The phrase that is oft repeated on this blog is something along the lines of "This team is hard to figure out." I should just retire the phrase because it is getting to the point of having no meaning when talking about this conference. But it most defiantly applies to West Virginia. This is arguably the most talented and deepest team in the conference. If it isn't them it is Pittsburgh. But I have yet them put it together as a team for more than a quarter at a time. As a result they went from being the best hope for the Big East to restore some credibility in the bowl season to being 1-2 in the conference and through three games.
On offense WVU is still runs a lot of the formations and plays that they did in the Spread and Shread glory days of old. But something is missing. Noel Devine is clearly not 100 per cent, he doesn't have the same oh shit gear that would put the fear of god into opposing fan bases every time he touched the ball for his first three years. He is still very good, almost 700 yards through three games, but he isn't the same quarkifiing terror that averaged 6+ yards per carry through his first three seasons.
Tavon Austin and Jack Sanders are both undersized all purpose slot receivers who Jeff Mullen and the staff go to great lengths to get the ball to. But because, as any Mountaineer fan will tell you, Jeff Mullen sucks at life "great lengths" means a near endless parade of quick hitches, slants, bubble screens and fly sweeps. Which are always predictable and as a result nearly always stopped for medium gains.
At QB they have Geno Smith operating behind an OK offensive line. On paper this offense should be better than it is. This is a clear case where the sum of the parts is orders of magnitude better than what actually takes place on the field. There is no clear cut explanation for the disparity, but the blame has to fall first and foremost on the offensive coaches. Its like they have all contracted Stewart face or something.
On defense it is a completely different case. This is a very good defense. They still run the same old 3-3-5 stack that has served them well over the last decade or so, I don't really know when Rich Rod installed it, and they execute it at a very high level. They certainly have the people in the secondary to run it well. Robert Sands is an absolute beast from his Safety spot and the rest of the crew are pretty good as well. Keith Tandy always seems to jump out at me any time I watch them, primarily because he always makes spectacular plays, be they spectacularly good or spectacularly bad.
They fly to the Football, they play fast and aggressive and they run some pretty interesting games up front and bring weird secondary pressure. They play a difficult scheme, one that is rarely seen and hard to prepare for because the scout team can't really begin to approximate it. The zone responsibilities, coverage drops and natural windows are utterly foreign to most QB's who face it.
The Smoking Musket has some questions about the stats of the defense, which is currently 4th in total D. And their point about WVU having yet to face a real live offense is taken well enough. UC will be the best offense yet to bear down on the 3-3-5 by a wide margin. But I think that this Mountaineers defense is completely legit. I am a big proponent of judging offenses and defenses on a per snap basis. When it comes to defenses any D that allows less than 5 yards per snap is good, 4.1 yards per play which is the current level of the Mountaineer D is crazy good.
That is not to say that this group is unassailable, because they are. But that is down mainly to the scheme rather than the players. There are systemic issues with the 3-3-5, particularly in the secondary that are hard to overcome. By design there will always be openings in the zone along the hash marks just behind the linebackers if an offense can consistently hit that spot they will be in with a shot. If they can't make that play it will be lights out for the UC offense because the rest of the defense is so damn good.