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Harris: WVU's blame game includes everyone

| Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 11:58 p.m.
Tribune-Review
West Virginia safety Ishmael Banks reacts after losing to TCU on a two-point conversion catch in the second overtime Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va. TCU defeated West Virginia, 39-38. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

During the media's brief encounters with West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, I feel confused because I don't know which area of his football team Holgorsen will blame next.

In no particular order, the Mountaineers' offense, defense, special teams and Holgorsen's hand-picked coaching staff have felt Holgorsen's wrath, and there are still four games remaining (five, if WVU plays in a bowl game).

Confusing, to say the least.

First, it was the defense which failed to support the offense, which was fine as long as the offense was averaging 52 points over the first five games of the season.

Then it was the offense which finally cracked under the strain of carrying the entire team.

"Didn't get much help from the offense," Holgorsen complained following WVU's 39-38 double-overtime loss to TCU.

On the other hand, none of the above matters if kicker Tyler Bitancurt didn't miss three field goals and have another field goal blocked in overtime against TCU.

Did we mention that the Mountaineers gave TCU seven points when Bitancurt, who also punts, couldn't handle a low snap from center, and TCU returned the fumble for a touchdown?

See what I mean?

It's difficult to blame the offense for "only" scoring 38 points (31, if you exclude Tavon Austin's 76-yard punt return for a touchdown) when "improved" play by the defense still gave TCU 39 points. This following a defensive boot camp during the team's recent bye week featuring a return to basics.

Um, isn't that a little late in the season to start stressing defensive fundamentals?

Improved, of course, is a relative term when you consider the Mountaineers yielded 55, 49, 45 and 69 points in their previous four games.

Ouch.

Even if Holgorsen gives his offense and defense a pass, what about the uneven performance of his special teams?

And what about the failure of the coaching staff to have all three units performing proficiently at the same time?

"That was Dana's idea. I didn't balk at all," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said about calling plays from the press box for the first time in his coaching career. "We had to do something to make a change."

DeForest moved from the sideline to the press box against TCU while Keith Patterson, WVU's other defensive coordinator, moved from the press box to the sideline.

"I loved it. I was calm. It was so surreal up there. When you're on the field, there is so much noise and so much going on," DeForest said. "In my 23 years of coaching, I don't think I was in the press box before. I don't think I'll ever leave."

DeForest probably wanted to jump out of the press box when TCU connected on a 94-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, right after Austin's punt return gave WVU a 31-24 lead.

It was an inexcusable touchdown because the coaching staff failed to position a defender playing deep center field despite knowing the only way TCU could drive 94 yards in such a short time frame was via a big play like the one that occurred.

Maybe the coaches assigned a player (or players) to line up deep on the play, and perhaps in the heat of the moment that player (or players) moved to another area of the field at the absolute worst moment.

Let's hope that's the case.

Blame the players all you want. This one falls on the coaches.

"We had the game won. All we had to do was stay in coverage," DeForest said.

Easier said than done for WVU, which doesn't play bad defense when players are properly positioned.

Defense, however, isn't the team's strength.

Unfortunately, neither is the offense at the moment. Or special teams, for that matter.

And that's the problem.

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