Sure, last Saturday’s destruction of West Virginia by Texas Tech took the national luster from what would have been a top five meeting in Morgantown. But can such domination happen again? There’s the chance that last weekend was an aberration. Texas Tech, like Iowa State, has this weird propensity to jump up every year and destroy someone’s BCS intentions. It’s possible Tech did it again, while West Virginia simply overlooked the Red Raiders in anticipation of their game against K-State and fell into the trap of a game Lubbock is known for. But what if West Virginia didn’t deserve the #5 ranking they had going into Saturday, and #13 is a more accurate portrayal of their rightful place? And what if West Virginia deserves that top five ranking, and stands an excellent chance of making K-State the final Big XII team to fall from the rank of the undefeateds? In answering this question, September 22 is the best place to start.
September brings us back to the start of the Mountaineers season, which featured wins against Marshall, James Madison, and, on September 22, Maryland. Why Maryland? Because on this day the Terrapins did something no one thought possible before Texas Tech’s win over WVU. That’s right, Maryland jumped into a time machine and achieved something that wasn’t proved possible (according to the media) until three weeks later – stymy Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense, holding it to 24 points.
Maryland is a mediocre ACC team. Maryland lost to West Virginia. But Maryland only lost by a score of 31-21. They were only outgained by 12 yards – 363 to 351. If not for three turnovers – one interception and two fumbles – they very well could have beaten WVU. So what does this outcome prove? The first is that the West Virginia defense is every bit as unimpressive as suspected. Maryland averages 21.8 points a game. WVU allowed an average team to score the same number of points as they average. How average. Also keep in mind that Maryland wasn’t engaged in a hurry-up offensive game plan in an attempt keep up with West Virginia – they played the Mountaineers close most of the game. The Collin Klein to Chris Harper connection shouldn’t slow down on Saturday, and John Hubert will be just as productive.
However, the bigger takeaway is that the unstoppable offense of West Virginia was substantially hindered. Their drive summary:
|1||-2||End of Half|
|8||27||End of Game|
A couple things immediately jumped out as I was creating this table. The first is that I’m awful at editing HTML, and Jug of Snyder needs someone who understands these things (seriously – we’re looking for writers. And you don’t have to know anything about HTML to join the team). Secondly, West Virginia lives and dies by the big play. Their touchdown drives came through the air on big passes. When West Virginia can’t pick up big plays, they falter. To mix sports metaphors, this team swings for the fences a lot and strikes out when it needs a simple conversion on 3rd-and-3. So a team that plays its corners off the line in a bend-but-don’t-break scheme stands the best chance of stalling the Mountaineer attack. Which is exactly the type of defense K-State plays.
All told, West Virginia only put three offensive touchdowns on Maryland (their fourth touchdown was a defensive touchdown from a returned fumble recovery). These strikes came on passes of 44, 24, and 34 yards. The rushing game was nonexistent – West Virginia only gained 25 yards on the ground. Their best rusher, Shawn Alston, missed the game with an injury, but teams should still be able to plug in rushers and expect the line to open the occasional hole. West Virginia did nothing on 25 rushes (and even a West Virginia hill billy can do the math on what that averages to per rush).
So ignore the rush, and take away the deep ball. The third and final leg of the table is pressuring Geno Smith. Texas Tech did this effectively, but Maryland provided the blueprint. Smith was sacked four times, and constantly hounded by the Terrapins. And how did the Wildcats make Landry Jones look so pedestrian? By forcing bad throws under pressure. Meshak Williams, start licking your chops. Linebackers, get ready for a little more magic in the backfield. And Ty Zimmerman, prepare to snag another throw made under duress. Because the game plan for beating West Virginia is apparently the same game plan K-State’s defense was specifically designed to execute.