WVU football: Roberts faces task in return to Lone Star state
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia assistant coach Daron Roberts will arrive in Austin, Texas, on Friday in charge of a crew of cornerbacks that contributed greatly to the 29 completions and 581 yards passing allowed against Baylor last week.
His reserves supplied enough depth to replace one of the starting cornerbacks for just one of the 92 plays.
He'd rather a happier homecoming.
The second-year assistant coach, working with cornerbacks after leading the outside receivers last season, is a University of Texas graduate who is from Mount Pleasant, Texas. He also understands as well as anyone the challenge for him and his charges.
It's not that No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) isn't as bad of a matchup as was Baylor. It's that No. 8 West Virginia (4-0, 1-0) can't have repeat results and expect to win.
The job before Saturday's 7 p.m. game (Fox telecast) at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is to find a way to change things.
"One is to be successful," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "The other is to probably man up a little bit and say enough is enough and get out there and work hard."
It sounds easy. It is not. Not when the last opponent finished with three 100-yard receivers - and one with 17 catches and 314 yards. Not when seven pass plays covered at least 35 yards. Not when the cornerbacks allowed receivers so much room to operate, but also couldn't defend the pass when they were in tight. Not when it's as seemingly obvious that future teams will mark their targets.
"I told our guys that offensive coordinators are not going to stop passing the ball because they don't want to hurt your feelings," Roberts said.
If the Mountaineers are planning any changes, if they're thinking about putting Brodrick Jenkins or Pat Miller on the bench, they're not saying it.
Roberts is instead confident as he returns to the scene of his prime, a place where he has triumphed in the face of tall tasks in the past.
Roberts earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Texas. It was the largest university in the country at the time and Roberts was the student body president in 2000-01 before embarking on his meandering career path that went next to Harvard for a law degree and then later veered off into the NFL before merging into college coaching.
The school matters to Roberts, though he's tried to keep his alma mater on the same level he kept Baylor at the front of the Big 12 schedule and will keep Kansas at the end of it.
He wants to win as much as anyone Saturday, but he still keeps acquaintances.
Annie Elderbroom and Becky Carreon were two people Roberts worked closely with in student government and he likened them to a surrogate family five hours from his home.
For many years after he left Texas, Roberts would have lunch delivered to them on the first day of class to remind them of his appreciation.
"He's probably one of the finest young men that I have known or worked with at this university," said Elderbloom, who worked in student affairs with student government leaders for many years before retiring and then returning to a different job in the university's administration. "He was totally respected by the administration and by his peers.
"I remember even back then that he told me one of the things he'd love to do was coach. I said, 'Well, while you're getting all these degrees and traveling the world for all these experiences, you'll have time to fit that in.' And he did."
He developed that drive as a student leader who used 12-hour days on the campaign trail to win the election against two other tickets and other obstacles. His vice presidential candidate asked out because of a family illness. He only won when he emerged victorious from a runoff.
Once in place, he did back then what he's doing now. Roberts observed and acted. He listened and replied. He looked out for the best interests of the people he represents. It was Roberts who first built momentum to keep all of the campus gyms open for 24 hours.
"That was before the 24-hour fitness clubs, so it probably didn't make as much sense then," he said. "There were people who didn't understand why younger people needed to work out at midnight."
Larger issues loomed. The school now has flat-rate tuition, which means students pay the same rates no matter the number of credit hours they take in a semester, but the school had to wait to enact it. It was proposed when Roberts was the president and his group was able to resist.
"The administration really wanted it, but they were going against it," said Carreon, a senior administrative associate who has been working with the student government for 25 years. "Most student leaders kind of give in to what the administration wants.
"But through conversations and meetings, they just said, 'We're not going to support this.' They did it in a polite way, not an adversarial way."
Roberts remembers the plan was to educate the people who would eventually get behind it and then build some coalitions and start subsequent movements. Things aren't much different now. He's surveyed the scene and identified problems and he's pushing back against a problem some think is too strong to deny.
"He was really good at getting people involved and participating, and what we find in student government is it's easy to find a few that really want to do things while the others ride along on everyone else's coat tails and take credit for what the staff does," Carreon said. "Daron got people to really do stuff and work on projects and put on events. He got them to want to make a difference, and that's not an easy thing, especially with young kids."
Roberts believes he knows how to connect with his players now.
He thinks he can find the switches to flip and recognize when someone needs room. In the wake of Baylor's tidal wave, he rounded up the cornerbacks, buried the experience and rallied toward what's next.
"I feel like at the end of the season we're going to look back and say that was a turning point for us, because now they can see what happens when we don't play as well as we'd like and when we don't play up to our own standard," Roberts said.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.