I thought last night's Mountaineer victory versus South Florida was a big one for the old gold and blue. USF has had the Mountaineers' number lately, and the 'Eers haven't posted a convincing victory against the Bulls since Pat White was a freshman. Last night was refreshing, and it's always nice to be under the lights at Mountaineer Field. Here are my thoughts, on both sides of the ball.
First, the defense. And, my oh my, THE DEFENSE. This is the unit that is quietly becoming one of the best in college football. The opportunistic secondary really stepped up last night, hauling in the three interceptions and generally making BJ Daniels look miserable. Robert Sands' pick to set up a Mountaineer touchdown right before halftime was the play of the game. That play and the hook and ladder that followed essentially put the Bulls to bed before the game had reached the halfway point. Keith Tandy hauled in his fourth interception of the season as he continues his amazing transition this season from goat to glory. The defensive front doesn't blitz, but Neild does a great job keeping people busy to let Bruce Irvin do his thing. Seeing a Mountaineer defensive end get to the quarterback is a thing of beauty. It hasn't happened much since Jeff Casteel and his 3-3-5 came to town.
But now, let me get to the offense. The way this offense runs has been a point of contention since the RichRod spread gave way to the Jeff Mullen "Do We Have A Plan Here?" offense. I say, emphatically, YES, there is a plan and it seems to be working. I spent the greater part of the fourth quarter last night texting back and forth with Sam from The City of Morgantown as he bemoaned the lack of passing and scoring in the second half. I say, it's by design. The 'Eers came out throwing last night and moved the football with ease, setting up a beautiful 31-yard touchdown to Bradley Starks. Now, often Sam (and others) will say, "Why do we continue to run Devine and Clarke inside? That's not where our skills are! It's a waste!" but without those play calls, we can't ensure that an opposing defense will respect the play-fake that left Starks all alone in the middle of the field. The whole stadium knew where the ball was going before Geno let it rip. Seriously. The only people who didn't know were the South Florida D who were to concerned with an inside running play that wasn't actually happening.
People also like to bemoan the bubble screen. It's an infuriating play, I know. Throw the ball 20 yards in the air for a one-yard gain. It seems risky, though there is enough speed on the outside to break just enough of them to make it worthwhile. Yesterday, the 'Eers threw three or four of them early, to groans from the Mountaineer faithful. Then, in the waning moments of the first half, the Mountaineers capitalized by calling a hook and ladder off of a bubble screen. The entire defense converged on Sanders, but it was too late - Devine had the ball and was in the endzone. It couldn't have happened without the proceeding bubble screens. I'm starting to have faith in all aspects of this team, and I think it's important to remember that those plays that may gain no yards, or just one or two, can reap dividends later in the game.
Finally, there are cries this morning that the offense went to bed in the second half. I just didn't see it that way. South Florida kicked a field goal on a quick drive to start the third. The Mountaineers got the ball back and proceeded to burn nearly ten minutes off of the clock by running Clarke up the middle. Over and over and over and over. I don't see the harm there. It's not exciting. It doesn't lead to a ton of points, just three. However, the value of depleting the rest of the clock in the third quarter can't be overstated. If the strategy employed by the Mountaineer coaching staff is to throw early, run late and let the defense do the rest, I think that will lead to a pile of Mountaineer victories by season's end. There is no reason why this team can't run the table and win the conference. It may not be a point-heavy approach, but it doesn't need to be.
Remember, people, if you're playing like the Mountaineer defense is right now, a 14-point victory is a blow-out.