West Virginia opened up Big 12 Conference play with a 27-13 loss against the No. 15 Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday. It wasn't a pretty game by any means and for the most part, was rather hard to watch.
The Mountaineers continuously shot theirselves in the foot with penalties and missed assignments on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the big guys up front have to do better. Oklahoma State really controlled the line of scrimmage and it felt like QB Jarret Doege had someone in his face every time he dropped back to throw. To go along with that, the play from the wide receivers was very subpar. Aside from Winston Wright Jr., the group was a pretty big disappointment. The Mountaineers lacked hitting on the explosive plays down the field (except for Wright TD) and continued to stall out around the 30 yard line every drive. Guys like Sam James and Bryce Ford-Wheaton just have to make more plays, simple as that. James caught five balls, but for only 32 yards - he really struggled to get open with Rodarius Williams covering him. Ford-Wheaton finished with just one catch, but had several opportunities down the field.
Do I think Jarret Doege played well? Meh, not really. I mean, he did what he could for being under duress for much of the game, but he has to sense the pressure better and know when to get the ball out of his hands - even if it results in a throw away. The deep ball accuracy is something that needs some improvement. He overthrew Ford-Wheaton down the field once and didn't place the ball in a good spot for Ford-Wheaton in the end zone later in the game. Overall, it wasn't a terrible performance.
The biggest problem aside from the penalties was that West Virginia constantly kept putting theirselves in third and longs. With a defense like Oklahoma State has, you're not going to convert many of those situations because they are going to bring the house and their corners do exceptionally well in one on one battles. The priority has to be getting better on first and second down. You can't have a run play going east/west that gets you to 2nd and 12 and then follow that up with an incompletion that puts you in 3rd and 12. There was too much of that from West Virginia on Saturday. You have to give your young quarterback and offensive line a chance to succeed and find ways to make third downs more manageable.
Defensively, West Virginia played well enough to win. I don't think it was a performance to be thrilled about, but the defense is what kept them in the game for as long as they were. Stopping the run seemed like it might end up being a problem when West Virginia gave a few pops against Eastern Kentucky and it turns out to be the case. The Mountaineers gave up 203 rushing yards on the day and allowed Oklahoma State to convert 50% of their third down opportunities. If you want to win games in the Big 12, that can't happen.
The secondary played extremely well in terms of not letting plays get behind them. They held true freshman QB Shane Illingworth to just 139 yards passing and held Tylan Wallace to a quiet 78 yards. They flew around and made plays on the ball, now they just have to be a little better in run support.
Play calling on both sides of the ball was head-scratching at times. Like I mentioned earlier, there were a lot of third down and long situations that put the offense in a bad spot. With that said, there were a few third down calls where the ball was thrown short of the sticks, giving the receiver no chance to move the chains.
Defensively, West Virginia was sticking to a two-high safety look late in the fourth quarter when Oklahoma State was trying to chew away at the clock and put the game away. I'm not sure why Jordan Lesley didn't load up the box and sell out on the run. The gameplan all day was clearly to dare Oklahoma State to beat you with Illingworth and it never happened. With a young, inexperienced quarterback, you have to have confidence in your secondary to make a play should the ball be put up in the air in an obvious running situation. If they load up the box with seven or eight guys, who knows if Chuba Hubbard punches in the dagger.
There were too many play calls that I didn't like, so I won't get into all of them, but they could be better. Neal Brown admitted to it in the postgame and I don't see it as a glaring concern by any means. Coaches are still trying to figure out their team's identity and what those guys do well and what they don't do well.
With all of that being said, it's not time to panic....yet. It was a sloppy, sloppy game which we all sort of anticipated it being for both teams playing a big opponent for the first time this season. Penalties will get cleaned up, tackling will be cleaned up, and guys will start making more plays in the passing game. If these same struggles repeat themselves over the next two weeks, then yeah, it would be perfectly okay to hit the panic button.
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