We haven't had one of these in a little while, but we managed to catch up with our friends at The Smoking Musket to help you get ready for tonight's game between USF and West Virginia. Will the Mountaineers finally put this dreadful season out of its misery for us? We asked Country Roads for some answers.
1. How is the Dana Holgorsen Era treating you so far? Compared to expectations, how do you think he's done this season?
I think most WVU fans are slightly underwhelmed by Holgo, at least right now. The offense looked fantastic early, even moving the ball with ease against LSU. But lately, the offense has slowed and seemed to regress from what we saw earlier in the year. That, coupled with head-scratching losses at home to Louisville and at Syracuse, has some folks concerned, but still optimistic (mostly due to his track record of producing great offenses). I think I predicted a 10-2 season, with losses to LSU and one letdown. If the Mountaineers can beat USF and make it to the BCS at 9-3, though, WVU would still consider the season a success.
2. They both have gaudy stats this season, but which receiver is truly more important to the Mountaineers: Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey?
That's actually a great question, and hard to answer because they complement each other so well with Bailey running the deep routes and Austin taking advantage of shorter routes and screens to do his damage. If I have to pick one, though, I'm going with Bailey because I think having him as a downfield threat opens up the rest of the offense. He's made a number of acrobatic catches this year with defenders draped all over him, and you simply can't replace that kind of ability.
3. Is Julian Miller going to be OK for this game? Was West Virginia's pass rush really as ferocious as it seemed against Pittsburgh, or was that more Tino Sunseri being an idiot and not throwing the ball away?
I haven't heard anything about Miller so far this week, and Holgs holds injury information pretty close to the vest, but I have no reason to think he won't play. He's been hobbled by injuries all year (which I think was one reason our pass rush struggled for much of the season), so barring an amputation sometime before Thursday night, you'll likely see him on the field. I think the production against Pitt was a combination of Pitt being awful in pass protection (and Tino Sunseri being a horrible decision maker), and WVU's defense finally starting to figure some things out. One thing I can say about Jeff Casteel's defenses is that they typically improve over the course of the season. The defense did a pretty good job against Cincinnati, and again against Pitt, with most of the scoring in those games coming as a result of poor special teams play rather than the defense giving up tons of yardage. I'd be surprised to see USF score more than 24 points.
4. The Mountaineers don't seem as sharp over the last few games as they were earlier in the season... basically up through the UConn game. How have teams been able to slow them down and beat them?
You think I'm going to tell you, just so you can go share your information with Coach Holtz? Kidding. I'm pretty mystified about what's going on and why the team hasn't improved. I think a large part of it is poor offensive line play, which has me scared to death about Thursday night, given USF's propensity for creating negative yardage plays. The formula is pretty simple: shut down the weak running game and pressure Geno Smith into sacks and poor decisions (he doesn't throw a lot of interceptions, but he will make poor throws and miss check downs with guys in his face), then create momentum by taking advantage of WVU's shoddy special teams. If they can do that, USF could pull out a 24-20 type win.
5. It's a Thursday night game, which means pure aural agony on ESPN... so my last question is this. You are given the enviable task of firing Craig James. How do you accomplish it?
Ha, funny that you ask because I don't share the same disdain for Craig James that most folks do. Mostly I just laugh at his dopey nature and go on with the game, though I do think his meddling in the Mike Leach situation was way out of line both for him and for ESPN. Given all that, I think the only way to do it is to lock him in a closet for a few hours and force him to watch replays of old SMU losses on loop. I'd film the whole thing and then announce it on Twitter. I bet it would get a few RT's.