Youngstown State certainly deserves credit for the way it played against West Virginia on Saturday. Even though the Penguins made the short trip back home with a 17-point defeat, the game flow wasn't indicative of such a margin. YSU held a 14-7 lead in the first half and cut the deficit to ten in the final quarter, leading to at least a few nervous thoughts from the remainder of the home crowd, who were aware of upsets in the making such as Western Michigan over Oklahoma State. All of that aside, though, the fact is that the Mountaineer defense was a shell of the self it displayed just a week ago.
That the Mountaineers gave up 405 yards to the Penguins wasn't the crux of the issue, though. It was a lack of fire, combined with a ton of missed assignments and tackles, which raised the ire of the coaching staff and prompted comments such as the one above from linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton. In the opener, WVU gave up some plays and yardage, but competed hard on most snaps. Against Youngstown State, it was flatter than the newly-decrowned surface of Mountaineer Field. Things were so bad in the effort department that the perception that West Virginia's defensive line was concentrating more on keeping Penguin quarterback Ricky Davis in the pocket than actually rushing the passer proved false. It was, instead, a matter of West Virginia's defensive line being dominated.
"What's very sad is that we weren't [playing contain]," defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. "That right there answers the question of the day. Our kids played with zero effort and couldn't get off blocks."
With that bit of disturbing news to chew on, there's a bit of a different light on the the showing. WVU didn't record a sack in the game, and really didn't pressure Davis at all. A less-pedestrian passing quarterback might have been able to take advantage of that -- and there's one waiting in West Virginia's next game.
Benton, while giving credit to the Penguins, reiterated that many of the day's issues were the fault of the Mountaineers.
"Those guys are a well-coached team. They are tough. Those guys are really good," he said. "But it looked like it did because we didn't play like we were supposed to play."
WVU was able to escape with a win while not maximizing its effort, but such opportunities are now over. Repeats of Saturday's performance will result in a loss, no matter what the offense does.