southern could have been within one score, feeling supremely confident and chomping at the bit for their first possession of the second half. The game could have taken on a completely different tone. Instead, the Mountaineer defense crushed any and all hope the Eagles had of pulling off an upset. Time after time they were turned away, affording the WVU offense the time it needed to work out the kinks and get things flowing. And get flowing it did. Howard, while he did miss some easy throws, looked much more calm and collected in the second half, and the offense started to fire on all cylinders.

The red zone woes became a thing of the past, too. The Mountaineers converted both chances they got in the third quarter into touchdowns and effectively put the nail in the coffin for their first win of the 2015 campaign.

Not all opponents will be as porous as Georgia Southern was defensively, nor as confused as the Eagles were offensively, but this is the formula WVU will likely need to replicate to have success this season. The offense will eventually find its footing, but the defense will have to be there as a crutch to lean on until it does.

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