In preparation for Saturday's big showdown between Texas and West Virginia, I spent some time chatting with Country Roads from The Smoking Musket, picking up where my pre-season conversation with WVUIE97 left off to talk about where the Mountaineers stand four games in, whether there's any way to slow down Geno Smith, and whether he's concerned about West Virginia's "defense."
PB: I wrote before the season that the only way to stop Geno Smith would be to lock him in a closet when he arrived at the stadium. I was kidding, of course, but now... uh, I'm not so sure. What the hell -- 8 touchdowns? How in love with this guy are you? Name-your-kids-Geno in love?
Country Roads: Are we playing Texas or Texas Tech this week? I think most of us knew he would be good, but this is beyond our wildest imagination. And more importantly, he's a great role model. Humble, smart, selfless. He's going to go down as an all-time great at WVU. But as far as names go, Major is going to be tough to knock out of the #1 spot. It just has more panache than Geno, ya know?
PB: It does. Not many get to grow up to be the quarterback at Texas, but you can definitely increase your kid's odds by naming him Major or, say... Colt McCoy. Why did Texas take a scrawny 3-star from a stoplight in the middle of nowhere? Because his name is Colt freaking McCoy, that's why. Why fight destiny?
But what about Geno? I'm pretty sure that's what you name your kid if you want him to grow up to be an obnoxious, unemployed Yankees fan.
Country Roads: Is it going out on a limb to say that among great quarterbacks, more Genos (or Ginos) have won Heismans than Colts or Majors? I like our odds there.
PB: Good point. Speaking of which: how surprised are you that this game features (a) not one but two Heisman candidates at quarterback, and (b) a dreadful Texas defense?
Country Roads: There are other Heisman Trophy candidates remaining after last weekend? Just kidding. Actually, if he's not now, Ash will probably be one after facing our defense. And since when is a Texas fan describing their defense as dreadful? From what I've read on the blogs, they've been an impenetrable wall outside of a few missed tackles. I'm interested to see what kind of pressure they can put on Geno. That seems to be the only way anyone has been able to slow him down.
PB: Manny Diaz tried the old "At least there were some field goals!" bit but Texas fans were unimpressed. Speaking of atrocious, though: y'all still suck pretty damn hard on defense, it appears. How soon 'til Holgo starts going for a Two True Outcomes defense -- "forced turnover" or "touchdown allowed" -- so that the offense can get back out there and score again. Or was that what we saw last Saturday?
Country Roads: I'm pretty sure that's what we have in place now. Heck, the Mountaineer Field turf made two more tackles than our corners did. Although I've seen what Baylor did to your defense the last couple years and it wasn't exactly pretty. Strangely enough, though, we have more success stopping the run. Hopefully that's enough to keep you all from milking the clock too bad this Saturday.
PB: I suspect that our offensive game plan this week will be udder-centric: milk, milk, milk, keep Geno off the field and away from our defense... As ridiculous as he was last week, Maryland had some success keeping him in the realm of mortals. Our Terps blogger said the key was getting pressure on Geno, which was the key to slowing him down last year as well. If you were facing Smith, is that still your game plan -- field as fast a defensive unit as you can and try like hell to live in the backfield?
Country Roads: Woah, woah woah. You're getting info from Terps bloggers now? Not cool.... but yeah, he's right. I'd try to zone blitz him into submission. That was effective for Syracuse the last couple years. Teams who try to man up and get pressure with their front 4 (even LSU) end up getting torched. LSU won more because we turned it over 4 times and gave up a kick return for a touchdown. Turnovers and special teams, man. That's the name of the game. And from what I can gather, those are two areas where Texas excels.
PB: I promised I wouldn't spend the entire time talking about Geno and your craptastic defense. What else should Texas fans know about this year's Mountaineers? Like, how's the running game looking?
