MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — It is a phrase born out of politics, and scholars are unsettled upon who really said it first, but the words eventually found their way from the floor of Parliament in England onto the gridiron in sports.
No matter who said it first — and Benjamin Disraeli is most often given credit, thanks to Mark Twain citing him as the man who coined the phrase — it fits too perfectly not to offer it up as West Virginia prepares to play Virginia Tech in the Black Diamond Trophy game of 2022 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night in Blacksburg.
“There are three types of lies: lies, (darn) lies and statistics,” is the quote, and no matter who thought it up, in this age of analytics in sports, it fits better than it ever has.
If one is to look at the statistics, one might wonder if WVU has any chance at all in this one against a Hokie defense that through three games — one quarter of the regular season — ranks third in the nation in rushing defense, allowing a paltry 42 yards a game on the ground; fifth in total defense, giving up 201 yards by land and air per game; and 15th against the pass, giving up 159 yards a game.
Is this a lie, a (darn) lie or a statistic to be believed?
One tends to lean toward the (darn)ed lie, for while Virginia Tech is off to a 2-1 start, one of its wins is over woeful Wofford, and there is also an embarrassing loss to Old Dominion in the season opener. The second win did come against an ACC opponent in Boston College — but it is not the Boston College offense of Doug Flutie, to say the least.
This game will prove just what the Hokies have defensively as WVU is a legitimate offensive threat by land or air, although that 65-point, 624-yard offensive outburst from Saturday is certainly more (darn) lie than statistic as it came as the expense of a seriously deficient Towson defense.
However, WVU’s offense is legitimatized by showing up big-time against two solid FBS programs in rival Pitt and Big 12 rival Kansas, which little doubt that it is the real thing by building upon its win over the Mountaineers by beating Dana Holgorsen’s Houston team with another strong offensive showing.
Certainly, WVU head coach Neal Brown is taking the Virginia Tech defense seriously.
“They play physical, and they’re not missing tackles,” the West Virginia coach said. “They want to put a lot of pressure on you, and they will blitz us more than anybody we’ve played so far, and they do a good job of mixing up their coverages.”
The Mountaineers have more than enough weapons to counter this, unless the Tech defense is the real deal.
Quarterback JT Daniels in three games has showed himself to be a fearless, brainy competitor with a number of solid receivers led by Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Kaden Prather and Sam James.
Operating behind an experienced offensive line is a duo of running threats in freshman sensation CJ Donaldson, who has two 100-yard games in three outings and owns six touchdowns, and Tony Mathis, the starter who is of a different style but equally effective so far.
In the end, it comes down to Daniels to keep the offense running no matter who is on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
“If your quarterback plays well, you have a chance to win every week,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said this week. “If he doesn’t play well, you don’t have much of a chance.”
That’s a lesson Virginia Tech has learned with Marshall transfer Grant Wells at QB. The opening loss to Old Dominion rested on his shoulders as he threw four interceptions, but he has settled down since and has not given up an INT in his past 63 tries.
And WVU’s secondary, which is without its best cover corner in Charles Woods, who had ankle surgery and may be out for a while, is vulnerable.
That puts more emphasis on the pass rush, and this brings us to defensive tackle Dante Stills, who comes into the game with 46.5 career tackles for a loss, one shy of the school record of 47.5 by Grant Wiley in the early 2000s.
Make no doubt, WVU understands this in-season trophy game is being approached as a critical challenge.
“We’ve got to embrace this,” Brown said. “This is our second shot here in prime time on a Thursday night. We played well, but not well enough, to win the first time. Now we’ve got another opportunity, and we’ve got to go out and make the most of it.”
A 1-3 start with losses to both Pitt and Virginia Tech would put Brown’s job in jeopardy.
The series with Virginia Tech goes back 110 years to 1912, but it heated up to a fever pitch during the Big East years. After the Hokies left the Big East and jumped to the ACC to help ignite this rush toward conference realignment, the series went on a 12-year hiatus.
It came back for a one-game, neutral-field shot in 2017, and then was reignited last year on a two-year contract, WVU pulling out a 27-21 victory.
That gave the Mountaineers a 29-23-1 lead in the all-time series as they head to Blacksburg for the first time since 2004.
“I’ve never been there, and I’m looking forward to going down there and experiencing it for the first time,” Neal Brown said. “Several of our coaches have played there and have done a good job of talking about it.”