As long-time readers know (all three of you), we try to do a Q&A with a blog from upcoming football opponents. But since we couldn’t find blogs devoted to St. Francis or Alcorn St., this is the season debut of this column. And what a bonanza it is. We’re thrilled to have both Eers Authority and The Smoking Musket engage in a little lighthearted prognostication before the big game against WVU at FedEx Field this weekend (by the way, plenty of good seats still available and the weather looks to be amazing for Saturday’s 4:30 kickoff so get on it).
But first two notes on JMU non-football items during this huge week:
1) HUGE congratulations to the JMU Men’s Soccer team for their enormous upset of #1 ranked and defending National Champ UNC on Wednesday at the brand spanking new University Park soccer facility. Seriously, if you haven’t been back to the ‘Burg in a few years, it will blow your mind where this new soccer/track/lacrosse facility is located (think on the way to Lakeview). And it will exponentially blow your mind how close it now feels to campus!
2) A very heartfelt shoutout to one of the all-time best friends of JMUSB Field Hockey Coach Antoinette Lucas on her 100th win as a Head Coach this week! If you’ve followed us for a while, you know Ant (Coach L) is the closest thing we have to an insider and one of the finest coaches in any sport (not to mention the pound-for-pound best athlete in Rockingham County). DC folks – Field Hockey plays in College Park on Sunday if you want to fire up the Bloody Marys and finish a Dukes-filled weekend strong!
But without further ado, a huge thanks to Jon Martin, Jerry McGhee, and the staff at Eers Authority and Mr. Country Roads himself from The Smoking Musket for all of your help this week. Great to hear two perspectives on Mountaineer football. We realize you guys are “a little different than us,” ( i.e. serious media outlets covering everything from Tennis to junior high recruiting in Morgantown), but we sincerely hope to meet you and share a few cocktails this Saturday before JMU becomes known as the ultimate giant killer around 7:30 p.m. We sincerely believe WVU is one of the most underrated programs in the country (sort of the anti-VT) and after this matchup with JMU, we’ll be pulling for you the rest of the season.
1) WVU has a Heisman frontrunner in Geno Smith (if he doesn’t lose too many votes to Bailey and Austin of course) and a brilliant mad scientist designing the offense, but how far can the defense take the Mountaineers this year?Eers Authority: Good question. The defense was a big question on the minds of fans heading into the year. The staff made the change from the 3-3-5 to the 3-4, and brought in new coaches of the staff. To answer the question, I’m not sure the defense needs to take them anywhere. The defense is made to bring pressure and create turnovers, but they won’t be called on during every game.Smoking Musket: For WVU to be successful over the course of the year, this defense is going to have to be a lot like Oklahoma State’s defense from last year: i.e. give up a ton of yards and plenty of points, but create enough turnovers and make enough stops in key situations to give the offense a chance to win the game. The good news is that Holgorsen tabbed former OKST defensive coach Joe DeForest to be his defensive coordinator this year, so he is able to implement that style of defense. And I think we have good enough athletes to pull it off. Sure, we aren’t going to shut anyone down completely after losing quality defenders like Bruce Irvin, Julian Miller and Keith Tandy last year. But I think we have the potential to do some good things.2) With expectations at an all-time high in Morgantown, what would constitute a successful season? Only a national championship? BCS appearance? Big 12 title? Anything less?Eers Authority: I think in the eyes of fans a BCS game would be a huge success. You see all the magazines and TV show predicting a Big 12 title and a dark horse National Championship run. The players are focused on a Big 12 title and BCS national title.Smoking Musket: Funny you say “all-time high.” I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. Folks were pretty optimistic going into the 1988 and 2007 seasons, both of which ended with Fiesta Bowl bids. And while I think most fans are excited to be in the Big 12 and have high hopes for where Holgorsen can take the program, the uncertainty of playing in a new, better conference with a suspect defense have tempered things a bit. If you look around the Big 12, there are plenty of teams who can knock of the Mountaineers any given week – Oklahoma, Texas, K-State and TCU are all ranked right now, and Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and Texas Tech are all better than the 5-7 Syracuse team that beat us by 26 last year in the Carrier Dome. I think most folks understand the challenge we are facing, so I’d say a successful season is 10-2 with a BCS at-large berth. 9-3 would be identical to last year’s record, so I don’t think fans would be too upset with that record and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. Anything less and you probably would hear some grumblings.3) Judging from the ticket sales, it doesn’t seem like WVU fans are too enthused about this matchup? What’s been the general feeling about this trip? Everyone saving up for Big12 action?Eers Authority: I think fans are excited about the game. In general, with the move to the Big 12, fans usually pick certain road games to attend. This season might be Texas or Iowa State. WVU will have a nice showing due to fans in the D.C. area and eastern West Virginia. But I think the conference change had a lot to do with it.Smoking Musket: Probably. It’ll be interesting to see what the final attendance looks like, but I think the game was designed to make for an easier trip for our fans in Baltimore and DC and West Virginia’s eastern panhandle. It’s a long haul from anywhere near Charleston, and I probably wouldn’t make the trip right now if I hadn’t already bought tickets. That being said, it’s asking a lot for fans to travel to DC and get a hotel room for a night (or two, if you want to tailgate) to play an FCS team. Not to knock JMU, because I think you’re clearly capable of beating us, but anything less than Virginia Tech