Questions Remain After Unimpressive Start for WVU - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Questions Remain After Unimpressive Start for WVU

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MORGANTOWN -

West Virginia fans were hoping for answers. Likely positive answers at that. With the vast majority of August practice closed to the media, any idea of what the Mountaineers football team would look like once it took the field was based on quotes from interviews and press conferences.

Hearing what a team should display and seeing it for oneself are two different things. Then again, believing you know what to expect from a team you've only watched in practice against itself is also a stretch.

So Saturday's season opener against William and Mary was a test. On a number of levels, there were challenges for the Mountaineers to work on their own game while ensuring that they didn't fall victim to the increasingly common occurrence of an FCS opponent "shocking" one from the FBS.

What we learned from this initial test is that not everything worked out quite as well as the players and coaches may have convinced themselves – and in turn, perhaps us – that it would. That isn't to say that the Mountaineers left the field after a 24-17 win with their heads hanging and expectations fallen below sea level. It just means that whatever was thought to have worked in camp was not a sure fire solution in a real game.

It can't be. There is no way to replicate what you face when a team with a different uniform game plans for you and shows something you haven't seen live since the winter.

"No matter what we do, you can't duplicate a game. And I don't care who you play. It doesn't matter who you play," head coach Dana Holgorsen said after the game. "I would expect us to make a whole bunch of improvements on all three sides of the ball."

West Virginia must make those strides in the coming days with a week of practice and a few hours on a plane the only thing standing between the Mountaineers and a game against No. 16 Oklahoma.

The Sooners, if you've forgotten, don't play in the FCS.

The entire team got off to a fine start Saturday with the defense forcing two 3-and-outs and the offense scoring a touchdown on its first drive, but then it unraveled, a bit too much for anyone in gold and blue's comfort.

West Virginia's offense stalled time and time again, the quarterback play faltered as Holgorsen plugged in Clint Trickett for Paul Millard in an effort to grade both passers. Millard won out and ultimately his day was about as good as one might expect in a player's first start. He was 19-of-25 for 237 yards and a touchdown and his confidence seemed to grow as the game progressed.

The running game stole the show – and the play calling – with Charles Sims rushing for 120 yards on 23 carries and a score. Sims wasn't alone as Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood and Dustin Garrison helped combine for 182 on the ground for WVU.

It was a solid performance, but not one expected from Holgorsen's offense, which has a reputation for putting up yards and points in bunches. The lack of flair and excitement outside of a 69-yard touchdown toss was not the way the Mountaineers intended to get the season started and it won't work in Norman next week.

Defense fell into its old routine of two strong plays before looking anemic on third down, allowing drives to continue as the Tribe's Michael Graham hit his targets left and right and deep down the field to move the chains. Graham looked how most every quarterback did against WVU last season, playing above his abilities based on what the defense gave him.

That stopped in the second half. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said there were nerves in the first 30 minutes, which surprised him, but they dissipated in the locker room and a different unit came out and pitched a shutout over the final two quarters.

William and Mary ultimately put up just over 300 yards of total offense and the showing in the second half was more along the lines of what FCS versus FBS should look like. Still, there is reason for concern when a team fails to find success in a cupcake opener.

Where WVU hoped question marks would turn to exclamation points, they are instead simple periods or even still question marks. This team found out a good bit about itself in game one and improved throughout, but that trend must continue at a much higher rate to keep the victories coming rather than fizzle out like many of the preseason prognosticators predicted. 

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