The West Virginia University football season has reached the halfway point. As of October 8, following the 43-16 win over Connecticut, the Mountaineers have played half of their regular season schedule and are headed into a bye week sitting nicely with a 5-1 record. That record is good enough to have the Mountaineers ranked 13th in the Associated Press poll and 16th in the USA Today coach’s poll.
There is no reason to think the Mountaineers won’t continue their winning ways, but after this open weekend the schedule becomes more challenging. Not only will the competition figure to be more challenging, but now the Mountaineers must also get use to playing on the road. The quirky schedule for this season saw the Mountaineers play five of their first six games at home. The only road trip thus far was a bus ride to College Park to play Maryland.
Four of the remaining six games are on the road beginning with next Friday’s game with Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Then the Mountaineers face surprising Rutgers in New Jersey. Those two games should provide a sufficient test for WVU, which despite its increasing offensive output, really hasn’t put together a solid four quarters this season.
WVU will return home November 5 to play struggling Louisville, before hitting the road again to go to Cincinnati to play a Bearcat team that has looked impressive at times. Another week off leads to the Friday after Thanksgiving date with Pitt in the Backyard Brawl. Then West Virginia is back on the road for a Thursday night game at always-dangerous South Florida.
OK, so that may not seem like a murderer’s row like one could find in the Southeastern Conference, but as play in the Big East takes shape in 2011, it looks like the top teams are on the road for WVU. In any event, WVU will need to continue to improve “on all three sides of the ball” as head coach Dana Holgorsen likes to say.
Last Saturday special teams looked improved in kick coverage, an area of big concern. Most notable was the punting debut of freshman Mike Molinari. He had several nice high spiraling kicks with very good angle and location. While admittedly pleased with Molinari’s effort, Holgorsen pointed out the freshman had perfect conditions in which to kick, so Molinari’s evaluation will be on going.
After rushing for over 300 yards against Bowling Green the Mountaineer running game checked in with a much more pedestrian 72-yard total against the Huskies. As we have seen so far, if the running game is ineffective West Virginia will just turn junior quarterback Geno Smith loose, and Smith responded with a, 27 completion of 45 attempts, 450 yard, four-touchdown effort.
Those are some handsome numbers to be sure, but the conversation in at least one area of the stands was how Smith really didn’t look particularly sharp. So, arguably without his best stuff, Smith still put up huge numbers. One of these days we are going to see something phenomenal from Smith and his receivers like Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Ivan McCartney, Brad Starks, Ryan Nehlen and Devon Brown. All of those guys bring something to the table that Smith can use to keep defenses off balance.
For those keeping an eye on West Virginia’s conference affiliation, about the only thing as of Monday night is status quo. The Mountaineers remain a member of the Big East conference, but rumors persist that they are seeking a new home. Just what options, if any, are available to WVU are being kept under lock and key. There is plenty of smoke out there, but that may indicate a fire, or just a smoke screen.
Athletic Director Oliver Luck is not commenting one way or the other. Asked about WVU’s position on the Big East’s decision Monday to try and expand to 12 teams, Luck replied “no comment.” Is the absence of an endorsement of the direction the Big East wants to go some kind of tell?