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A Stunning Result in Greenville


September 8, 2008

MORGANTOWN - OK, so the sun did come up here Sunday morning.

But it did not diminish at all the disappointment and jolting concern created by what had to be one of the poorest performances in West Virginia University's football history.

That is said considering where the school's program has been the past several years and the extremely high expectations for this year's team.

Upstart East Carolina outsmarted and outplayed the No. 8-ranked Mountaineers in virtually every phase - and by a wide margin - in Saturday evening's shocking 24-3 upset at Greenville, N.C.

You've certainly got to give the fired-up Pirates due credit. This was their third consecutive win over a Top 25 ranked team, dating back to the upset of Boise State in last year's bowl game and then knocking off Virginia Tech in the 2008 season's opener at Charlotte, N.C.

But you've also got to admit that West Virginia's coaches and players left a lot of questions lingering for answers in their wake. Fortunately, they have a week and a half to iron out their problems before visiting Colorado on Sept. 18.

That contest will be aired nationwide by ESPN for the entire collegiate football world to see.

Skip Holtz and his coaching staff at ECU obviously came up with a great game plan. They exposed weaknesses in West Virginia's team like no other opponent had previously. That is, unless you still consider the 13-9 loss to Pitt in the 2007 regular-season finale the worst defeat ever dealt a Mountaineer team.

It was more costly than this loss, however, if the Mountaineers can get back on track. While Saturday's was just one game, it's early and they still can salvage a lot from 2008, even though hopes for a perfect season and national championship are gone.

To this TV viewer, WVU looked disjointed on both offense and defense. The tackling was terrible, especially in open field. The entire team seemed to lack that togetherness we last saw in that memorable 48-28 Fiesta Bowl upset of No. 3-ranked Oklahoma last Jan. 2.

The offense was clicking smooth on its first drive until quarterback Patrick White left the ball on the field while going out of bounce and the officials ruled it a fumble when a Pirate fell on the ball. That was a questionable call, but there was no review.

Be that as it may, West Virginia still isn't getting enough offensive plays or as much possession time as it had been under the Rich Rodriguez regime. That didn't hurt significantly in the 48-21 win over Villanova a week earlier, but it most certainly did against ECU.

The Pirates had 71 plays and 386 yards to WVU's 54 plays and 251 yards. And they had the ball for 35:41 to only 24:19. So for the second straight week, the defense was on the field much too long.

For the first two games, West Virginia is averaging a mere 55 offensive plays while giving up 79 per outing. And it is averaging only 302.5 yards per game to 392.5.

As for time of possession, the two opponents averaged 34:24 each while limiting the Mountaineers to 22:38. That's a difference of nearly 11 minutes and, of course, affects the number of plays they're getting.

A check of the records will show that this is only the 19th time in 335 contests since 1980 that a Mountaineer team has been held to three points or less in a game.

This column is not intended to suggest that West Virginia fans give up on either this team or the new coaching staff. There's a lot of football to be played.

But this is to point up a firm feeling that there still are existing issues to be cleared up.

The sooner, the better.



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