Continuing our weekly series checking in with a beat writer who covers Oklahoma State’s upcoming opponent.
Mike Casazza covers West Virginia for the Charleston Daily Mail. You can read his work here or follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.
1. What’s the mood like in Morgantown right now after the Mountaineers’ slow start? How hot is Dana Holgorsen’s seat?
It’s warming up, but in the sense that the burner was just turned on and the water is not yet near boiling. I wouldn’t call it hot and barring a complete collapse the rest of the way, I don’t believe it gets so hot that a change is made. But people are mad and many are finished with Holgorsen. That’s his seventh loss by 21 or more points. Seventh! That’s nearly a quarter of the game’s he’s coached, which means it wasn’t a bad day, and more than half are against teams outside the Big 12, which means it isn’t a result of changing conferences. There are losses and there are ways teams lose and the ways his teams have lost concern the people who are asked to pay more and go farther than ever before to support the program.
2. What’s the biggest problem with the WVU offense? Not being able to settle on a quarterback? The receivers? Did you ever think you’d see the day when a Holgorsen offense struggled this much?
It’s a little of everything except, oddly enough, the running game. They average 5.2 yards per carry and each of their three main backs averages better than that. But the quarterback situation is pretty self explanatory. The receivers are unproven and thus far unable to make plays down the field or sometimes even catch the ball. The middle of the offensive line is entirely new and the tackles aren’t special. This quarterback (Ford Childress) looks unafraid to stand there and take hits, which, while brave, might accumulate. But Maryland whipped WVU up front with four and five guys. That shouldn’t happen. It completely derailed WVU’s play to attack backup defensive backs that were starting. If WVU can’t pass, WVU can’t win, which I think is a fairly common assessment of Holgorsen’s offense, but, no, I didn’t think I’d see it so clearly so soon here.
3. How much better is the WVU defense this season? What’s led to those changes, besides the coaching switch from Joe DeForest to Keith Patterson?
Part of it is just natural progression. Guys are older and better and being in a weight room for even a year matters a lot, but more so when a team played as many freshmen as WVU did last year. But they’re more competently coached. That matters a bunch. They’re much more aggressive. Their defensive line can actually get in the backfield. Their middle linebackers can blitz. They don’t play any of the quarters coverage that got them in so much trouble last season. Their cornerbacks aren’t creating up 60 yard cushions. Their safeties are hammers on the back end. And they’re deep. They’ve had a lot of injuries, both brief and long term this season, and they had a cornerback quit the team, but they don’t seem to mind.
4. Besides the usual suspects like RB Charles Sims, who is a potential player to watch for WVU on Saturday?
I was unaware this team had usual suspects, but Daikiel Shorts is a player to watch on offense. He was good in their wins, but he’s been shut out in both losses. He’s the inside receiver, which is a key part of everything they want to do on offense, but he’s a freshman and he’s been taken out of two games. Ronald Carswell has been their most productive receiver and the only one who can get open down the field. Defensively, ends Will Clarke and Dotrill Hyman are active and can be tough to block. Their middle linebacker, Nick Kwiatkoski, has been a pleasant surprise, but he has a hamstring injury. Their nickelback, K.J. Dillon, has been pretty good and he’ll have to be big against the Cowboys and their option and their pass.
5. For fans visiting Morgantown for the first time, what’s on your must-see list?
Oh, boy. First, stay clear of University Avenue from between 3-7 p.m. Friday. Construction and traffic make it just unbearable. If you’re up for an adventure Friday or Sunday or even after the game, Cooper’s Rock is a fun time with hiking trails and surreal views. Lakeview is a fine golf course and resort with spas for the wives. High Street has the combination of food, drink and shopping and can be anywhere from lively to loony after a game. The Wharf District has some great places to eat and to hang out and it’s right off the Rail Trail, which is on the riverfront. I’d definitely suggest going to the Mountain Lair on the downtown campus. It’s the student union and has the Mountaineer statue that’s supposed to be a visage of Jerry West. It’s also situated between frat row and the famous Boreman dorms and right across from the best and oldest buildings on campus. On the other side of town, go to the Coliseum and check out WVU’s facilities for other sports and appreciate what the school right now does not have, but then get a look inside the basketball practice facility. It’s usually open before kickoff and it’s really one of the bet I’ve ever seen. If you do nothing else, though, go to the Fishbowl on Richwood Avenue. Tell them I sent you.