Thursday, October 18, 2012
West Virginia looks to solve offensive woes
By David Ubben
The frustration was obvious, and clear with every fist pound into the Lubbock turf after a dropped pass or failed fourth-down conversion in Saturday's lopsided loss to Texas Tech.
West Virginia's offense looked unstoppable through its first five games, all wins that propelled the Mountaineers into the top five of the polls.
And then, suddenly, it wasn't.
"I don’t think anybody across the country in the history of football is able to put up the kind of numbers we were on a very, very consistent basis," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We’ve got to be able to find other ways to have some guys step up and we’ve got to be able to win some games in other areas of the field as well, such as special teams and defense."
The Mountaineers rank ninth in the Big 12 in scoring and total defense, and are giving up 6.33 yards per play, eighth most in the Big 12.
Those struggles lack a likely immediate fix for a team that rode the back of its offense to a 5-0 start, the same offense that was suddenly undone by one bad day.
"It probably started with the inability to run the ball, didn’t do a very good job of finishing blocks early in the game. Didn’t make anybody miss at the running back spot," Holgorsen said. "It wasn’t the only problem, but we just never got into a rhythm. Tech does a good job defensively, they have against everybody they’ve played. They were disruptive."
It disrupted Geno Smith into his second consecutive game without a touchdown pass when throwing longer than 15 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Smith had completed 78 percent (43-of-55) of his passes against the blitz before Saturday's loss. Against Texas Tech, he was just 3-of-10. On his three completions against the blitz, he averaged just 3.5 yards per throw, compared to 8.9 over the rest of the season.
Even the receivers weren't immune to the bad day, dropping five passes to offer Smith little help when he needed it most. That total was the second highest since the beginning of the 2010 season, and in games when WVU drops at least five passes, it is just 1-2, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"We’ll go about it the same way we did after the previous five games when we were successful offensively. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what we’re doing offensively," Holgorsen said. "I think we had a bad game."
The defense has struggled all season, but it was worse against Texas Tech. It gave up 18 plays longer than 15 yards, including 13 in the first half. West Virginia hadn't given up more than 13 plays longer than 15 yards in an entire game since 2006, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"When we got out there and fell behind, I think our guys weren’t mentally tough enough to be able to handle another shootout. I think that affected their performance. We weren’t able to throw the ball down the field when we got guys open down the field, we didn’t do a good job of hitting them," Holgorsen said. "It was a combination of a lot of things."
This week's practice has been about fixing that combination, and if the Mountaineers can't against No. 4 Kansas State, they'll be staring at a two-game losing streak and slim, slim hopes at a Big 12 title in their first year in the league.