WVU Sports with Mike Casazza

Bouncing Bob counsels Kicking Nikki

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West Virginia’s top-ranked women’s soccer team, the lone No. 1 seed remaining in the field of four, makes its first appearance in the College Cup tomorrow evening — and the game is on ESPNU. This is new territory for the Mountaineers and for Nikki Izzo-Brown. Bob Huggins has been to his sport’s equivalent twice.

Huggins also happens to be a fan and supporter of what women’s soccer has done, so of course he had advice for Izzo-Brown, who has solicited wisdom from people who’ve been where she is, and of course what Huggins had to say was concise and indisputable.

“Win,” he said Monday night, after his 25th-ranked team pummeled Manhattan, 108-61. “It’s no fun coming home after losing.”

It’s simple advice, but that’s fitting. Izzo-Brown, who lost Elite Eight matches in 2007 and 2015, is trying to simplify the program’s first trip to the College Cup.

The No. 1-ranked team in the country and the lone remaining No. 1 seed, WVU plays No. 2 seed and seventh-ranked North Carolina, a 21-time NCAA champion, at 5 p.m. Friday at Avaya Stadium, in San Jose, Calif.

That match and the second semifinal between Georgetown and USC will be televised by ESPNU.

“I think it’s a game,” she said. “I’m not going to put any more into it than that. What we’ve done all year long, we’ve had such a great routine and we’ve made sure we’re attuned to what we’re doing and staying focused on what we need to do.”

 

I’ve no idea what to expect on senior day when Bill Nevin clears his throat and announces Skyler Howard to the crowd one last time. I’m ready for anything. I suspect Howard is, too.

For what it’s worth, Howard wasn’t available for reporters this week, and I wouldn’t make a meal out of that. West Virginia instead named four permanent captains for the 2016 season, and those fifth-year seniors — Justin Arndt, Tyler Orlosky, Noble Nwachukwu and Daikiel Shorts — were the ones with whom we spoke.

Orlosky, as you might imagine, was asked what he thought.

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The Good and the Bad of WVU v. Iowa State

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I’d like to welcome Martell Pettaway to the They’ll Never Spell Your Name Right Club. The Hall of Fame committee will meet at the Richwood Avenue Fishbowl next Friday. More importantly, welcome to college football, big fella. That’s running backs coach JaJuan Seider and then running backs Rushel Shell and Justin Crawford greeting the debuting true freshman on the sideline after his first career touchdown.

I think this has to be one of the most surprising individual performances in a long time, at least since Dustin Garrison’s 291-yard game against Bowling Green back in 2011. I welcome other suggestions, and I might even come back around and say this is more surprising. Garrison was at least playing early in his true freshman season. Pettaway hadn’t played at all in the first 10 games. He was the third running back to get a carry Saturday. So, yeah, he was in uniform and he was there for a road game and he had been practicing with the regulars for a few weeks, but this wasn’t supposed to happen.

Thirty carries, too. Thirty. I guess he was fresh? And for a guy with 180 yards, his longest was just 23 yards. He was robbed of one long run, a 35-yard gain that a holding penalty on Daikiel Shorts turned into a 4-yard gain, but everything else was in pretty healthy chunks. He looked more Shell than Crawford/Kennedy McKoy but he looked a little like all of them, too. (Aside: I think Quincy Wilson is a fair comparison, but am I crazy to think of fellow TNSYNRC member Avon Cobourne?) I think more than anything else, he looked like his own player, someone who could hammer away with inside zone plays but someone who could see the corner and get himself ready to hit it at the right speed and angle.

Three plays that proved he was ready to go.

  1. Here’s his debut.

It’s a power play for quarterback Skyler Howard, but Pettaway gets his face in a defender’s face and just does his job. Nothing too amazing, but that got him settled and involved from the jump.

2. Third-and-15, and you’ll find a lot of players who know the odds are long and are happy to get down and get off the field.

Not this guy. He’s 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, and though I’m not sure about either of those, he’s not a huge kid. But he does run low and lean forward, and he likes to use his legs to thunder through contact or to keep firing away with his feet. That’s how he scored in the fourth quarter.

