Aside from having arguably the best blog name on the entire network, the West Virginia fans over at The Smoking Musket do good work and are nice guys, to boot. They were kind enough to virtually sit down with us to talk about the upcoming Terps-'Eers matchup that is so critical for both programs.
Thanks go out to them for answering, and make sure to pop over to their site to check out our answers to their questions, which will be up over the next few days. Let's get to it:
Dana Holgorsen brought his vaunted spread offense to Morgantown in the offseason. But as Maryland fans are learning, not every spread is created equal. Summarize, if you could, the Holgorsen system in a nutshell.
Shotgun a Red Bull and pick a play. That was a joke, not a dig at our coach (most of us have serious man crushes on the dude). In all seriousness, he'll spread you out, show you a multitude of formations and run the same few plays over and over. We've only seen glimpses of what it can do in the second half this past week. It's a simple system to learn (so says the coaches and players) and takes three days to install. Then they rep the hell out of it to the point where everyone is reacting instead of thinking. It is predicated on getting the ball to playmakers in space quickly, resetting even quicker following the play (tempo) and running another play. Rhythm obviously plays a big part of it and the speed of the reset can also cause serious mismatches at times. But to be honest, seeing only seven quarters (2 when it really clicked) isn't enough for me to be able to dissect it much more than that.
So, what's the deal with the running game? There's a bunch of experience on the offensive line, and you'd think that Holgorsen's system would open up the ground game. But that obviously hasn't happened yet; the team-wide 2.4 ypc average looks pretty weak. Why isn't the running game working, and how big of a concern is that for you?
There are several factors at work here, in my opinion, all combining for a perfect storm of running ineptitude. First, although there is a fair amount of experience on the OL, there is a bit of a talent problem at a couple positions. The coaches repeatedly throughout camp publicly called out the 2nd string guys for not pushing the 1st string to get better. Second, perimeter blocking has also been lacking by the WR's. Third, three freshman and a sophomore have been the leading running backs. Their lack of experience to the speed in the college game has been clearly evident. I saw several instances when they tried to cut back and ran straight into their blockers. Steve Slaton (remember him?) had a tendency to do this a bit early in his career. I am concerned, but even with these deficiencies, I believe in Holgorsen and his system and that it will be at least serviceable. It may take a year or two before we have a Kendall Hunter type breakout back.
Last week's game against Norfolk State is the classic case of a tale of two halves. What went so wrong in the first, and what went so right in the second?
Based on the Holgorsen's and several players comments after the game, I think it was a matter of taking the opponent too lightly a bit, but even more than that, the players finally realized that they have to do everything exactly, precisely and quickly that the coaches tell them in order for this thing to work on offense. I think they finally are starting to understand how important tempo is to the Holgorsen system. They don't want to be known as the only team that his system didn't work for.
We know about Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, and Bruce Irving, and we're well-acquainted with leading WR Devon Brown from his Wake Forest days. Give us a Mountaineer we don't know whom we should watch out for on Saturday.
Wide Receivers Ivan McCartney and Stedman Bailey - they are old high school teammates of Geno Smith, so there's the familiarity/chemistry factor there. Ivan has a prototypical pro receiver frame and is the one who I think really responded the most to "the light coming on" at halftime last week. Stedman has shown the ability to make great catches on some not so great thrown balls.
Now, a more program-wide question: both Maryland and West Virginia had a tumultuous off-season and bring new coaches into this match-up. Which program has the brighter future? (It's okay, you can say WVU.)
I have to say WVU more so because I believe more in the leadership of Athletic Director Oliver Luck than Holgorsen (and that's not a dig at Holgorsen in the slightest). I do believe Holgorsen is the right man for the WVU program at the right time and that he can lead us to big things. That is reason behind my trust in Luck. He makes the moves that need made at the right time. With the winds of change blowing in the college football conference landscape, there is no man better to see WVU as an institution through this better than Luck. Perhaps even to a better conference as a whole.
I didn't believe in the Randy Edsall hiring because of what I've seen him do at UConn. He runs a good/solid program, don't get me wrong...just not a program that generates buzz (at least in the past). He has honestly surprised me with his hiring of Crowton and the embracing of the crazy Under Armour uniform designs/combinations. He's generated more buzz at Maryland in a short time than he did at UConn over his whole tenure. I hope he can lead Maryland to bigger things (just not at WVU's expense). I'm tired of seeing Beamer embraced by the national media.
Final one: prediction time. Who ya got?
I hate this question worse than any others. I liked your diplomatic response to my same question. As objective as I can be, I think WVU's offense has figured it out and will be just a bit too much for Maryland. But if it hasn't, like you, I won't be surprised to see Maryland win either. There was concern at the start of the year by many that Maryland would be a trap game with LSU looming next week. After last week's first half turd, I don't think they'll be looking past Maryland. [Ed's note: Well, given that the Terrapins are favored, I think it'd be pretty silly to look past them.]
Thanks again to Smoking Musket and make sure to head over there, both to check out our answers and to get an 'eer perspective on this week's game.