By now, everyone's hashed out the two bad calls that cost West Virginia a chance to upset a Top five team at its home field and stay in the chase for the Big East Title:
—The Cincy fumble at the goal line that was reversed and turned into a touchdown.
—WVU's call on 3rd-and-9 when it was driving in the fourth quarter for a tying touchdown.
The first call is 50-50. The ball certainly didn't break the plane of the goal line, but it may have touched it. I don't know if depressing but not puncturing the meniscus of the goal line counts as a touchdown, but I was never good at fluid dynamics. Evidently, the Big East refereeing crew was.
The second call, even though Coach Stewart defended it, is really indefensible. Not the call—a running play on third-and-long, especially if you've already made up your mind to go for it on third down. Not the specific call—a power run off-tackle. What is indefensible is running it with your 175-pound slot receiver/scatback, Jock Sanders, and not your bruising 225-pound fullback, Ryan Clarke, who had been punishing the Cincinnati defense all game. That's the problem.
Despite the loss, WVU played probably its best game of the season in all three phases. The defense held Cincy to its lowest point total of the season, which is impressive.
The offense recorded more first downs than Cincy and moved the ball throughout the game. The special teams did not give up another 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Mardy Gilyard, as it did last season, so that's progress.
What's inexplicable is that the kickoff team was flagged twice in a row for the same penalty—lining up with only three men on one side of the kicker, BECAUSE they were told to by the special teams coach, Bill Stewart. He said after the game that his "hand was caught in the cookie jar" because he told the team to intentionally break the rules. It ultimately didn't matter in the game but it looked stupid on television.
The real problem with this game—and with this team at this point in the season—is that it has been so determined to mix up the run and the pass and diversify the offense, that it no longer has an identity. More importantly, it no longer has one thing it does exceptionally well, and that's a problem.
Is it a running team? If so, is it a power or speed running team? We've seen both, but neither is consistent, thanks to the spotty play of the offensive line.
Is it a passing team? Well, it seemed like it until the deep ball went away after the Marshall game. Allow me to deviate a bit here and reserve my worst vitriol of Wes Lyons.
ESPN this week noted he was one of the league's biggest disappointments this year and that could not be said better. He would not have been a disappointment—Mountaineer fans have become accustomed to Lyons being the most invisible 6'8" guy on the field—had the coaching staff not touted him coming out of spring and summer practice.
This will be Lyons' breakout year, the coaches enthused. He's a game-changer. He has a special rapport with quarterback Jarrett Brown. No one can cover him in the slot. Blah, blah, blah. And, just as autumn has come once again, Lyons has disappeared in the offense. He is so uninvolved in the offense, that I have expect him to be caught listening to music or reading a book on the sideline. Or even lined up at wide receiver.
I don't know if he doesn't run good routes, I don't know if he can't run fast enough to separate, all I know is that every time he's show in closeup on TV, he has that blank-eyed, I-couldn't-care-less look on his face. Why Stewart is allowing Lyons to keep a scholarship from a more deserving, harder-working player who actually wants to play football, I will never understand.
Another problem with this team that I've discussed before is its habit of recruiting "athletes" and then finding out where to play them. The team currently has three former quarterbacks playing out of position and starting: B. Hogan at one cornerback, Keith Tandy at the other and Bradley Starks at wide receiver.
Hogan's wild inconsistency will not be belabored here. Nor will Tandy's embarrassment in the South Florida game. Starks has shown flashes, but he is still learning wide receiver so he's not a consistent threat. WVU needs to start recruiting top players at their position instead of losing at least a year—and some games—training them to play new positions.
There are only two regular games left in this season, which is turning out to be a transitional season, just like last season. Next year, Stewart and his staff will have their players playing: Eugene Smith at quarterback, Ryan Clarke and probably Shawne Alston at running back if Noel Devine goes to the NFL, Logan Heastie at wide receiver, Tavon Austin at slot or running back and so on. Maybe that's when we have to judge Stewart and his staff, and accept a nine-win transitional season last year and hopefully better than a seven- or eight-win season this year.