3. Haven’t seen many traditional screen passes this season, have we?

Near as anyone could tell, Pettaway had never run this play before. I can’t imagine that’s true, but say he has practiced it. He hasn’t practiced it often, because WVU doesn’t do this all that often with the other running backs. It relies on precision and timing, which is to say rehearsal, so I’m not sure anyone was expecting this. It’s the first play of the fourth quarter, and Howard and Dana Holgorsen coached Pettaway up during the break on the sideline to make sure he understood the machinations. Quick study, this one. Big 12 newcomer of the week, and that’s two in a row for the Mountaineers. Crawford had it the week before.

Think of how much trouble WVU used to have when one or two backs were hurt and how different the offense had to behave. The Mountaineers were down three backs Saturday and went past 600 yards with a bunch of backups on the field late in a game in which they had more points and touchdowns than they had in any of the first 10 games. Depth matters, and WVU wasn’t flexing it solely on offense Saturday in the 49-19 win on the road against Iowa State.

How did we get here? Let’s find out by taking a look at the Good and the Bad of WVU v. Iowa State.

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Dana Holgorsen: His favorite week

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More importantly, I’d like you to meet Tyler Orlosky, film buff.

On if he actually watches the film
No, I don’t. I don’t watch the film, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t see the need for me to sit there and watch a defense. Someone asked me that the other day and I just said, “Once you start 40 games and have played close to 50, if someone throws something at me that I have never seen before than they have reinvented the game of football or something has to be wrong.” There is only so much you can do and odds are in my time here playing against the teams that we have, odds are I have seen it and I know what to expect. I think that takes away from having to watch film to sit there and study and study and study.

Texts From Iowa State Game Day

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A quick note about what’s next. No. 14 West Virginia is just a few days away from a game it’s had circled for a long time.

“It’s nothing about the other team,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “It’s 100 percent about us. It was to see where we were going to be on Dec. 3, 2016, to see where we’re at as a program.”

After that? Win or lose, the Mountaineers are off to a bowl, and a win or loss might not matter. Here are the likely scenarios:

  • Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma makes the College Football Playoff, Oklahoma State goes to the Sugar Bowl, WVU goes to the Alamo and plays a Pac-12 team, like USC. I don’t know how Oklahoma gets in, though. Get ready for this comedy: The Big 12 missed the inaugural CFP in 2014 because it didn’t have a championship game — or something like that. Now the Big 12 has decided to restore the title game, and it’s quite possible the SEC and Big Ten championship games won’t mean a thing Saturday. You think about that. I understand Alabama is in the final four regardless of the outcome. No qualms with that. But it seems Ohio State is in as well, and it’s not in the Big Ten title game. Penn State, which handed the Buckeyes their only loss but lost to Pitt (more on them in a minute) and Michigan, needs to win against Wisconsin and needs some help to get into the final four. Wisconsin, which lost to Michigan and Ohio State, needs to beat Penn State and get a little more help. I’m not saying it’s the wrong outcome, but it’s going to be topical and it ought to call into question the value and/or necessity of the championship game format. I’ll also repeat for the zillionth time that the CFP screwed up majorly by having two years of runway and never establishing any uniformity with regard to non-conference play requirements, the number of conference games and a league championship game.
  • Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma or Oklahoma State goes to the Sugar as the Big 12 champ because the league won’t have a CFP team. The other goes to the Alamo. The Russell Athletic scoops up WVU. Opponents? Well, if Clemson loses to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game, the Hokies go to the Orange and, man, wouldn’t Orlando like Clemson and wouldn’t the Tigers like a chance to tidy up 70-33? That’s a long shot, though. Say Clemson wins and makes the CFP. The Orange could pick anyone and would likely choose between Louisville and Florida State. The other could be in the Russell Athletic, and the bowl wouldn’t complain about getting Lamar Jackson or a Florida team. I don’t think it’ll happen, but I wouldn’t discount horse trading and a chance to get the Backyard Brawl revived ahead of schedule. Pitt’s a hot name right now. I suspect Virginia Tech and/or WVU might push back against any possibility those two play in the Russell Athletic because they open the season against one another next fall, and though the bowl doesn’t care about that, it would be hard for the organizers to look past the other possible matchups.
  • I think that’s it. I don’t see a WVU loss and a Kansas State win changing any of the above, and a Kansas State v. Texas A&M matchup in the Texas Bowl will be popular.

