Friday, February 3, 2012
Season grade: West Virginia
By Andrea Adelson
It is time to take a last look back at how each Big East team fared in 2011 with season-ending report cards. I wrap up the series with a look at West Virginia.
Offense: I could list the litany of school records West Virginia set this season, but there may not be enough room in this here post. Let's just say Dana Holgorsen is who we thought he was, and his high-flying system translated into the highest flying offense in school history. Geno Smith set a Big East single-season record with 4,385 yards passing; Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey each went over 1,000 yards receiving; and West Virginia averaged 459.6 yards of total offense while scoring an average of 34.9 points -- nine points higher than a year ago. The run game was inconsistent, and so was the offensive line. Though West Virginia did not put together a complete game on offense until the Orange Bowl, it is hard to give this unit anything but an A.
Defense: No question this group got better as the year went on, primarily because all of the new starters on defense got a better feel for playing together. Taking Bruce Irvin out of the starting lineup and getting him back into situational downs shot up his sack numbers as well and helped the Mountaineers get reacquainted with their pass rush. One of the biggest reasons why West Virginia was able to storm back and win a share of the Big East was because of the way the defense played down the stretch, forcing critical turnovers and making key plays to pull out some close victories. And let's not forget the game-changing play against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, when Darwin Cook returned a fumble 99 yards to turn the tide in the game.
Overall: West Virginia lived up to preseason expectations, even though it had to go about that in a roundabout way. After losing to Louisville, many counted the Mountaineers out. But they won three straight to earn the spot in the BCS title game, and then absolutely crushed Clemson with the spotlight squarely on them. This is a team that has some really excellent skill players who should rank right up there among the best in the country. The defense was up and down and will face a true test next season with a different scheme and many of its best players gone. But for 2011, there is no other way to judge this season than to say it was a success.