The View From 217 - Virginia Tech Edition

Riding a ten-game regular season winning streak, ranked 6th nationally by the Associated Press, and coming off a lackluster performance against 1-AA James Madison, the Mountaineers showed they have a long way to go to even be a decent football team, much less a good one, in front of 65,000+ at Lane Stadium and a national ESPN audience.

It is obvious that this Mountaineer team, as talented as it is, will never beat a team with any defensive talent as long as Rich Rodriguez continues to call the offense for West Virginia in the manner that has been employed this season.

For the third week in a row, against a team that sometimes covered four wide receivers with three defensive backs, Rodriguez refused to show any offensive play calling imagination, and continued to run the same six or seven plays that he's been comfortable with for two seasons. It is time to call it like it is. This offense just isn't getting the job done.

It isn't the talent. Loaded with experience at the offensive line position, a three-year starter at quarterback, and more 6'4" wide receivers than most pro teams, the Mountaineers refuse to attack many parts of the field.

West Virginia was able to get away with that in the past behind runners like Avon Cobourne and Quincy Wilson, who heart and toughness. This team, however, doesn't have that luxury to fall back on. And no one, other than Rasheed Marshall, appears capable of picking the team up and carrying it during tough times.

And when something does go right, the street gang mentality of this version of the Mountaineers either pushes the offense back 15 yards, or pushes the opponent forward 15 yards. This team lacks the discipline of a middle school squad. It reminds me of 1998 all over again. The Mountaineers racked up almost as many yards in penalties (119) as it had rushing (134).

How about getting into the end zone, giving the official the ball, and stop acting like the Miami Hurricanes? It is pathetic when a linebacker in his first significant action makes the play of the game then stands in the end zone and pose with his hands over the ball. This is the exact same move that drew a flag for Chris Henry last week, and one that the team has been warned to avoid. Yet, at a crucial point in the game, Eric Wicks, after making a play to get WVU back in contention, does it again.

Here's a tip for everyone considering such a move: it looks classless. You just look like an idiot when you do it. Act like you've been there before!

That move, which fortunately did not draw a penalty, was followed by a near fiasco on an attempted two-point conversion. The Mountaineer offense finally got set with six seconds left on the play clock, and with no time to see what the defense was doing, were forced to run a play that never had a chance to succeed.

Timid playcalling didn't help the WVU effort. After Rasheed Marshall broke free on a quarterback draw for a 46-yard score to cut the WVU deficit to 19-13, the Mountaineer defense, which had to gut it out the entire second half due to the anemic performance of the offense, stopped Tech three straight times, giving WVU had the ball and the momentum. West Virginia breaks from the sidelines with the four wide receiver set, which is the only set that worked all day, and what did they do? They audibled into the exact same play they ran for a touchdown. Same play. Two plays in a row.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's defensive backs were giving Mountaineer receivers ten-yard cushions all day long. Rodriguez, however, refused to take advantage of the opportunity. The thought that WVU has to establish the run and get 200 yards on the gorund in order to win appears to be institutionalized.

That thinking, unfortunately, cost WVU the game. Tech didn't have to do anything but run his its base defense, because the Hokies knew WVU wasn't likely to open up the offense. If Rasheed Marshall throws twenty passes in the first half, WVU not only wins this game, but also wins going away. Marshall was 7-11 in the first half, but then WVU comes out and goes three and out on their two third quarter offensive possessions. No throws to the slot, no bubble screens, no wheel routes, no trick plays, nothing.

It is about time that the belly option becomes more than a handoff to a man who is already getting tackled. It is about time the Mountaineers used their weapons on the outside for more than blocking. This game reminds me eerily of the 1998 bowl loss to Missouri. When asked after the game why he didn't pass more in the first half, Don Nehlen was quoted as saying "We knew we could complete every pass. But we had to establish the run. We just never did."

Well Rich Rodriguez came to town with promises of open offenses, playing like your hair is on fire, spot the ball and go. The only thing West Virginia is spotting right now is a plummet from the national polls. The Mountaineers weren't just playing for WVU. The Mountaineers were playing for the Big East. And the Mountaineers didn't meet the challenge.

Do me a favor, never again talk about national titles in Morgantown. Because as long as WVU plays without discipline, and as if it is afraid to make mistakes, it will never beat anyone of any stature.

WVU lost all the national respect they were getting before this game. And they probably won't get it back this season, even if they finish 10-1. There'll be no need to thump the chest and whine about a lack of national respect from this point on. It is time for this team to show some heart and play the way they believe they are capable of playing. Otherwise, it could be a much longer season than anyone anticipated.

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