RichRod’s First Year at WVU

Many preseason publications warn Michigan fans: Rodriguez went 3-8 in his first year at West Virginia, so expect a very rough year in 2008. However, in order to fully understand what 2001 can tell us about 2008, we have to take a closer look at the 2001 Mountaineers.

The Previous Year
In Don Nehlen’s final year at the helm in Morgantown, West Virginia went 7-5, including a bowl victory. The season started on a high note, with a 34-14 victory over Boston College, followed by a 30-17 win over Maryland, both at home. The next week, however, the Miami Hurricanes rolled into town, and pasted WVU by a score of 47-10 (keep in mind that this was when Miami was actually good).

Uncomfortably close victories over Temple and Idaho (29-24 and 28-16, respectively) were followed by a three game slide against Virginia Tech (48-20), Notre Dame (42-28), and Syracuse (note that this was before Syracuse became ghastly bad).

In Don Nehlen’s final home game at Mountaineer Field, West Virginia beat East Carolina by a margin of 42-24. Their finish in the Big East gave the Mountaineers an invitation to the Music City Bowl.

Though heavy underdogs, West Virginia upset Mississippi State 49-38, thanks to a career day by QB Brad Lewis, who threw 5 touchdown passes and directed the offense to 432 total yards.

Here is a breakdown of where the Mountaineers ranked in several offensive and defensive categories:

West Virginia Mountaineers 2000
Category Value Nat Rank Conf Rank
Rush YPG 140.82 64 5
Pass YPG 207.45 66 5
Total Offense 348.27 73 6
Points/Game 27.91 46 4
Rush Defense 146.45 53 6
Pass Defense 233.00 89 8
Def Pass Efficiency 121.39 66 6
Total Defense 379.45 69 6
Scoring Defense 29.55 84 7
Turnover Margin 0.64 23 3

In Between
Clemson Offensive Coordinator Rich Rodriguez was hired by West Virginia on November 26th, 2000. The Mounatineers returned starting quarterback Brad Lewis, though they graduated 2nd-leading receiver Kory Ivy, and a couple offensive linemen, but they did return most of their offense. On defense, linebackers David Carter, Cory McIntyre, and Chris Edmonds were the key departees. Kicker John Ohliger also departed.

Though Rodriguez didn’t inherit a world-beating team (The Mountaineers tied for 5th in the Big East with BC, whom they beat head-to-head, and as illustrated above, they were in the bottom half of the conference in nearly every category), their were enough returning personnel to expect a similar finish the following year.

Editor’s Note: I’m having a tough tiome tracking down 2000 and 2001 All-Big East Teams (even from the Big East office), so if you have access to them, please let me know.

Nearly every Michigan fan knows that Rodriguez went 3-8 in his first year as WVU’s Head Coach, so let’s take a deeper look at each game.

In the first game of the year, West Virginia traveled to Boston, to take on the Eagles of Boston College. Brad Lewis and Rasheed Marshall combined to throw three picks and zero touchdowns. RB Avon Cobourne was the only Mountaineer to find the end zone on that day, and kicker Brenden Rauh went 1-3 on his field goal attempts. Boston College lit up the scoreboard, putting 34 points on the Mountaineers. RB William Green took it to the house 3 times, and QB Brian St. Pierre threw a TD pass to Dedrick Dewalt.

In game 2, Rodriguez got his first victory as the head coach at West Virginia. The Mountaineers took on the Ohio Bobcats at home. Avon Cobourne ran for 173 yards and two TDs, and Brenden Rauh tacked on a pair of field goals. Brad Lewis threw for a quiet 134 yards, while rushing for 9. For the other side, Bobcats RB Jamel Patterson ran for a mere 53 yards, while QB Dontrell Jackson threw for 87 yards and ran for 34.

In game three, WVU took on another MAC opponent. Facing Kent State at home, the Mountaineers would ultimately walk off the field with a 34-14 victory. Avon Cobourne ran for 181 yards and 1 score, and Brad Lewis threw for 286 and two scores while running one in as well. For Kent State, Josh Cribbs ran and passed for a score each, while throwing 2 interceptions.

