The 2013 college football season opened in Morgantown Saturday with an entertaining 24-17 game between two evenly matched teams decided in the waning minutes.
Whoa. Hold on. Evenly matched? With William & Mary? That sort of entertainment wasn't what Mountaineer fans had in mind.
Scheduling games with lower division FCS teams is supposed to lead to an easy win and an opportunity to play some backup players who normally don't see much action. But things don't always go as planned. Ask Oregon State, Kansas State, Iowa State, Connecticut, South Florida and San Diego State, all of whom lost home games to FCS opponents this past weekend.
West Virginia almost became another of those victims, but managed to right itself from a 10-point halftime deficit and scored the winning touchdown with 3:22 to complete a struggling comeback victory. But the outcome didn't prevent consternation from Mountaineer supporters, many of whom on the postgame call-in shows sounded as if they were about to head for the edge of the cliff. So thank goodness the shocking upset didn't occur, or Morgantown police might have had to monitor the bridges over the Monongahela River to prevent WVU fans from leaping into the water below.
There were some good signs here and there. Quarterback Paul Millard was efficient in his management of the offense, and new running backs Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith certainly reflect improvement in that position over a year ago. It was unrealistic to expect a seamless transition from last season's prolific offensive unit to this year's group when one considers that every skill position player was starting his first game. Hopefully we will see improvement here as the season goes on.
The defense still showed some of the same flaws evident a year ago against the passing game. Yes, William & Mary's Tre McBride was an outstanding receiver, perhaps the best on the field Saturday. But surrendering three completions to him of more than 30 yards reminded us of the same problems we saw in 2012. There are plenty of talented receivers in the Big 12, so this will be a weekly concern once conference play begins.
After struggling in the punting game for the last several years, the Mountaineers appear to have solved that issue with new punter Nick O'Toole, who averaged 50 yards per kick. His 60-yard boomer in the fourth quarter flipped field position and ultimately led to the Mountaineers getting the ball back at midfield from where they achieved their game-winning drive. He was the most valuable player Saturday and will be a key factor in close games. That is, if the Mountaineers can stay close enough.
We have all watched enough college football to know that a team cannot be measured by just one game. Clearly the unimpressive showing against a weak team is a concern when one looks at the quality of opponents remaining on the schedule. But there is an opportunity for WVU to improve so let's not go into panic mode just yet.
On the other hand, just between us, I wouldn't suggest getting too far away from the fire escape either.
This Saturday: Things now get serious pretty quick. The Mountaineers' toughest road opponent of the season pops up in week two of the schedule as WVU travels to play the University of Oklahoma.
The Sooners began their season with an inexperienced quarterback who struggled in the passing game in their opener but showed he can be a factor with his legs as he rushed for more than 100 yards. What was most impressive about the Oklahoma 37-0 trouncing of Louisiana-Monroe, however, was their defense totally shutting down a team with a proven talented quarterback, yielding only 166 yards in total offense. This could be a long day for a WVU squad not quite ready for prime time. OKLAHOMA 34, WEST VIRGINIA 14.