September 11, 2008 3:07 PM
Almost heaven? Hardly
Here's a sneak preview of what West Virginia will look like Thursday night in Boulder: The Mountaineers of 2007.
No, they won't have bullish running back Owen Schmitt to lend some muscle and Steve Slaton to add some slash to the spread option -- specifically, the inside zone read option run by quarterback Pat White. But expect them to return to some of the offensive principles conspicuously absent in their first two games.
Not surprisingly, some fans are doubting whether Bill Stewart was the right choice to replace Rich Rodriguez, who exited rather nastily for Michigan. Seemed like a good idea at the time, that time being in the wake of West Virginia's 20-point rout (48-28) of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Mountaineer Nation's chief collective gripe: Stewart and new offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen have gotten away from what White did so well in Rodriguez's offense -- namely, allowing him to use all of his talents in a scheme he's comfortable with.
If it's reminiscent of the Missouri/Gary Pinkel/Brad Smith saga a few years back, it should be. Pinkel, remember, tried to transform the multitalented Smith into a drop-back passer. Fortunately (for Pinkel), Chase Daniel was on the roster, inspiring an offensive revamping that's worked rather well.
But there's another factor also at play in Morgantown. West Virginia lost O-line coach Rick Trickett to Florida State two years ago, and some insiders are saying his departure was as significant as any of last season's exits. Trickett taught zone blocking, which West Virginia's linemen seemed to have used only sporadically in the first two games.
The upshot: When the Mountaineers make their first trip to Boulder, the Buffaloes had best count on seeing the visitors revert to more than a few things they know they have done (and can do) well offensively -- specifically, White running more belly option plays and passing a little more.
A loss in Boulder and Stewart's stay gets very uncomfortable.