West Virginia University football fans looking for an easy dominating performance over Liberty didn't get their way Saturday as West Virginia didn't put the game away until midway through the fourth quarter when Noel Devine ran in from 24 yards to extend the lead to three scores. The Mountaineers finally were able to get some less experienced players some playing time on defense in the waning minutes.
Perhaps we have been spoiled with high expectations. Here is an interesting stat: Based upon the Las Vegas point spreads, West Virginia has been favored to win 29 consecutive regular season games, and 40 of the last 41. The only time WVU was an underdog in that span was by a mere 1 point in a Thursday night game at Louisville in 2006.
Thus the Mountaineers are always be supposed to win, sometimes by big margins. And when that doesn't always happen (the Mountaineers have lost 7 of those games in which they were favored), we are disappointed. Maybe in some ways it's much harder to root for a team that is having so much success, rather than one that isn't, because the failures seem to be magnified.
That is not to suggest that Saturday's game was a failure, for the goal is to win the game and Mountaineers did so. The record book says 1-0 and we move on.
We knew that even with Pat White gone that the play at quarterback would still be solid. Jarrett Brown had an outstanding day, completing 19 of 25 passes for 243 yards, and adding 69 yards rushing. He was able to get the ball downfield several times, averaging nearly 13 yards per completion.
One concern that was still evident was the inconsistent play by the offensive line. Yes, the Mountaineers gained 428 total yards, but considering that it occurred against a relatively weak opponent that number isn't necessarily all that impressive. Too many times, defenders were able to gain penetration and disrupt the offense. Perhaps there was a lack of intensity and focus that might account for the lessthan stellar performance, but we will need to see improvement quickly with two tough games on deck.
With the loss of Pat McAfee, there were questions about placekicking, but those appeared to be answered by Tyler Bitancurt, who drilled 4 field goals on 4 attempts. That kind of accuracy will be important in closer games down the road.
Where we may see the loss of McAfee more is on kickoff coverage. McAfee was a good athlete, and when none of the other 10 guys running down the field could make the tackle and he was the last man standing, he often was able to take down the returner in the open field and save the day. New kickoff man Josh Lider isn't quite as skilled.
I'm being a bit tongue in cheek here, but it is pretty bad when you have to worry about how good a tackler your kickoff man is. If the Mountaineers can't solve their kickoff coverage woes, there will be a couple of extra losses during the season.
THIS SATURDAY: Now, it gets serious. East Carolina was the only opponent last season that dominated West Virginia in a 24-3 trouncing in Greenville, N.C. The Pirates return quarterback Patrick Pinckney and 14 other starters and are an excellent football team. Many fans will remember the Don Nehlen years when it always seemed that the early game with Maryland was a barometer for the season. Well, East Carolina is now that game.
The Mountaineers will have more enthusiasm and intensity, but it will still be a tough fight. West Virginia 23, East Carolina 17.