The non-conference schedule continued with a trip to College Park, Maryland, where the Mountaineers faced off against the Terps. They would head back to Morgantown as the recipients of a 32-20 loss. Avon Cobourne ran for 128 yards, but no scores, while Brad Lewis attempted 52 passes. He threw for a total of 279 yards with 1 touchdown, but also completed 4 passes to the gentlemen in the red jerseys (one of which a player known to the NCAA statbook only as “Whaley” took to the house). Wide Receiver Shawn Terry ran a kickoff back for a touchdown, and Brenden Rauh added a pair of field goals. For the Terps, Bruce Perry ran for a touchdown, and QB Shaun Hill passed and rushed for one. RB Marc Riley ran one in as well.

The Mountaineers didn’t have much time to rest, as they invited Virginia Tech into Morgantown the following week. The Hokies brushed off West Virginia without so much as an effort, shutting out the opponent 35-0. Keith Burnell ran for 2 TDs
for Tech, Grant Noel Passed for a pair, and Kevin Jones ran one in as well. For West Virginia, Brad Lewis threw a pick and Avon Cobourne was held to just 31 yards.

Game 6 found the Mountaineers on the road in South Bend, where they dropped a 34-24 decision to the Irish. Brad Lewis threw for 91 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, while Avon Cobourne threw in 169 yards and a TD of his own. For the opposition, Carlyle Holliday threw for just 70 yards, with an interception. However, Julius Jones ran for 2 TDs, and Tony Fisher chipped in with a pair as well. The RB tandem rushed for a total of 211 yards, with Holliday adding another 130 on the ground.

Relief wouldn’t come just yet for West Virginia, as they traveled to the OB for a night game against the eventual national champion Miami Hurricanes. WVU managed only a field goal, while the Canes scored 45. Clinton Portis ran for 76 yards and a touchdown, while Frank gore added 124 yards and a couple scores of his own. Ken Dorsey threw for 192 yards, two scores and an interception. Andre Johnson and Jeremy Shockey each had a receiving touchdown. Some dude named “Jones” threw 4 picks for West Virginia.

Looking to snap the 4-game losing streak, The Mountaineers next invited Rutgers into Mountaineer Field. It wasn’t pretty, as West Virginia pasted the Scarlet Knights by a score of 80-7. Rutgers’s only points were scored by Marcus Jones, who ran for 105 yards. West Virginia had scoring in bunches, with Avon Cobourne complimenting his 147 yards with 4 touchdown runs, Quincy Wilson running for 129 yards and a score of his own, Rego Cooper chipping in 65 yards and a trip to the endzone, and Cassell Smith getting a touchdown of his own. Brad Lewis threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Defensive back Shawn Hackett did the nearly unthinkable, scoring on both an interception retun and a fumble return.

With a bit of momentum on their side, West Virginia looked to get another Big East win against Syracuse. However, the Orangemen would triupmh 24-13. James Mungro ran for 78 yards and all three Syracuse touchdowns. Rasheed Marshall did the touchdown scoring for West Virginia, on 22 ruching yards (he also threw a pick). Brenden Rauh added a pair of field goals.

Next up for West Virginia was Temple. Though this sounds like a layup, the Owls went home with a 17-14 victory over West Virginia. Avon Cobourne ran for 103 yards, and Rasheed Marshall tacked on 95 of his own (and a touchdown). In his first start, Marshall also passed for 128 yards and a score (to AJ Nastasi), though he threw 2 interceptions. For Temple, Tanardo Sharps ran for 174 yards and Mac Devito threw for 85. The scoring was provided by running back Lester Trammer (who also had 30 yards) and three field goals by Cap Poklemba.

The Backyard Brawl was the last chance for West Virginia to come away from 2001 with a good taste in their mouths, but it was not to be. Pitt won 23-17 at Mountaineer Field. Rasheed Marshal ran for 40 yards and a score, while passing for 64 and another touchdown. For Pitt, David Priestley threw for 172 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception.

