West Virginia is on top of the Big East, and it is not going to be a short stay.
Ramblings from the opening weekend:
The hush-hush around Morgantown leading up to the season opener was that the Mountaineer defense, despite the loss of Adam Jones and three linebackers, could end up being the strongest defensive unit in Morgantown in nearly ten years. And even though Syracuse did several things to help the defensive unit look good, the Mountaineers did not disappoint on Sunday. The defensive line dominated the game. Eric Wicks looked like Ronnie Lott and Mike Lorello looked like Rod Woodson.
Never have I seen a game where an eight-point lead looked so safe. It reminded me of the 1996 Miami game right before the infamous punt, except WVU lead by eight instead of three.
Lost in the mire of four fumbles was a pretty darn good performance by the offense against what will prove to be a solid Syracuse defense. It is a safe bet that were it not for three of those fumbles, WVU would have had a minimum of nine more points in the game, and likely 17 more. Three hundred-plus yards of offense and what seemed like an entire day spent on the Syracuse side of the 50 adds up to a respectable showing.
A big part of the offensive success was a result of some good play at the quarterback position. Adam Bednarik looked like a seasoned veteran behind center on Sunday and at times looked like a bruising fullback as he crashed through defenders on the way to being the top ground gainer in the game. There's your pocket passer for you! And while I thought the offense looked better with Bednarik under center, the fact is Pat White looked pretty good as well but was a victim of three of the four fumbles when he was in the game. A quick peek at the stats shows that the WVU quarterbacks finished the game 17-27 for 167 yards and an interception. Only three times in 2004 did WVU throw 27 or more passes in a game, and they lost them all.
Another big part of the offensive success was the play of the young wide receiving corps. Darius Reynaud looked superb in catching six balls and running a reverse. Brandon Myles caught five passes for 76 yards. Owen Schmitt caught two passes for 24 yards. Seven different Mountaineers caught passes on Sunday against Syracuse. My opinion is that this is exactly the type of distribution Rich likes to see on the stat sheet and that it will only get better as the playbook opens up. That, in turn, will come as the young players get more experience, but if young guys like Reynaud keep performing like they did against the Orange, it probably won't be long before we see the offensive game plan being extended.
If there was one black mark on the day, it was the rushing offense. And while it is easy to point fingers at running backs that dropped footballs like they were hot lava rocks on Sunday, it should be pointed out that the offensive line didn't exactly plow the road for the runners. All three Jason Colson fumbles came while he was fighting for extra yards. Something tells me the fumble problem will be corrected by this Saturday or we'll start to see a whole lot more Jason Gwaltney and Steve Slaton.
This week's victim is Wofford. The Terriers are ranked in the top 20 in 1-AA. Don't think these guys are going to come in and lay down for the Mountaineers. If the boys in blue expect to waltz through a snore fest and win big they will be in for a rough day. This is the week to focus on preparation and improvement. Next week there will be no room for error.
It was a great weekend. West Virginia won their fourth straight over Syracuse for the first time ever. West Virginia won their second in a row in the Carrier Dome for the first time ever. Rusty Wallace clinched a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. And Jeff Gordon, well, didn't.
Finally, I have an observation about the new punt scheme. The Mountaineers employed a spread formation against Syracuse with a three-man "gate" in front of the punter. Rutgers used it three years ago and Syracuse used last year, and WVU blocked punts against both. After experimenting with it a year ago in practice, WVU scrapped it before the season, but it reappeared this spring and has become WVU's primary punt formation this fall. Here's wishing it would go the way of the Dodo bird.