Thursday, December 8, 2016

Can the 2016 Mountaineers “Leave No Doubt”?

By Dave Ackermann (The Orchestrator)

Last week, the question was: Can WVU do “the Texas Two-Step?” Asked and answered. The Mountaineers left Austin with a 24-20 victory singing Country Roads all the way home gaining back-to-back victories over the Longhorns,

The WVU defense bailed out an anemic second half WVU offense that turned it over three times and was unable to capitalize on any of the Texas turnovers in the game.

But the Mountaineers sacked Buechele in several key third down sequences that led to either field goals or no points at all. Of the four Mountaineer turnovers, the Longhorns converted it to points only once (7 points).

But the question this week is a bit different. The Sooners are coming to Morgantown for a night game in Touchdown City. All of the pundits will have the Sooners winning this game, in my humble opinion, and Vegas has already installed them as a 4.5 point favorite.

The Mountaineers have lost 4 straight to the Sooners since joining the conference. The last time these teams met prior to conference play was the 2007/2008 Fiesta Bowl. You know, the one where only West Virginians thought they could win; the one that Corso said WVU would lose by at least three touchdowns; the one that featured Pitt Grad  Mark May on the sidelines in a booth badmouthing the Mountaineers with the 13-9 reminders. Bill Stewart had been named interim head coach with the departure of that hair plugs guy and then favorite son to Michigan. The defensive staff remained in tact for the Bowl game and included Tony Gibson (now WVU defensive coordinator).

All the nation now knows about one of the greatest pre-game speeches ever given. Bill Stewart’s “Leave No Doubt” speech has been played on ESPN just about every year since, including this season. The Mountaineers had lost that nefarious home game to Pitt (9-13) on a night when WVU’s offense was anemic including two missed field goals that could have changed the outcome of the game. So going into that Fiesta Bowl, nobody really knew what to expect of the once high-powered rushing attack. Without their head coach, the pundits expected a bloodbath at the hands of the then #3 Sooners. Stewarts comments pre-game inspired the team to perform at peak operating levels on both sides of the ball.

The WVU offense rolled-up 525 total yards, including 349 rushing yards against a nationally ranked defense that was allowing only 91.5 rushing yards per game. Pat White would amass 150 yards on 20 carries alone. Vaunted running back Steve Slaton was sidelined by injury late in the first quarter. Enter diminutive Noel Divine who would rush 13 times for 108 yards. Owen Schmitt would break away for a 57 yard touchdown run down the right sideline and was famously dubbed “The Runaway Beer Truck”. Owen would end up with 64 yards on just three carries.

WVU would lead at the half by a score of  20-6 which could have been more but for a blocked McAfee field goal. In the second half, OU would score on their first possession after forcing WVU to punt twice. The Sooners were back in the game at 20-13, but attempted a shocking on sides kick that was recovered by the Mountaineers leading to a score and once again a 14 point lead.

Later in the game, OU was again getting some momentum down 34-21, when Pat White performed a great freeze option fake and hit Tito Gonzalez for a 79 yard TD pass. On the next WVU possession speedy Noel Divine would break off a 65 yard TD run to cement the outcome.

WVU had “Left No Doubt’ the Sooners should not have played the old gold and blue on this night” as the Mountaineers celebrated a 44-28 victory and a Top 10 final ranking for the third year in a row.

So the historical 2008 Fiesta Bowl is history and no indication on what will happen Saturday night in the brisk air of Morgantown, WV, for after all, it has not inspired even a single victory over the Sooners in conference. But things are a bit different than the 4 previous years. The Mountaineers are 8-1 and ranked in the Top 10 of both the Coaches (9th) and the AP (10th) polls. WVU does have a couple of similarities, however, as they are coming off of an anemic offensive performance versus Texas (similar to Pitt performance), and, they are being disrespected by just about everybody going into this game (similar to going into the 2008 Fiesta Bowl).

Some pundits and local writers feel that WVU has not faced the likes of the Oklahoma offense this season and I for one have to disagree. The Texas Tech, TCU and Texas offenses have been juggernauts this season, except when they played WVU, and have done nothing offensively to disprove my opinion since. Also, I might point out that Sagarin has our SOS ranked 4th among the current top 10 teams. In addition, except for when they faced Ohio State, Oklahoma has not faced a defense as strong as WVU this season.

Could this be the game that WVU breaks out for another 500 plus yard performance on offense? Could the WVU defense hold Oklahoma under 30 points? Can the WVU defense force some turnovers? Can the WVU offense convert OU turnovers into points. Can special teams continue to be solid, punting, kicking, and receiving?

These are all questions that need to be answered on the field and with positive results, if WVU is to once again send a message to the pollsters, the playoff committee and the opponents that they can “Leave No Doubt” !

Let’s all tune into ABC at 8 EST (7 CST) to catch one of the most important games in the Big 12 conference, and maybe in the 2016 college football season.

I have just one prediction: PAIN!!!!

Featured photo courtesy Jeff Ruff, BGS

 

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