I just closed my eyes and swung. Left me crouching in a blaze and fall. All you ever did was text me. Yeah, you text me. My edits are in [brackets].

1:38:
Bad feeling about a blow out in Ames

1:08:
Sitting here watching Michigan/oh st and oh st has a linebacker named jerome baker…bet he gets drug treated all the time haha

3:31:
Why did I just learn there is a player for Michigan named Taco?

3:49:
Technical difficulties. Just got here. I see we’re already [shoddy]

3:52:
So White & Wonderful!!

3:53:
That pass to white was a bullet.

4:02:
Finally, a useful review! [bravo]!

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Sunday Brunch: No. 19 WVU 49, Iowa State 19

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Suddenly, West Virginia is 9-2 overall with a 6-2 mark in Big 12 play, levels the Mountaineers had not reached since joining the conference in 2012. And Dana Holgorsen, who was 2-1, 1-3, 1-3 and 1-3 in November in his first four years, is 7-1 in the past two years. He’s not only 15 games above .500 overall, better than he’s ever been before, but he’s now over .500 in the 11th month, and that includes a 7-3 mark in road games. WVU will not have a three-game losing streak in Big 12 play for the first time ever.

Saturday’s performance was unquestionably solid. The Mountaineers were mostly clean, and the unnerving holding penalties weren’t fatal. They turned over a team that doesn’t turn it over and made it count on the scoreboard.

There was a season-high point total, a season-high touchdown total, a rubber defense that built a moat in the red zone and a line of people who did what we either expected — Rasul Douglas, Shelton Gibson, — or unexpected Marcus Simms, Marvin Gross — and everyone and everything came together at the proper time.

“This was tough,” Holgorsen said. “We knew this thing was going to be tough. Iowa State is a good football team. They battle hard. It means a lot to them. They put up a fight. Going into halftime, I thought we were fortunate to be up, but our guys did a good job coming out in the second half and playing much better.

“That group is tough to beat like we beat them, so I’m proud of the way we did that.”

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WVU v. Iowa State: In the interim…

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lsuplane

 

You are looking live at what was the beginning of the Silly Season back in September. You may or may not remember this photo. We barely, I think hope, dignified it here at the time, if we mentioned it at all. But that is indeed an airplane with LSU paraphernalia. It was indeed parked at Hart Field at Morgantown’s airport. It was indeed the day after LSU fired Les Miles.

The if-then scenario people actually subscribed to was that the Tigers were about to hire Dana Holgorsen. The Tigers just fired Les Miles and were in a hurry to hire Dana Holgorsen. The Tigers had just fired Les Miles after trying and failing to fire him at the end of the 2015 season and were in a hurry to hire Dana Holgorsen, who was trying to recover from an 0-for-October at about the time LSU was trying and failing to fire Miles last year.

Right. Right. There’s an explanation for why that plane was parked in that spot on that day, but I don’t want to share that with you because it might suggest I looked into it. But that saga is officially over now because LSU has decided to keep Ed Orgeron, and that nevertheless has a link to WVU.

Whenever a program retains an interim coach, that decision is going to stimulate opinions and people are going to reference what happened to the Mountaineers on that night early in the year 2008. WVU chose to keep an interim coach. So did Clemson, by the way, but, sure. Fine. Let’s revisit that, shall we?

Bill Stewart followed three 11-win seasons with three 9-4 records. He not only did not keep the momentum going forward, but he lost it rather quickly. He didn’t hire a vibrant staff, and he swung and missed at his first choice for offensive coordinator. He did’t recruit thoroughly or effectively enough to replace and replenish.

