Saturday afternoon the West Virginia Mountaineers will not so much roll as limp into Paul Brown Stadium for a date with the Cincinnati Bearcats. This is (obviously) an important game for UC. While the Bearcats have commanding lead on the rest of the conference in the standings the Bearcats are going to be tested by WVU's offense in a big, big way.
The offense for the WVU begins and effectively ends with Geno Smith. They will go as he goes. its the nature of the Air Raid beast. I don't want to get too much into X and O specifics with this post, that will come later in the week. But you should know that Holgo the Barbarian uses a more run heavy iteration than that of Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. In this case run heavy is a very relative phrase. WVU still passes on 58 per cent of all snaps.
In his first year in the system Geno Smith has thrived. He is on pass to obliterate WVU single season passing records. His stats through 9 games: 240 of 374 (64.2), 3,125 yards (347 per game) with 25 TD's and 4 INT's. Smith has plenty of talent to work with in terms of his wide receivers.
The top Mountaineer in terms of receiving is Steadman Baily who leads the Big East in yards with 933, average reception 18.29 and TD's with 9. Tavon Austin leads the mountaineers in receptions with 61 and is second on the team in TD catches with 4. Ivan McCartney and Devon Brown round out the top four receivers in the Mountaineers offense this season.
WVU started out the year going with a RB by committee approach. Andrew Buie started a couple of games as the tailback, as did Vernard Roberts but since the Bowling Green game Dustin Garrison has emerged as the go to back for the Mountaineers running game. Garrison's 581 yards lead the team, but Shawne Alston leads the team in attempts and TD's. Geno Smith is a capable runner, but he isn't a threat to defenses.
Jeff Casteel is still around, so the Neers still use the maddeningly complex 3-3-5. This year's defense is still good, top 23 nationally in total defense. But it is a far cry from last years group which just sucked the life out of any offense it faced. The talent on that side of the ball is, top to bottom, probably the best in the conference. But the end result is somehow lesser than the sum of their parts. It's hard to put your finger on just why that is, but my guess is two fold. One is the lack of pressure on opposing QB's, just 14 sacks through nine games so far, and this coming off a 45 sack year in 2010, with most of the DL coming back including Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller. That lack of pressure on QB's means that opposing signal callers have more time and generally make better decisions. That's a big reason why takeaways are down, again 14 through nine games compared with 23 in 2010. This is a defense that thrived on forcing opposing offenses into mistakes and seemed to be in attack mode a year ago. This season they have looked somewhat passive and out of sorts to my eye.
Tavon Austin is a danger man as a returner and Tyler Bitancourt is a solid kicker when his kicks aren't getting blocked.