Some of it was that center Mike Dent seemed to snap the ball with the same timing and rhythm on nearly every play. After the quarterback, be it Jarrett Brown or Patrick White, placed their hand down to give a ready signal, Dent put his head up, then a half second later snapped the ball. The defensive front became acquainted with the timing, and that allowed for a superior rush, which largely negated any downfield throws or longer drops because of pocket collapse.
The remedy to that is obviously to have Dent, a first-year starter, work on changing his timing. Both Dent and tackle Ryan Stanchek said No. 12 West Virginia (4-1, 0-1 Big East) has variations on its snaps and that they have worked on the situation. That will be key against a Syracuse team that will likely need help from West Virginia to pull an upset. The Orange (1-4, 1-0) rank 111th in the nation in rush defense and have yet to play any BCS team close except for its upset win over then-No. 18 Louisville, 38-35, on the road.
"It's going to be loud (in the Carrier Dome)," Dent said. "We have to make our calls. That wasn't the problem. Everybody knew where they were going. We communicated well along the line. (I snap the ball) whenever I feel comfortable and when I get the calls out that need to be called. We have different ways to snap the ball. I took a couple extra (snaps). I needed that. I am trying to get better and work towards Syracuse. We have to get prepared and continue to work. This is a week we have to get down to business and get better. It was just one of those games for me."
Said Stanchek: "I can't really talk about the snap count. Obviously everybody knows the center's head comes up. But we do have different variations."
Dent had at least 10 poor snaps in Friday's game, including one that went over Brown's head after the backup quarterback entered in place of White, now listed as day-to-day for the SU game, when the starter suffered a thigh bruise. The snap cost WVU 10 yards of field position and a chance at a touchdown on third and goal. It settled for a Pat McAfee field goal to trail 14-3 at the half. Another bad snap helped botch a handoff between White and superback Steve Slaton. The exchange was fumbled, one of six WVU turnovers during the game to tie a record high in head coach Rich Rodriguez's era. The other snaps – high, wide or both, but with very little consistency even in their areas of misplacement – often threw off the timing of the Mountaineers' spread offense, which moved well between the 20-yard lines but bogged down in the red zone for the first time in four games after scoring on 22 of the first 23 drives that reached an opponents' 20.
The lack of offense production or execution certainly was not entirely Dent's fault. But the loss of 10 plays is a significant number in a game in which teams run roughly 80-90 per game. Dent had not struggled during any significant stretches of fall camp, or in the first four games, so perhaps the snaps were a one-game aberration. Syracuse's defensive front lacks the overall speed of South Florida's, and the Mountaineers will likely be able to run with better success. So the pressure might be taken off Dent and the line more, especially within the exterior pass protection, as the ends lack the raw athletic talent of USF's George Selvie, who leads the nation in sacks.
It's another game," Dent said. "You are another guy out there. Nobody recognizes you until you have a bad snap. It's fair. That's the position you play."
Dent did confirm that the snaps are not a result of West Virginia's changing quarterbacks. He misfired to both White and Brown, but did settle in for the final two drives, when the Mountaineers scored via a Brown touchdown pass to Darius Reynaud, then got the ball back against and moved into USF territory before losing the ball on downs when Brown bounced a pass off the turf to an open Wes Lyons, who bent down the make the play but could not cradle the ball.
"That's never a factor, whether Jarrett's back there, Pat's back there or Adam's (Bednarik, the third-string quarterback who would be one play away from seeing time if White cannot play) back there," Dent said. "They are all great quarterbacks and I feel comfortable with all of them."
A rebound in play will be crucial against Syracuse, not because the Orange are particularly explosive on offense or adept defensively. But, especially with an open week following the road game, Dent will have a longer period of time to consider any poor play. That could wear on a first-year starter psychologically, even one who has played as well as Dent has in the entirely of the 4-1 WVU start. Too, any early issues will be magnified by the crowd and a team that will test Dent to see if it can find a weaker link to exploit in an upset bid.
"I watched them play a great game against Louisville, and that stuck out in my mind," Stanchek said, "that they play great against the big boys."