or Penn State is probably going to be a tough sell for FedEx Field.4) Any chance WVU realizes this might be their toughest Out of Conference game?Eers Authority: They have the attention of head coach Dana Holgorsen and the players. You look at JMU, they have the athletic quarterback that can give you fits, a capable tight end that can cause a team fits, plus JMU tackles well. They have great facilities are well repected. I don’t think WVU will take the Dukes lightly. The style play is close, but the athletes should tell the difference.Smoking Musket: Heh. I think Holgorsen knows better than to take you guys lightly. After watching Marshall and Maryland play their second games last weekend, I’m less convinced that you’re right, but I will give credit where it is due and I expect the coaches and team to do the same. I’m not sure whether last year’s losses to Louisville and Syracuse were due to overlooking them or some other factor, but regardless I hope our guys learned their lesson. There seems to be a feeling among the program that this could be a special year for WVU, so I anticipate that the guys will be focused and ready to put on a show.5) Holgo! Allegedly he’s from Iowa, but seriously, he’s gotta have roots in Hundred or Fairview or Fairmont right?! What is the love-level for the Holgorson/Huggie Bear combo?Eers Authority: Haha. These guys are great. You know Huggs came back home after coaching at Kansas State and he has a love for West Virginia that can’t be matched. Huggs is one of those guys that tells it like it is, and fans love it. Dana is alot like that. So for Mountaineer fans, we get excitement during football and basketball season. Both guys are great for the state.Smoking Musket: I’m not sure Holgy knew what he was getting himself into when he came to Morgantown, but he seems to really have embraced the school and the state, and vice-versa. It’s a little strange to embrace a guy like Holgy who isn’t originally from the state—West Virginians are fiercely loyal to their own, and usually a little suspicious of outsiders (especially after we got burnt by Rich Rod) but I think folks have fallen in love with Holgorsen. He’s a little quirky, and if WVU fans are anything, it’s a little quirky. We are lucky as bloggers and as fans to have two coaches in Huggy and Holgorsen who are not only quality coaches, but quality people and just plain fun to follow. They both love to get their drank on (just like most Mountaineer fans) and they both don’t care to speak their mind and have some fun (just like most Mountaineer fans). I’d say it’s a good fit all around.6) Even we expect WVU to throw up a pinball score, but somehow the Mountaineers were shutdown against lesser opponents (cough – ‘Cuse – cough) at times last year. Wast there anything scheme or personnel wise that gives certain teams a chance against the WVU offense? In other words, are there any nuggets we can latch onto in our visions of grandeur this week?Eers Authority: When you look back at the Syracuse game, they brought a ton of pressure. They blitzed and brought it from different angles. You would think that blueprint would have been used more last season, but it wasn’t. WVU was in a new system last season where the offense is lead by the decision making of the quarterback. Geno is much better this year of checking into the right play, reading the defense, and not thinking. Geno is just in the second year of the system is just making plays. In fact, the offensive coaches want defenses to bring pressure. So we’ll see.Smoking Musket: Assuming that the Orange Bowl and Marshall games were more flukes than a sign that the offense is finally clicking, the one thing Syracuse did both in 2011 and in 2010 when they beat us in Morgantown was to zone blitz Geno into submission. They brought guys from everywhere, and our line simply wasn’t able to give him enough time to throw. Or when they did, he threw it to the wrong team. Geno had like 7 interceptions last year and I think 3 were against Syracuse, and I think the same thing happened in 2010. For a guy who usually takes pretty good care of the ball, that’s significant. So if I was coaching the JMU defense this Saturday, I’d try to mimic the Syracuse zone blitzing scheme. Pitt and Cincinnati both played very good defense against us as well, and I think that’s probably attributable to the quality of their defensive lines. For as much grief as the Big East got nationally, there were some pretty good defensive linemen in the league, and our hogmollies up front just weren’t that good last year. So when you can’t develop a running game and you don’t have much time to throw, your offense is probably going to suffer.7) Thinking of some old Miami games, a few Pitt brawls, and last year’s LSU game, where would the November Oklahoma game rank all-time if both teams make it there unscathed?Eers Authority: You have to think that game would pass all those you mentioned. You would probably have two Top 5 teams going for a Big 12 title, BCS game/title, Gameday would be back in Morgantown for a national televised game. So it would be huge for the school, staff, players, and recruiting. Need to take care of business before we get to that point.Smoking Musket: I’d say it would be at or near the top. The gold standard is the 1993 Miami game where Miami was #4 and WVU was #9. That game drew 70,000 fans in a 63,000 seat stadium in front of a national TV audience. I’d put a late-November clash between undefeated Oklahoma and undefeated WVU ahead of that game because both teams would likely be ranked in the top 5 and WVU would have only games at Iowa State and at home against Kansas remaining in their quest for a national championship, whereas the 1993 team needed a win on the road against a feisty Boston College squad and some help to play for a national title—and they ended up having to play a very good Florida team in the Sugar Bowl instead. Games like LSU last year and Ohio State in 1998 were big, but were too early in the season. Games like 2007 Pitt and 1988 Syracuse were big because they presented a chance to win and play for a national championship, but the opponents weren’t ranked as high. So yeah, we may be getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but I’ll put WVU-Oklahoma 2012 at the top if both are undefeated.