For those interested in keeping up with the West Virginia Mountaineers, there's no website more indispensable than The Smoking Musket. So with the Texas Longhorns set to travel to Morgantown this weekend, BON caught up with WVUIE97 to talk about the gameday experience in Morgantown, the job security of head coach Dana Holgorsen, and the specifics of the match up.
BON: Texas has never visited Morgantown for a game before. What are the must-see spots, restaurants, and bars around Morgantown? What should Horns fans expect from the tailgating scene and how should they expect to be treated?
WVUIE97: We actually put together a Visitors Guide last year for the Big 12 folks who have never made it to Morgantown (includes maps as well). It's full of places to eat, drink and visit in the area. The comments also have some suggestions that didn't make the main articles as well. But for the absolute must, you need to hit up Mario's and grab yourself a fish bowl of beer in a Morgantown institution. It's a bit off the beaten track and not very big, but well worth it.
The bulk of the tailgating scene is in the parking lots adjacent to the stadium (donor lots). There's plenty of pay lots in the stadium vacinity, but you'll want to walk over to the main lots between the stadium and hospital. Especially with this being a night game, there will be plenty of food and drink flowing of all types. We've really taken advantage of this chance to makeover our overblown reputation with visitors. Walk around with your Longhorns gear on and you'll get some good-natured ribbing, but also more invites to eat and drink than you can possibly imagine.
BON: In writing the season preview for West Virginia for the Texas football annual I put out this year, it wasn't hard to predict a difficult season for the Mountaineers. What's the current pulse of the Mountaineer fan base regarding head coach Dana Holgorsen? Is he starting to be viewed as something of disappointment?
WVUIE97: There is definitely a divided fanbase right now over his status. Most reasonable fans knew it would be a difficult year and it's played out that way. We have some very loyal fans, but many of them are fickle at the same time. That's a contradiction obviously, and hard to explain, but the truth. This is still the eighth-youngest roster in FCS, but some people feel like that's just an excuse.
With the Kansas State and Texas Tech games playing out the way they did, many fans were getting restless, but there was never really any indication that he was in any real trouble from the administration or boosters. With bowl eligibility a real possibility, There is a faction of fans who, I believe, will never embrace him fully (for a myriad of varying reasons), even if he were to win the big one.
BON: How much has the offensive identity of West Virginia changed since the loss of playmakers at receiver like Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin? Is the Mountaineer offensive line capable of pushing around a good defensive front for the Horns?
WVUIE97: With the emergence of Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith in the run game, the identity has shifted, but the downfield passing is still there. The offensive line has struggled at times this season, but they performed well last weekend against a good TCU defense. Pushing around the Longhorns would be a tall task to ask, but I think they can at least hold their own to get our runners some room to maneuver.
BON: The West Virginia defense was a weakness of the team last year, but has improved notably in rush defense this year despite still giving up quite a few points regularly. How much better is the defense this year and which players should Texas fans watch out for?
WVUIE97: I was asked this earlier in the season and using a scale of last season's dumpster fire defense on the bad end of the spectrum to Alabama-esque on the other side, I'd call this season's edition at least serviceable to decent. We have a better, more experienced coordinator and a group of leaders (namely safety Darwin Cook and nose tackle Shaq Rowell) who have been determined to not let last season repeat itself.
The playmakers of note are hard-hitting, sophomore safety Karl Joseph who is seemingly always around the ball. He's the clear hitter of the team. You've also got to account for linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski who's been a terror (when healthy, which he is now) making plays in the backfield and causing fumbles.
BON: In assessing the Longhorns this year as a match up, what's the biggest concern entering the game?
WVUIE97: The biggest concern is the offensive line on the Texas defensive line. I spoke earlier about them being serviceable enough to get the run game going, but the larger concern is protecting the quarterback. That's been an issue at times and when Trickett has been pressured...let's just say he hasn't always made the best decisions (in stretches) with the ball.
BON: How do you see this one playing out?
WVUIE97: That's a great question and one that I have to answer with some IFs. IF our 3rd down offense can be effective (it's been downright abysmal)...IF we can generate turnovers...IF we can contain the UT run-game...WVU will have a chance. Giving the crowd reasons to stay in the game will help as well. Night games in Morgantown have a history of being memorable. Obviously we're hoping for more of the same this weekend.
This is a game that WVU can win...but it's also a game that Texas could run away with.
For more on the Texas-West Virginia match up from the Texas perspective, check out the Q&A over at The Smoking Musket from Wednesday.