Let’s see how the West Virginia stats from 2001 stack up to their performance in Don Nehlen’s final year:

West Virginia Mountaineers 2000
Category Value Nat Rank Conf Rank
Rush YPG 181.09 36 4
Pass YPG 164.64 96 6
Total Offense 345.73 80 4
Points/Game 21.36 89 6
Rush Defense 213.18 104 7
Pass Defense 136.73 1 1
Def Pass Efficiency 99.37 8 3
Total Defense 349.91 40 6
Scoring Defense 24.36 51 6
Turnover Margin -0.73 98 7

The Mountaineers finished last in the Big East with a 3-8 record (1-6 in conference).

What have we learned?
Rodriguez’s first year struggles at West Virginia actually don’t appear to be too great a dropoff from Nehlen’s final season. The defense was alternately terrible (run defense) and awesome (pass defense). However, it was not a significant weak point, and shouldn’t be pointed to as the cause of West Virginia’s slide (it is important to note, however, that Michigan will field a much, much better defense in 2008 than WVU did in 2001).

In the offensive stats, the rush yards increased significantly, while the pass yards decreased significantly. This is expected to occur (perhaps to a lesser degree) at Michigan this year as well. Brad Lewis was not an efficient passer (96th in the country) and Michgian fans can hope that a sour-star recruit in Steven Threet can carry the team a bit more.

Turnovers seem to be the main factor in WVU’s struggles during the 2001 system. If you subscribe to the theory that they are mostly random, then West Virginia would have had a much better year if only they had a bit more luck. The system transition may have had something to do with it, but 6 picks thrown by the “Jones” guy, and 9 for Lewis and 4 for Marshall seem to imply that maybe the Mountaineers just had bad QB play.

If the past is any indication, Michigan shouldn’t have a catastrophic first year under the Rich Rodriguez regime. He has had time to fine-tune his system at the highest levels of play, and the personnel on the team that he is taking over is a ridiculously large upgrade over what he
had to work with at West Virginia. Many fans and pundits expect the Michigan defense to carry the load, particularly early in the season, which is somethign Rodriguez wasn’t able to do.

So, for those who see a 1-7-1 record in his first year at Glenville State and a 3-8 mark in his first year at West Virginia and predict pain for Michigan this year, I won’t go so far as to say expect a conference championship for the Wolverines, but a 34th conecutive bowl game is certainly likely.

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4 Comments so far

  1. Feelin' Blue says...

    Also, RR has more experience as HC at the FBS level this time around. It might take some time for him to adjust to new assistant coaches, but at least he has Calvin Magee joining him.

  2. EchoWhiskey says...

    Color me skeptical. The youth on offense is going to make the first half of the year very painful. The talent level may be higher than his first year at WVU, but the experience level is certainly lower.

  3. Markus says...

    The Michigan defense will be good enough. It will not be great. What keeps Michigan in the “good enough” category is an experienced and talented DL and a very experienced secondary. Linebacker is going to be the biggest question mark with Panter, Thompson, Logan and Mouton. They need to step up bigtime. LB is where Michigan suffered last fall the most, even with Crable in the lineup.

    Offensively, Michigan’s inexperience at OL is not so much of a worry to me. They are all big, highly talented (see recruiting rankings) and no doubt stronger and more explosive than under the A. Moeller leadership.

    All told Michigan football is staring down the barrel of a 7-5-0 season in 2008. But I would include in that some potential upsets of opponents. I expect a weak and confused start, but then a team that just gets better and better each week.

  4. Jivas says...

    This was a valuable analysis, and does provide some insight into what we can expect this year.

    Two thoughts:

    (1) Those charts are *infinitely* more valuable when shown side-by-side; I copied them into Excel and was able to compare the seasons much more efficiently as a result.

    (2) It looks like – perhaps because of the turnover issue – the difference in points scored from one year to the next is largely attributable to luck: while compiling the exact same yards per game, they scored a touchdown less per game in the second season.

    The key is, it does not appear that WV’s offense underperformed their talent level due to any adjustment to RRod’s offense, and while quarterback is a huge question mark for Michigan this coming season, if the offense can simply perform to its talent level then we should avoid a Weis-level catastrophe this year.

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