Know your foe: Five questions with Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail
Each week, I’ll check in with the beat writer who covers Oklahoma State’s opponent to get some perspective on the game from the other side.
Mike Casazza covers West Virginia for the Charleston Daily Mail. You can read his work here or follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.
Here’s our exchange:
Gina Mizell: Obviously, the WVU defense has been bashed all season. But the offense has also struggled during the Mountaineers’ three-game losing streak. What changed? Or what isn’t working that was at the beginning of the season?
Mike Casazza: Probably the best way to put it is that despite all of WVU’s gaudy offensive numbers, defenses more or less stopped respecting WVU’s offense. More and more defense just disregard the running game and play a quarters coverage and move safeties back and take away WVU’s deep ball. Defenses sit on the short and intermediate passes and jump all over the receiver when he’s targeted. Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU all did the same thing with good and similar success, even though Texas Tech played man and Kansas State played zone and TCU mixed it up but just would not let the outside receivers make plays — and TCU broke up 11 passes. Eleven. Geno Smith has slumped a little with his accuracy and he’s hesitated at times and locked on receivers at times and only last game started to use his legs again. The offensive line has started three right tackles the last three games and would probably make other changes if there were more options. They only had two running backs the previous five games and Andrew Buie hasn’t been himself since getting 31 carries and 207 yards at Texas. Stedman Bailey was the best receiver in the country four weeks ago, but rolled an ankle against Texas Tech and didn’t even start last week. Hardly anyone else makes a play on offense besides Tavon Austin. There’s a continuity of competence that’s missing.
GM: Tavon Austin, to me, is the key player in this game. Not just as a receiver against an often suspect Cowboy secondary, but also as a returner. OSU has given up two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season and allowed nearly 240 return yards against K-State. What makes Austin such a dangerous athlete and returner?
MC: He’s really fast. He’s has a stop-go like nobody else and it cripples people in the open field. And he’s fearless. He did this last week (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymtwY9RiUrw) and coaches would generally instruct a receiver to never, ever try that in a game. But Tavon’s a special player in tight spaces and he doesn’t think anyone is going to take him to the ground. An opponent has to get a hold of him first and he makes that very difficult. I will say this about Tavon the returner, though. He’s lethal on kickoff returns because he’s so good at straight-ahead runs, but he’s an adventure on punt returns. He gives WVU fans indigestion. He lets balls bounce and roll. He picks balls up that are rolling or bouncing, no matter how many defenders are nearby. He does not go straight ahead right away very often. He’s inconsistent, though some might call that unpredictable. Last week, he had two returns for minus-eight yards. His third was a 76-yard touchdown.
GM: OK, now the defense. Why the huge struggles on that side of the ball? Is it a lack of talent against Big 12 offenses? Scheme? OSU fans know Joe DeForest well and were used to seeing him in a backwards hat on the sideline every game. Do you expect him to be back up in the booth again this week?
MC: I don’t want to say it’s talent, but mostly because I think it goes without saying at this stage of the season. The offenses are good and this is not the Big East. The scheme is new and there are zero players on the roster recruited to play the 3-4. But they just don’t have a lot of players who make a difference. They have some, and many of them are young, but just not enough. They’re good against the run, but those same defensive linemen can’t rush the passer very well. Their linebackers are OK, and probably the strength, but they have six. The secondary is just a mess, though. I could spend all day on it, but let’s say they’ve featured five cornerbacks already. The fifth was a backup safety. The sixth — a walk on who was on the scout team three weeks ago — is starting at safety now in place of a guy who had started 20 in a row. And no way does DeForest leave the press box this week. He may never leave it again. It worked too well last week in a season where very few things have worked well.
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