West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen has many times emphasized that success on the football field depends upon playing well in all three phases of the game-offense, defense, and special teams.
Holgorsen was brought in to improve a dormant WVU offense, and he has been successful in that endeavor. The Mountaineers are averaging 40 points per game in 2011, an improvement over their 25 points per game output the previous three seasons.
But the other two phases-defense and special teams-have been a disaster this season, and scoring points can only go so far in overcoming these deficiencies. The reality of that scenario was never more apparent than last Saturday when West Virginia was upset by an average Louisville team in a 38-35 stunner.
Louisville was averaging just 17 points per game this season and had struggled in the red zone, but easily shredded the Mountaineer defense on its first two possessions. The Mountaineer defenders did get some stops in the second half, but when the game was on the line with 9 minutes remaining and just a 3-point deficit, they allowed Louisville to go on a back-breaking 66-yard, 7-minute drive to put away the game.
Special teams, however, were even worse. Two shanked punts. One short field goal missed. Another blocked and returned for an 82-yard touchdown the other way, which was a 10-point swing and ultimately determined the outcome. West Virginia has now surrendered four touchdowns on special teams in nine games.
The mistakes kept mounting. An interception was returned to the Louisville 4 yard line early in the third quarter, but was pushed back to the 40 because of a penalty. A pass was dropped in the end zone on the ensuing possession before the first missed field goal. The Mountaineer offense turned the ball over on downs at the Louisville 36 after being unable to gain 3 yards in two attempts (the absence of a running game again rears its head), and then fumbled twice. WVU fails to catch a punt, allowing it to roll another 20 yards.
Good teams do not keep beating themselves, and unfortunately West Virginia fans are coming to the realization that the 2011 version of this team is simply not very good. The Mountaineers have been blown up for 115 points the last 3 weeks to average opponents.
If you had the feeling after another upset loss that this is beginning to feel like a common occurrence, you were not mistaken. Over the past six seasons under three different head coaches, WVU has lost a whopping 10 games to Big East opponents in which it was favored, half of those by double digits.
That won't likely happen when the Mountaineers move to the Big 12 next season. They won't be favored all that often.
This Saturday: With the West Virginia defense unable to stop teams that previously had trouble scoring, one wonders what will happen when they face a good offense. We will find out Saturday, as WVU travels to Paul Brown Stadium to take on Cincinnati. The Bearcats are led by outstanding quarterback Zach Collaros, and are in the driver's seat in the Big East race. Let the fireworks begin. Cincinnati 42, West Virginia 37.