Who, though, were the options? WVU interviewed Doc Holliday and Butch Jones before the Fiesta Bowl and was planning to interview Skip Holtz and Mike Locksley — and Stewart! — afterward. I also know that there was one head coach from a BCS conference who contacted WVU and wanted to be considered but balked at interviewing because it could not get out that he was interviewing, but I don’t believe the Mountaineers ever considered that to be a possibility. It was nevertheless an intriguing name, and it spoke to a point I’ll make in a moment. But Holliday might have been more successful than Stewart was when it came to hiring a staff. Jones did not enjoy the profile he enjoys now. Holtz has been around and hadn’t been connected with a top job since he went to USF. Locksley never made it as far or as high as people predicted.

In short, the Mountaineers didn’t have a lot of possibilities with which to work, and they might have made a mistake and perhaps a bigger mistake if they picked another candidate, but it remains inexplicable to me that they never gave themselves a chance to flaunt the Fiesta Bowl win and the returning talent and see who might be interested. They would have gotten on the phone or in the office with a caliber of coach who might not have picked up the receiver or opened the door before, no?

We’ll never know. LSU had a lot of time to coordinate this change, and it had options. It is LSU, after all. But it also seems the Tigers were played by the agent of new Texas coach Tom Herman, and LSU wasn’t going down that road. It’ll now empower Orgeron to assemble a sliced bread coaching staff, which was always going to be difficult at WVU. It’s not difficult at LSU. Oh, and Herman’s agent is Dana Holgorsen’s agent, so prepare yourself for that rumble.

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Traveler’s checks: Iowa State

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CHRISTIAN TYLER RANDOLPH | Gazette-Mail Photos WVU Head Coach Dana Holgorsen against the Oklahoma Sooners in the first half at Mountaineer Field at Mylan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va. on Saturday Nov. 19, 2016.

 

I apologize for this, but we failed to cover something very important from Tuesday’s news conference:

We went back to work on Sunday night and had a very upbeat meeting and practice with the guys on Sunday. I told them, and I tell you guys the same thing, if anybody has got their dang dauber down, you need to regroup quickly. We lost to a Top 10 team, so that’s just what happened.

Daubers up, everybody!

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The Good and the Bad of WVU v. Oklahoma

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This photo is tremendously tremendous. The scene before the start Saturday night was so good. There was anticipation, because Mountaineer Field hadn’t witnessed a game between two top-10 teams since 1993. There was tension, because the two teams played the feud at midfield as they concluded their warmups. There was a buzz, because neither team could wait to get their mittens on one another.

And there’s Dana Holgorsen, catching snowflakes with his tongue. Little did he know an avalanche would follow.

West Virginia played a bad half of football. That’s not unprecedented. It was unusual, especially the totality of it all. All three sides of the ball chipped in, and the team that’s ordinarily tight at the seams came apart in the same spot. The Mountaineers have had bad halves this season, but not with the stakes so high and not against a team of Oklahoma’s caliber. WVU could get away with four turnovers against Texas. It could play from behind against Kansas State. It could come out flat against Youngstown State. Not one of those teams is as good as the Sooners.

I think Oklahoma is humming and playing offense at a level that’s at least as good as anyone else in the country. At home, I think they beat Oklahoma State and give the Big 12 its first unbeaten champion since it went to one division and nine games in 2010. That matters. Barring a little chaos, which certainly seems possible in these next two Saturdays, I don’t think Oklahoma gets or deserves a spot in the College Football Playoff. The “tremendous offense” is offset by a very flawed defense. Having said that, I think Bob Stoops & Co. made it pretty clear at WVU’s expense that they’re going to give the committee plenty to consider. We saw one team flub its lines, and we saw another team do exactly what it had to do over and over again.

How did we get here? Let’s find out by taking a look at the Good and the Bad of WVU v. Oklahoma.

Bad: Revisionist history

This is crazy. There’s no story to be told or written about the fact the two teams wished one another happy Thanksgiving at midfield before the game — it happens all the time, and the thing you talk or write about is how it unnerved the Mountaineers — until someone says it didn’t happen. Then it’s just silly. Near as I can tell, Stoops is silly. WVU’s players left the field after their warmup and went toward the weight room so that they might return to their locker room. Then the Sooners approached and crowded the Flying WV at midfield and invited the Mountaineers to come and dance. WVU did. It happened. I saw it. You probably saw it. And do you know who else saw it? Stoops!

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