West Virginia has to start faster

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
9:00
AM ET
For such a high-tempo offense, West Virginia is not moving very fast to start games.

The Mountaineers have scored a combined three points in the first quarter of their two contests this season, and have found themselves trailing in both games after the opening period.

Rather than setting an early tempo, they have been sluggish. Of the six first-quarter drives, three have gone three-and-out.

That sluggishness carried over into the second quarter against Norfolk State last week, as West Virginia trailed 12-10 at halftime. You can imagine the locker-room scene at the break.

"Geno [Smith] stepped up and said a few things, I myself stepped up and said a few things," receiver Stedman Bailey said. "Just about everybody had something to say. We were very disappointed to be down to a team like Norfolk State at halftime.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Chris JacksonGeno Smith and the Mountaineers know they can't continue to start games slowly.
"I spoke to the receivers for the most part. We had a few mental errors in the first half, and I told them that we have to come out and play our game."

Indeed, West Virginia ended up scoring 45 second-half points en route to a 55-12 victory. But with a game at Maryland on Saturday -- followed by a huge contest at home against LSU -- West Virginia cannot afford to keep starting slowly.

"We haven’t started well offensively in two weeks," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Defensively, we haven’t given up any touchdowns, but we’ve given up some drives in the first quarter. I don’t have the yardage numbers, but I imagine we’re getting slaughtered on it.

"On the road, you have to try to start fast. They’ll be rowdy and have a tough crowd. It's hard to get the home crowd out of it, but starting fast is the only chance you’ve got."

The defense had a much worse start against Norfolk State. In the first quarter of that game, West Virginia was outgained 96-19 and allowed 21 total plays.

"The level of competition goes up this week and of course next week," defensive end Bruce Irvin said. "We can’t pull what we pulled last week. Maryland is a well-coached team and very disciplined. Coach Holgorsen and his staff stressed to the guys we have to come out fast, we have to come out physical. It is a noon game, it's going be hot but we have to play through it, and play like we know how to play."

Both Bailey and Irvin said there is no way the team will come out flat against Maryland because it is looking ahead to its huge showdown against the Tigers. Holgorsen said his players didn’t take Norfolk State as seriously as they should have, and that was the reason they came out and struggled.

So he’s got their attention. Now it’s a matter of making the plays that are needed. Defensively, West Virginia has to start creating some turnovers. The Mountaineers have zero to start the season. The pass rush also has to improve -- West Virginia only has one sack in two games.

Offensively, the running game has got to get better. West Virginia ranks No. 109 in the nation in rushing offense. For the offense to function well, there has to at least be the threat of the run. Smith has played well for the most part, and is one of the few players on offense who completely gets what Holgorsen wants to do.

“I still really don’t know where we’re at right now,” Holgorsen said. “This next week will tell a lot.”

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