What a difference a week, and a different opponent, can make for the West Virginia University football team. Despite a lopsided 41-7 win defensive coordinator Keith Patterson summed up the season by stating, “We need to go out and play a clean game”.
Entering the 2013 season head coach Dana Holgorsen and his reworked staff of coaches had as many questions to answer as all the new players they were teaching. Doubts about the staff's ability to field a competitive team were tops on the minds of Mountaineer fans everywhere.
Holgorsen's first directive last spring as he and his staff began preparations for this season was for his team to compete. After three games the one question that the coaches have answered is the willingness of their team to compete.
Despite all the new starters on offense, including new quarterback Ford Childress, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson saw his team generate 604-yards in Saturday's win. At times it wasn't pretty and while missing on several opportunities fans witnessed the potential that Holgorsen has been alluding to for months.
With the first quarter of the season in the books, the team is precisely where preseason expectations placed the 2013 won/loss record, 2-1. However, it is the second quarter of the season, the next three games that will define this year's football team.
First up is the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Then the Oklahoma State Cowboys come to Morgantown. To finish off the three games of the second quarter of the season, the Mountaineers travel to Waco, Texas, to play the Baylor Bears.
Holgorsen's football team will be hard pressed to match, or improve, their 2-1 record in those three games.
Through the first three games of the season the approach of all three opponents was to load the box and force the Mountaineer offense to throw the football. An obvious attempt to force Dawson's starting quarterback to beat them with his arm, instead of the legs of the Mountaineers' stable of talented running backs.
Against William & Mary, and Georgia State the tactic didn't work. Oklahoma used that plan to perfection in the Mountaineers loss at Norman. Expect Maryland head coach Randy Edsall to employ the same tactic at Ravens Stadium on Saturday.
Ironically, the Terps enter the contest on the opposite end of the spectrum from last season, they are the team with the high powered offense. Through their first three games Maryland has amassed over 500-yards in every contest and field a balanced attack.
To date the Maryland offense shows 877-yards passing and 787-yards rushing on the season. Statistically, Edsall's offense is ranked 21 for rushing yards per game, 28 for passing yards per game, and 30 in scoring nationally.
WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson has fielded a much improved defense for 2013. Patterson's defense will face its biggest test on Saturday in Maryland. With the amount of offense still remaining on the schedule in conference play, how well the Mountaineer defense holds up against the Terrapin attack could be a precursor to the remainder of the Big-12 schedule.
For the first time this season the WVU offense may be forced to outscore an opponent to win the game. At the very least that clean game that Patterson mentioned on Saturday is important. Maryland enters the game having forced seven turnovers so far this season.
To be fair, the Mountaineers will be the best team that Maryland has faced this season, their first three opponents were Florida International, Old Dominion, and Edsall's former team Connecticut. While the Terps have handled all three with relative ease, an individual has to wonder if they have really been tested.
Since Spring practice, through fall camp, and now three weeks into the season Holgorsen has done his best to challenge his football team. Hologrsen has attempted to push the right buttons with the depth chart, using that depth chart to create adversity for his players individually and his team collectively.
That adversity appeared to pay dividends against Oklahoma, the Mountaineers could have won that football game. The one constant for the team in that game was the amount of effort put forth by Holgorsen's players. Unfortunately, effort couldn't overcome mistakes.
Holgorsen has managed the team and proved through his shifts of the depth chart that back-ups need to be ready to play. Holgorsen summed it up in his post game press conference, “We're identifying guys we can trust and guys we can't trust. We're identifying guys that understand their roll and don't understand their roll. We'll continue to do that for the next eight weeks.”
Holgorsen is facing questions about his ability to lead a top tier FBS program and Dawson's ability to replace the departed Jake Spavital as quarterback coach is still undecided in the eyes of many fans. Dawson's quote from his post game interview on Saturday tells the tale. “ We've got to have some people step up and make some plays on the football, it'd be nice.”
We'll find out Saturday if the players on the roster can be the some people Dawson was referring to. If some people are on the roster, imagine how much better Holgorsen and Dawson will be as coaches.