Ahhhhhhh..... that took forever. At least it felt like it. The bye week last weekend means it's been two weeks since the Mountaineers last took the field, a 20-14 loss at the hands of LSU. The 'Eers currently sit at 3-1, a record most felt they would have at this point in the season. That said, a bad taste lingers from the waning moments of the Battle in the Bayou, a game that most of Mountaineer Nation feels like bad play-calling let slip away.
Today's foe, the UNLV Running Rebels, come east for the last non-conference match-up of the season. The Running Rebs are 1-4 and most expect this to be a tune-up game before South Florida comes to town on Thursday night.
Here are some storylines for this afternoon at Mountaineer Field:
1. Noel Devine's foot. Devine suffered a bone bruise in Baton Rouge, and while the initial prognosis was that he'd be ready to go today, the injury seems to have lingered. Devine got banged up early against the Tigers and then was stubbornly run inside the rest of the game despite running on one leg. This curious decision has been the biggest point of contention among Mountie fans this week and points to a serious lack of depth at the tailback position. Ryan Clarke isn't a true tailback, and while Austin and Sanders can step in, their skills are needed elsewhere. It seems the coaching staff doesn't trust Devine's true backups Shawne Alston and Daquan Hargrett. Here's hoping this one gets out of hand early and the young guys can get some work.
2. Which offense shows up? The most frustrating thing about this season has been that when the Mountaineers have scored they've seemingly made it look easy. But when they haven't scored, the offense has looked incredibly anemic. The Mountaineers explode for tons of points in short bursts, and then seem to go to sleep. The timing of those bursts of offense can be the difference between and win and a loss, so it would behoove the 'Eers to balance things out. To this blogger, the answer seems to be a balanced running and passing attack run quickly, though not necessarily the "rocket speed" of teams past. Get the ball to the speed positions and let 'em rip. Run Clarke inside to soften the defense, but keep Devine in space and out of harm's way.
3. The continued maturation of Geno Smith. I think at times many in Mountaineer nation lost sight of the fact that today will mark only the 5th start in the career of Geno Smith. In a couple of moments, principally in the comeback against Marshall, the whomping of Maryland and on two drives against LSU, Smith has looked like a savior. The rest of the time he's looked like a sophomore. Which he is. He's obviously the future of Mountaineer football, but the pressing question is, is that future right now? For me, it's all about consistency. I want to see Geno hit all of his easy throws and take some chances when available. The rest of the time, make smart decisions to move the chains and let the speed guys on the outside do all the heavy lifting.
4. UNLV's star receiver Phillip Payne has been suspended for this game due to a tweet that was critical of the current coaching regime. I can imagine the kid is frustrated with a 1-4 start, so I'm sure he's partially justified. It's just another example of how much impact social media has on all sorts of things, big-time sports among them. I'm just glad the Mountaineers won't have to deal with a physical 6-foot-3 receiver, as the defensive secondary has looked suspect at times, giving up three long touchdowns where the coverage just got embarrassed.
I'm off to the Light Blue Lot for some pre-game tailgating on what could be the last nice Saturday of the season. I'll try and update in the comment section if possible. Coverage at the stadium has been spotty so far this season. If not, see you again this evening or in the morning to break down what went right, and (hopefully very little of) what went wrong.