West Virginia players at the NFL Scouting Combine were asked about why their team struggled down the stretch in their final season at college, and all three came up with slightly different answers - although all seem to have grains of truth.
Geno Smith and the Mountaineers started out 2012 nicely: five wins, including shootouts over No. 25 Baylor and No. 11 Texas, had them ranked No. 5 behind Dana Holgorsen's high-flying offense. Smith was the obvious Heisman trophy favorite, and the likely No. 1 pick. At one point in the year, he'd thrown 25 touchdowns - and not a single pick.
Then, problems. The Mountaineers lost five straight to fall to .500 on the year, and although they won their final two regular season games, they finished the year at just 7-6 after a loss in the Pinstripe Bowl. Geno Smith wasn't anywhere near the Heisman Trophy, and not many people have him as the top pick in the draft anymore - some don't even have him going in the first round. When he took the podium in Indianapolis, he was asked about the team's rough finish to the year:
"We came into a new league. We came out real hot, we were fired up and ready to really prove ourselves. Inconsistency set in. I'm not going to say that anyone wasn't working hard.
Yes, the struggles were in part because they found themselves in a new league. BREAKING: the Big 12 is more tough than the Big East.
He elaborated that teams began to focus in on his team's passing game after games like his eight-touchdown win over Baylor:
"I think more and more they just sold out to stop the pass. We had pretty much some good rushing lanes. We had some running backs, we had a back who wasn't healthy."
"We had to put Tavon (Austin) back there at times. That really hurt us. We kind of struggled to move the chains and we weren't as consistent on third downs.
"So all of that and the combination was just what it was, not to make any excuses, coming into a new league, it was hard for us to rebound and get back on track."
Those comments about the team's lack of a running game are a little bit questionable. There was a player injured - senior Shawne Alston, who had 123 yards against Marshall and later 130 against Iowa State, who was never healthy during the team's five-game losing streak - but if he's pinning the team's losses on an inability of running backs to get the job done, that argument seems a little bit misplaced. Andrew Buie was fine when called upon, busting out for 207 yards against Texas, and although it is true Tavon Austin switching to running back against Oklahoma ikely hurt their passing attack, he had 344 yards rushing that game. 344 yards rushing! In a loss! Yeah, Tavon playing running back isn't why they lost that game.
Perhaps there was another reason they were losing, and not surprisingly, Austin - likely a first-round pick himself due to his ridiculous speed - figured it out, although its still somewhat surprising to hear him say it.
"Our defense struggled a lot. Teams were averaging 40 points against us. Hard going into a game when you know you can’t make a mistake."
Ding ding ding! You're allowed to throw your teammates under the bus if a) you aren't in college anymore and b) they allowed 38.1 goshdarned points a game, the 117th-best number in college football. Their defense allowed 39 points or more in every single loss they had, including a 50-49 loss to Oklahoma and a 39-38 double-overtime loss to TCU.
Fellow wide receiver Stedman Bailey didn't really have anything bad to say about the season, just that "adversity hit" and that the team was still able to get out of the year with a winning record, which is a nice way of looking at it.