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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Avoiding Extended In-Game Lulls

West Virginia is flirting with disaster. Sort of. It’s not like the Mountaineers are playing L.S.U. every week, after all, but have rather sandwiched the Tigers with four weaklings: Marshall, Norfolk State, Maryland and Bowling Green. But in each of the four — less so with the Thundering Herd, to be fair — the Mountaineers have been stricken by lapses of concentration. Can West Virginia afford to play 45 minutes of football in a 60-minute game against the rest of the Big East?

A quick look at West Virginia’s somewhat distressing periods of sour play against each of its five opponents, including the loss to L.S.U. two weeks ago, listed by time remaining in each game, hockey-style:

MarshallFrom 60:00 to 45:00 — Marshall 7, West Virginia 0

Nothing major here. The Thundering Herd returned a punt 87 yards for a score with 10:18 left in the first quarter; the Mountaineers responded with 20-0 run, which Marshall snapped with a field goal as time expired in the first half.

Norfolk StateFrom 60:00 to 30:00 — Norfolk State 12, West Virginia 10

We remember what happened from there: W.V.U. rolled off 45 unanswered points to put its F.C.S. foe firmly in the rearview mirror.

MarylandFrom 32:22 to 5:00 — Maryland 28, West Virginia 10

A laugher — it was 24-10 with three minutes left in the first half — quickly turned into a nail-biter. The Terrapins scored 21 unanswered points spanning the third and fourth quarter to get within a field goal, and had the ball with a chance for a game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

L.S.U.From 16:00 to 0:00 — L.S.U. 20, West Virginia 0

This game was actually tight, if you can remember, after a one-yard touchdown run by Dustin Garrison drew the Mountaineers within six points at 27-21. Then the Tigers returned a kickoff for a score, opening the floodgates in what ended up being a 47-21 win.

Bowling Green60:00 to 51:00 — Bowling Green 10, West Virginia 3

File this in the same category as Marshall and Norfolk State: playing down to their competition, the Mountaineers trailed early before turning on the jets. The final score? West Virginia 55, Bowling Green 10.

So what do you see here? You see a team very much prone to periods of inefficiency against teams good and bad. Marshall and Bowling Green held early, meaningless leads in the first quarter before falling under a West Virginia onslaught. Norfolk State’s lead lasted all the way to halftime before W.V.U. got its act together.

That the Mountaineers got within six points of L.S.U. late in the third quarter says a few things: one, that W.V.U. can hang around the great teams in the country; and two, the home crowd showed up. But after getting with a touchdown, the Mountaineers didn’t have the talent — or the mental toughness, perhaps — to hang around the heavily-favored Tigers.

Against Maryland, you saw a true lapse in concentration. After building a sizable lead, West Virginia sat back and took a deep breath — relaxed, in short. Perhaps the Mountaineers can save some energy against a Norfolk State; the Maryland game proved that this team is not nearly good enough to rest on its laurels against an opponent with a relatively-equal talent level.

These in-game down periods aren’t — or weren’t — an overriding concern in September and early October. They’ll become a point of emphasis for Dana Holgorsen and W.V.U. come this weekend, when the Mountaineers open Big East play against Connecticut.

The Huskies will be a nice barometer, in fact. They’re a team that shouldn’t hang with the Mountaineers offensively; I don’t think W.V.U. should have too hard a time landing a 14-point win, to be honest. But Holgorsen should ask for a more concrete, 60-minute game from his team beginning with Connecticut, as the last three games of the year — Cincinnati, South Florida and Pittsburgh — will decide West Virginia’s B.C.S. hopes. The hope is that W.V.U. is playing with a more consistent effort by the time that threesome rolls around.

Those are three fairly good teams. And to beat all three, seeing that head-to-head tiebreakers will be key, the Mountaineers must avoid the 15-minute, 10-minute, 30-minute lulls that plagued them through the season’s first five games. At some point, a down stretch might come up and bite the Mountaineers in a conference game with B.C.S. implications.

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  1. Great article and I agree with u they need to stay focused. One thing though is that the Air Raid offense is based around probing for information in the early goings of a game. Once they figure out what the defense is giving them they pounce and rattle off scores. So I don’t think the early game lapses are much to worry about and I believe u mite see more 1st quarter deficits. Great article and great site!

  2. philip says:

    i’d like to think the bowling green game served as the culmination of lessons learned in the previous four.

    at the risk of jinxing them, i have a confidence i haven’t had for about three years that the team can sidestep the very thing about which you write.

    i’m hoping the barometer game bears out that faith.

    nice read. nice enumeration of concerns.

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