There wasn’t any way the Mountaineers could match-up with the most explosive offense in college football. The 70 points, the 750 yards per game all held up as legit against a shell shocked Mountaineer defense. But what WVU could have controlled was itself and its communication abilities. Twice in the first four drives, head coach Dana Holgorsen pulled quarterback Clint Trickett on third and longs, both times apparently upset by the lack of play calling ease. Cameras routinely captured Holgorsen expressing displeasure with Trickett’s lack of grasping a play call during the first run through of hand signals.
That put increased pressure on an offense likely already feeling some from a reeling defense trying desperately to slow a Baylor team with NFL players along the line, at receiver and in the backfield. Trickett’s lack of play recognition caused the team to get to the line later than it wanted, and thus the line of scrimmage adjustments were forced to take less time as well. And once West Virginia got behind 28-7 – which was within the first 10 minutes of the game – Trickett seemed almost too willing to throw vertically. That wasn’t all bad. West Virginia hit a couple early passes deep down the seams. But to do it three times in four plays with no success merely setup less than desirable downs and distances.
Add in nagging shoulder pain that was clearly bothering Trickett after a few hits, and it reads here it was surprising West Virginia didn’t pull the junior with 7:30 left in the first half after Baylor took a 42-7 lead. Trickett threw incomplete on first down on the series – not going deep for the first time in several passes – then got sacked and took an illegal hands to the face for more punishment. But he then threw a pinpoint 39-yard pass to Kevin White for a score, showing incredible toughness and grit.
So it was clear that Trickett’s health issue certainly wasn’t what lost the game, not with the opposition getting to half of 70 with three quarters of the game remaining. But with a bit more smoothness in the play calling arena, along with a bit better execution – blocking on a huge third and 10 early screen that was perfectly called comes to mind – and some willingness to methodically move the ball, WVU might have hung in a bit and at least given itself a chance at respectability. Holgorsen had said entering the game that the communication between himself and Trickett had, indeed, improved since the upset of Oklahoma State. That certainly wasn’t apparent in Waco last night, and one wonders how long it might take for Trickett to be able to operate at the base functionality where it won’t affect the offense in a significant manner.
The good news is the Mountaineers have an off week with which to work before facing what is likely another Top 25 team in Texas Tech, who is expected to come in 6-0. That gives Trickett and Holgorsen more time to continue the reps, metal and physical. One figures the Red Raiders won’t amass 367 yards of total offense, and 35 points, in the first 16 minutes of play, which might allow WVU’s offense to slow itself a bit. There’s no question the snowball effect came into play, as Baylor started quickly and just kept piling on points. But that isn’t much of an excuse for the seemingly very poor lack of communication – not to the degree of which the problems presented themselves.
Sure, West Virginia got it together as the game progressed, maybe because they and Baylor both relaxed with the game out of hand with 44 minutes left to play. Trickett and Holgorsen seemed to jell a bit as play continued, though the Mountaineer offense never really got going, just as it also did not versus Oklahoma State. The obvious question is how much of an improvement we can legitimately expect in an off week when, even with Holgorsen saying the communication was better during the lead-up to Baylor, the improvement did not translate to the field, at least when the game mattered. Pair a beat-up Trickett, and a reserve in Ford Childress with a pectoral injury, with a struggling offensive line that clearly looks far better with a mobile quarterback and West Virginia needs to take a lunch pail during the open week.
But that’s ok. The Mountaineers won’t face another offense like this the rest of the season. Maybe only Oregon can even come close to comparing to the Bears right now. West Virginia’s upset of OSU got it to 3-3 thus far, which is what most pundits predicted, if not a game better for the most pessimistic. It has an open week and a winnable game with Texas Tech, and the absolute meatiest portion of its schedule is frankly behind it. There are difficult foes left, for sure. But West Virginia can play with Texas Tech and Kansas State and, it seems, TCU and Texas and Kansas and Iowa State – if it can get a healthy Trickett and maintain that status while bettering its coach-player relationship. Both parties are trying. With lots of season left, and not much to take from this game, the best bet is to keep plugging.