It won't take long for Mountaineer fans to discover if head coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff have utilized WVU's second, and final, off week of the season to implement the necessary changes needed to right its season.
They will know this Saturday when the Horned Frogs from Texas Christian University, the 'other' team to end its association with the Big East, comes to Morgantown for a 3 p.m. showdown with No. 23 WVU.
Gary Patterson's TCU squad will make its first visit to Milan Puskar Stadium coming off of a 36-14 setback to Oklahoma State-WVU will take on the Cowboys in Stillwater, Okla., one week from Saturday-the loss of starting quarterback Casey Pachell to off-the-field issues and a defensive unit that is finding out, just like the Mountaineers, that stopping offenses in the Big 12 isn't the same as playing teams from their old conferences.
Wins over TCU and OSU would put West Virginia back into contention for at least the No. 2 spot in the Big 12-the spot it was picked to finish in the preseason media poll-while losses in either, or both, contests could send this team spiraling toward the cellar of its new conference.
However, both games, which many believed to be among the automatic victories prior to the start of the season, now have to be listed as tossups because of a defense that has shown little, if any, improvement and an offense that has not discovered a way to move the ball consistently when opposing defenses take away its top performers.
Defensively, fans would be ecstatic to just see the Mountaineers accomplish three feats-pressure the quarterback, cover receivers, and tackle. To its credit WVU's prevent unit has done each of those on rare occasions through WVU's first seven games. But, the key word here is 'rare'.
If Joe DeForest and co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson aren't able to find 11 players to consistently excel in those three areas, then the pressure will continue to be on senior quarterback Geno Smith and Company.
We've already seen the blueprint for getting Smith and the offense off of the field. Texas Tech showed that you can pressure WVU's senior signal-caller and, if you take away his top two threats-senior Tavon Austin and junior Stedman Bailey-then he begins to hold onto the football too long and ends up being sacked or forced to throw the ball out of bounds.
The running game, despite the improvement of sophomore Andrew Buie and the return of leading rusher Dustin Garrison, is still a 'work-in-progress' because it lacks the power running ability that senior Shawne Alston provided.
Holgorsen and his offensive staff even elected to burn the redshirts of two promising pass-catchers in hopes of providing Smith with a few more weapons to utilize with teams eliminate Austin and Bailey from the attack. So far, the move has not paid dividends.
Off weeks are used for a number of purposes, one of which is to improve in the areas where weaknesses have been discovered. Lopsided losses to Texas Tech and KSU exposed WVU's weaknesses. Now, the week off will show fans if this staff can, and will, make the needed changes.
Contact Jim Butta at firstname.lastname@example.org