To help break down the teams on Texas' 2012 schedule, HornsNation will be conducting Q&As with the opposing team's beat writers to get a more in-depth look at that opponent.
For more on the Mountaineers, Carter Strickland talked to Scott Grayson of WVIllustrated.com.
Carter Strickland: All the talk around Texas is Geno Smith and trying to contain him. How can the Longhorns do it?
Scott Grayson: Few teams were able to rattle Smith in 2011. Syracuse did do it and did so with a ton of blitzes. That went against everything Syracuse had done all season up to that point. Dana Holgorsen said Syracuse blitzed on roughly three out of every four downs and did it in many different ways. WVU had a hard time figuring out where the pressure was coming from, and consequently the offense struggled.
In fact, with about four minutes to go in the game and West Virginia behind by several touchdowns, Smith gathered the offense on the sideline and proceeded to rip into every member on the offense for their poor play. He was also critical of himself. Smith is a very composed quarterback who rarely gets that frustrated on the sideline. It just illustrates how out of sync the offense was in that game.
CS: How much should WVU mature offensively in the second year under Holgorsen?
SG: The expectations from everyone, including fans and especially the coaching staff, is that the offense should mature even more in the second year. More because nine starters are returning from last season and received a ton of experience in the offense a year ago than anything else. The most interesting part of the Orange Bowl explosion was what Geno Smith and Dana Holgorsen did, or especially did not do throughout the game. They appeared to be on a whole different wavelength in terms of communication and as a result the amount of signals Smith needed from the sideline were far less than at other points in the season.
Holgorsen kept saying throughout the season that once he and Geno Smith are seeing the same thing, the offense will move to another level. That happened in the Orange Bowl.
CS: What are the realistic expectations for WVU in the first year of the Big 12?
SG: Fans here in Morgantown will tell you the realistic expectation is to win the Big 12 title. The team is focused on pursuing a national championship, so I would say WVU expects to win the Big 12.
The schedule is set up favorably for WVU to make a run for that title this fall. By far, the toughest road game is at Texas. WVU has the other so-called preseason contenders Oklahoma, Kansas State and TCU at home.
The biggest question for West Virginia is its defense. Will it be able to hold opponents to fewer points than the WVU offense can score? Everyone looks at the WVU offense, but the key to a Big 12 title for West Virginia may lie in its defensive successes or failures.
CS: What has WVU done to upgrade its defense?
SG: First and foremost, WVU changed its defense from a 3-3-5 odd stack under Jeff Casteel to a 3-4 under co-defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. DeForest challenged the defense to force 46 turnovers throughout spring practice. The Mountaineers met that goal. WVU forced 23 turnovers in 2011. That is a little deceiving because the Mountaineers forced 10 of those 23 turnovers in their last four games.
DeForest, like Holgorsen, knows the Big 12. He came to WVU from Oklahoma State. DeForest and Patterson both were pleased with the speed at which the defensive players picked up the new defensive scheme.
CS: How about picking a prediction?
SG: I see this as a very close game. I think this could come down to who has the ball last. West Virginia's biggest weakness on defense might be in the secondary, but neither of the quarterbacks at Texas appear to be taking full custody of the starting job. Given that, WVU must do a good job of stopping the run in this game. If that happens, Texas could have a hard time moving the ball and that will give the WVU offense plenty of opportunities and good field position to rack up some points.
If Texas can get its running game going and give the passing game time to develop, then it could be a long day for the WVU defense.
I will pick WVU to win a tight one, 37-34.