Pitt Vs. West Virginia: Backyard Brawl Q&A Edition With Smoking Musket

Do Pitt and West Virginia have to hate each other? Yeah, pretty much. But that doesn't mean civility goes out the window. Wes over at SB Nation's excellent Mountaineers blog The Smoking Musket reached out for a Q&A this week just in time for the Brawl.

Here are his answers to my questions. Be sure to head over there to see my answers to his.

Cardiac Hill: So the whole realignment thing - what are your thoughts on heading to the Big 12? It may not be a great geographical fit, but I think it's better trying to compete there than in the insane SEC. What's your gut feeling about when the Mountaineers (and Pitt) will be able to leave?
Smoking Musket: I think most WVU fans would agree with me in our sentiment about heading to the Big 12: at this point, ANYTHING but the Big East. Given our realistic conference options, though, the SEC and ACC were still at the top of our wish list. And while the SEC would be much harder to compete in, I think from a fan perspective it would be a lot more fun, simply because you would have top-5 teams coming to Morgantown on a regular basis and due to all the media attention on the SEC. Plus fans are more familar with teams like Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina (who we could definitely compete with) than teams like Texas Tech, TCU, and Kansas State. Regardless, I think it will be good for our fans to get excited about some of these teams coming to Morgantown, because lately UConn, Cincinnati and USF (even despite their success) just haven't been that interesting to most people. I see WVU getting out for 2012 still, which could open the door for Pitt and Syracuse to follow, although I don't think you guys are in as big a hurry since the ACC doesn't need you to round out a schedule. But that's mostly just a gut feeling and could be based on faulty logic.

Geno Smith is having a great season - any chance at all that he tests the NFL waters a year early?
I would be surprised if he did. Sure, he's putting up gaudy numbers. But when you're throwing it 40-something times a game, you better be putting up gaudy numbers, just like every other quarterback Holgorsen has coached. Not that Geno is bad---he put up OK numbers under Jeff Mullen last year, and that's pretty hard to do. He just doesn't always make the right reads, he misses check-downs, he tries to make the big play too often, and he doesn't scramble well. I guess that's a long winded way of saying I just don't think he's ready yet.
With all of the talk about Dana Holgorsen coming into the season with the casino stuff and his attitude, is he still somewhat of a controversial figure in Morgantown these days or is that all forgotten for the most part?
I'm not sure how controversial he really was in the first place, honestly. Bill Stewart was really divisive for the program, and I think most people were just happy to see things get settled under a new coach who seems to have an idea of what he's doing. Sure, he's got an edge to him, but he doesn't seem like a total wild card.  Right now people are more upset about the losses to Louisville and Syracuse than about any casino incident (which seemed to get blown a tad out of proportion, in my opinion).

 

West Virginia's had some really lackluster performances on defense this year. I don't need to recap it for you, obviously, but I will for the readers - the Mountaineers have given up 31 points to Maryland, 47 to LSU, 49 to Syracuse, 31 to Rutgers, and 35 to Louisville. What's gone on defensively? Do you attribute it to Holgorsen being such an offensive-minded coach, losses in the offseason, or is it something else?
I think there are a number of factors at play here, the least of which would be Holgorsen's offensive mindset. We lost a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball last year---Chris Nield and Scooter Berry off the line, JT Thomas and Anthony Leonard at linebacker, and Robert Sands, Sidney Glover, and Brandon Hogan in the defensive backfield.

 

The biggest loss was probably Nield, who ate a ton of space up front and allowed guys like Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller to roam free on the edge. We're weaker against the run this year, and are putting teams in fewer passing situations where Irvin and Miller can thrive. The other issue, in my view, is that the defense hasn't been helped by the offense or special teams. Turnovers and poor special teams play have continually put the defense in bad spots and probably skew the numbers a bit (not that they'd be outstanding otherwise). If you compare our ranking in total defense (26th) and scoring defense (63rd), you can see what I mean. Just off the top of my head, I can think of at least 4 punts of less than 20 yards, 2 kickoff return TDs, a blocked field goal return for a TD, and a handful of turnovers on our own side of the field. Cut those in half and the numbers probably look more respectable.



Okay, so who's the primary back in Morgantown? Who do you think has the best chance for a breakout game in the Brawl?

 

Dustin Garrison has been getting the starts, but Shawne Alston is taking most of the critical snaps.  If you look at the statistics, Garrison is the leading rusher, but had 300 of his yards in a single game against Bowling Green. I think unlike in years past, you can't say that we have a "primary" back. Those guys complement each other well, and until WVU recruits an every-down guy, you'll probably see the committee approach based on situation. Given all that, I'll project Alston as the one Pitt needs to focus on. He had a decent game last year at Heinz field and has seemed to run with more authority lately. The biggest key for WVU will be for Alston to convert in goal-line situations so the Mountaineers don't have to settle for field goals. If he can do that, his yardage total won't really matter.


How do you see the game shaping out?

I think WVU wins a close one, mostly because the game is in Morgantown. As we have seen, these games are nearly impossible to predict. Pitt's pash rush scares me the most, as putting WVU in third and long situations then coming after Geno Smith is probably the best way to stop this offense. If the offensive line can give Smith time to find open receivers, the Mountaineers should be able to move the ball. I would project Pitt to score in the mid-20's with their offense, but if they can get a score or flip the field with a turnover or on special teams, then I'll really start to sweat. If I have to pick a score, I'm going 30-24 WVU.

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