Amid the intense frustration of the Mountaineers’ struggles and a loss of record proportions, there is potentially light at the end of the tunnel. To put this season’s woes into perspective, the most successful coach in WVU history when measured by national prominence was Rich Rodriguez.
Whether you hate him or miss him, he took the football program from a period of mediocrity to a top ten level. Call it luck or recruiting genius, when Pat White and Steve Slaton took the field things changed overnight.
Some of us forget that Rodriguez’s first season at WVU was 3-8. His teams then managed a respectable 9-4, 8-5, and 8-4 record the following years with three straight losses in bowl games, much like coach Stewart. Then magic struck.
The Mountaineers ran off seasons of 11-1, 11-2, and 11-2 with three straight BCS Bowl wins and finished each season in the top ten. That is a top ten program and where we expect to be. There is no point in rehashing what happened next. We can’t change it.
What we can do is try to maintain realistic expectations as WVU rides a roller coaster season of transition. Most of the juniors and all of the seniors on this team were recruited by previous coaches. This is a rebuilding year at WVU, for the coaches as well as the players.
While the offense has had problems with instability at every position except at running back, a few players are beginning to blossom. There will be two or three very talented receivers before this year is over.
An offensive line that is a patchwork of weak or slow seniors mixed with talented but inexperienced redshirt freshmen and sophomores is bound to struggle. That is killing the running game.
Through the first half of the season, Coach Crook had to play musical chairs with the offensive linemen to discover which position gave them the greatest chance of success, or in some cases to place them where they would do the least harm.
The substandard offensive line play has been magnified by injuries to the two most talented quarterbacks. We really don’t know how well a healthy Ford Childress or Clint Trickett can play.
What we do know is both of them are willing to minimize the severity of their injuries to continue playing even at the detriment of the team. That is also the coaches’ fault for believing them and allowing them to fail miserably.
Comparing this season to last year, the young defense has had a remarkable turnaround. They did lose confidence in what they have learned and reverted to last year’s ways as soon as a Baylor receiver made an incredible catch and scored. That was only one game. They will develop the discipline to prevent another occurence
Having gone through the gauntlet of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor, the toughest part of this season is behind them. They still have a talented Texas Tech to face, but the Red Raiders are closer to the level of Oklahoma State than Baylor. Likewise with TCU.
If the Mountaineers can manage to finish strong, there is hope for next year. If the Baylor game marked the start of a repeat of last season’s total collapse, count me among those calling for a change. But not yet.