Country Roads: Running game...running game...I thought we had a running game at some point. We must have misplaced it in the last couple weeks. Actually, our starting running back, senior Shawne Alston, suffered a thigh bruise against JMU and has played only a couple snaps the last couple games. He was a beast against Marshall, and was solid in the Orange bowl, so if he comes back it would be a huge boost to our offense. He's big and powerful and can break tackles as well as pass protect better than our diminutive sophomores Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison (who actually led WVU in rushing last year before tearing his ACL in December). Holgorsen has been mum about whether Alston will be back, though, so who knows whether we see him. Obviously, we scored 70 points without him but we need all the help we can get Saturday. Senior FB Ryan Clarke, who is WVU's best lead blocker, should also be returning from injury.
PB: What about the big guys up front? What's your early evaluation of this year's OL?
Country Roads: They've been surprisingly good, actually. I think Baylor had one sack, and that was early in the game. JMU generated a little pressure but no sacks. Maryland has really been the only team to get in the backfield much. It's strange to say this, but given that the line also gave up no sacks against LSU last year, I'm not all that worried about the line.
PB: That's not the answer I was fishing for...
Country Roads: I'm not sure what to think of the matchup, honestly. I was surprised to see Texas favored by 7. Is that about what you expected?
PB: This is a favorable match up for Texas on paper, but our fan arrogance is all out of sync after the last couple of years, not to mention this year, when we're actually quite good... just not in any of the ways that we thought we would be. It's been weird, man.
Are you coming down to Austin, by the way?
Country Roads: I am coming down to Austin. I spent a summer in Dallas, but have never been to the capitol city. I've heard good things and can't wait to see what 6th street is all about. I also hear your fan base is rather friendly, which is a far cry from fans of Louisville (assholes), UConn (pricks) and Pitt (N/A - they have no fans).
PB: We are incredibly friendly and welcoming. Partly because we're in love with ourselves and our university and we need everyone to love us and it, too. Makes for a pretty meek in-game crowd atmosphere most of the time, but this is far and away the biggest home game of the season, and I expect it'll be pretty loud and boisterous, at least by UT standards. You'll be welcomed wherever you go this weekend, but if you get a chance you should definitely stop by my tailgate for a beer and some brisket.
Country Roads: This season is strange in that our nonconference schedule felt more like a conference schedule, given our history with Maryland and Marshall, and every conference game feels like a nonconference game since we've basically never played these teams before. Or at least not recently. What's with all the excitement? I know WVU is ranked and UT is going through a resurgence, but in terms of pure name recognition, we're no Ohio State. And I'll gladly stop by your tailgate if I can manage to find it by the time the WVU alumni party ends at 4. With the open bar, that's probably a more dubious task than you might think.
PB: Alright, we're just about out of time here, but before I let you go, let's do the thing where I make you commit to some game predictions. Geno Smith TDs: Over/Under 4?
Country Roads: Push. Plus 2 on the ground and a Tavon Austin return TD.
Country Roads: Sorry, I watched the Oklahoma State game.
PB: So, uh, on West Virginia Over/Under 50 points, I presume you've got the over?
Country Roads: You weren't a math major at UT, were you? 4 passing TD, 2 rushing TD, 1 return TD = 7 TD. 7x7 = 49.
PB: Hell, the way you were talking, I assumed you were imagining four more scores in there. Three field goals, and a pick six, at least.
Country Roads: Pfffssshhhh. Field goals. Holgo thinks those are for sissys. And teams that have a competent kicker. Actually, our kicker Bitancurt is a senior and has made his fair share of game winning kicks. And your red zone defense is good. We might get stuffed on a couple drives, especially if Alston can't go.
PB: Fair enough. So now the one that counts: Texas Over/Under 49 points?
Country Roads: You need to know I'm a complete homer. I fully understand WVU is capable of losing this game, and if there's a blowout, it will be the Mountaineers getting blown out. Years of being a WVU fan have taught me to expect an unexpected kick in the nads. 49-38 WVU.
PB: No need to apologize for that. Texas fans have the opposite problem. We're an exhaustingly self-critical fan base.
Country Roads: How's the vibe down that way?
PB: A little mixed, I'd say. We're feeling good about the offense, and optimistic we can run the ball on y'all. But the defense is broken. I'm not sure we can win a race to 60, so hopefully we get some red zone stops.
Country Roads: As a fan, I prefer games like this where i have no idea what might happen. I hate being favored all the time, it's nerve-wracking.
PB: Welcome to the Big 12.