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Norfolk St. Vs. West Virginia: What We Learned

The Mountaineers have their second game in the books, this time getting to play the full four quarters in a 55-12 trouncing of Norfolk State.  Here's what we learned yesterday at Milan Puskar Stadium:

  • Football games have two halves.  This has never been more evident than in yesterday's contest.  In the first half, the Mountaineers were absolutely awful.  The 'Eers didn't pick up a first down until the second quarter, and looked completely lost on offense. In the most horrifying sequence the Mountaineers ran SIX PLAYS from Norfolk State's 1 yard line and had to settle for a field goal. To be unable to move the football less than three feet against FCS competition was an impressive display of futility. At the half, the Mountaineers trailed 12-10 and the team was showered with much deserved boos as they headed towards the locker room.  Luckily, the team that emerged was a seemingly different football team, lighting it up for 45 unanswered points in the second half.  What happened?  Who knows.  All that can be said is that one of the most embarrassing first half performances was erased from people's memory before the fourth quarter had even begun.
  • The offensive line is still struggling.  That was evident in the inability to pound the football in from three feet away, a six play sequence that resulted in a field goal and a whole lot of hand wringing in the stands.  The Mountaineers should have walked the ball into the endzone with ease, instead lineman were beaten so soundly that running plays never got a chance to develop. Geno Smith spent much of the first half dodging defenders, feeling pressure on most of his drop-backs. This unit is going to have to improve if the Mountaineers hope to have any success in short yardage situations.
  • Geno Smith still struggles with decision making.  Simply put, Geno holds the ball too long.  With the line's deficiencies, its a habit that could become a play killer later. Geno seems to zero in on his primary target and unwilling to check down to a lesser pattern. The Mountaineers often have five receivers running wild on any given play, so one of them almost always is open.  Smith seems to prefer to go for broke each time, forcing balls into heavy coverage instead of taking what the defense gives him. A direct result was the Mountaineers ineptitude on third down, converting only four of eleven attempts. Smith has a great arm, but sometimes it seems he doesn't know where to point it.
  • The defense lacks the killer instinct of a year ago.  Last season's defensive unit was one of the best in school history, and Mountaineer fans shouldn't expect a repeat performance.  That said, both Marshall and Norfolk State have moved the football with success.  Yesterday's contest opened with a 56 yard pass on a WildCat formation in which the Mountaineers were absolutely caught off guard. The defense doesn't seem to be playing with focus and Spartan receivers and rushers often were left alone as Mountaineer defenders found themselves over committed on fakes.  All world defensive end Bruce Irvin (as well as the rest of his defensive teammates) was held without a sack.  I shudder to think what the "real" offenses of the Maryland Terrapins and LSU Tigers are going to do to this unit.  The defense's trial by fire is coming very soon.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.