So, for the first time in the young season, Mountaineer fans are feeling fairly confident after the 31-17 manhandling of the Maryland Terrapins. I would have checked back in sooner, but I spent all weekend fighting off Maryland fans in town for the game. Don't they look fierce? A great time was had by all, and I was glad to rep Mountaineer football for some out-of-towners. The weather was freakishly nice and the 'Eers came out with their muskets-a-blazing, it was a great day to be a Mountaineer! After some time to digest what went down Saturday, let's have a look.
- Geno Smith, Geno Smith, Geno Smith. I know. I sound like a broken record, but I still find the Mountaineers' transformation into a passing offense to be just that remarkable. For the first two seasons of Jeff Mullen's tenure he was slammed by fans left and right, but he was also left with Pat White and Jarrett Brown, two guys not known for their ability to chuck the ball around. Now that there's a passing threat under center Mullen's taking advantage of it. The most impressive thing for me to see, was what those Touchdown throws (especially the first two...) looked like. Typical Mountaineer style has been entirely focused on yards-after-catch, dinking and dunking and then giving the play-makers a chance to run. On Saturday, Geno put the ball in a spot, and counted on his receivers to be there. All day, they were. It may seem like a minor thing, but I think it represents a seismic shift in the Mountaineer offense. Geno's reward? Big East player of the week this week.
- Ryan Clarke was used how Ryan Clarke should be used. In the second half, after the Terps had crawled back into it things got tense in the stands. Was this the beginning of the great collapse? It could have been, but when the 'Eers got the ball back they treated the Terps to a heavy dose of between the tackles running from Ryan Clarke. It was this sequence, which drained over nine minutes off of the clock, that sealed victory for the 'Eers. Despite being built for speed, it's nice to know that the Mountaineers can tough out some hard yards when needed.
- Sacking the Quarterback! Much had been made of the Mountaineers' inability to get after the QB after going sack-less in their first two contests. The team broke out of it in a big way Saturday getting to QB Jamarr Robinson eight times. Bruce Irvin, who many had been waiting to see break out, had his biggest day so far getting to the QB for 3 sacks, and forcing a fumble. He was a generally disruptive presence all day long. He was named the Big East's defensive player of the week.
- Stedman Bailey. The freshman wide-out had his breakout game, hauling in two touchdown passes from his former High School QB. The future looks as wide open as Bailey was on Saturday.
- Noel Devine. Remember him? Quietly rushed for 141 yards, including a 50-yarder to open the game. Ho hum. Business as usual.
- Turnovers. Three of 'em. All while in position to score some more points. The Jock Sanders interception on a double-pass was the worst, mainly because it's hard to ever imagine that play being called in the second half of a game while holding a lead. But hey, Mullen keeps us on our toes. It didn't prove to be a killer, but the inability to protect the ball could come back to haunt the Mountaineers as the season progresses.
- Pat Miller (and by association, Brandon Hogan). Miller replaced the suspended Hogan and showed quite effectively why he's a back-up. Torrey Smith's two long touchdown receptions both came at Miller's expense and turned what was a first half blow-out into a fairly competitive second half. Hogan's absence appears to be very costly, and I'm sure the defensive coaching staff will be working long hours with the secondary this week.
All in all, what does it mean? Not sure. First, obviously Maryland is much further off than many had thought. I think a large part of the Mountaineer's dominance was due to the Terps not having the speed and quickness to handle the skill positions and react in the open field. That said, this is a huge leap forward for WVU. Geno Smith continues to mature and the passing offense looks more and more impressive. The defense finally got to the quarterback in a big way. These things are great, but the most important thing about Saturday's win was the confidence the team will be infused with as they head to Baton Rouge for Saturday's showdown with the LSU Tigers. If the Maryland win means one thing, it means this: The Mountaineers think they can win in Death Valley, and they're not wrong. Whether they will win remains to be seen, but their chances just got a whole lot better.