Struggling offense leaves WVU baffled
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia senior receiver Tavon Austin remembers when he used to enter games brimming with confidence that he was a key member of an unstoppable offense.
Fellow receiver Stedman Bailey predicted before the season that the Mountaineers could average 50 points a game.
After the first five games, Bailey's boast didn't seem so outrageous, as WVU averaged 52 points.
But, the Mountaineers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) have averaged 22 points in three consecutive losses and Austin doesn't know what to think.
“We were flying through a lot of teams, our offense was clicking. At the beginning of the year, we had no fear,” said Austin, who leads WVU with 889 receiving yards and has a touchdown reception in all but one game this season. “Now, we're making mistakes and pressing.”
“I really don't know,” said Austin, who also has two kick returns for touchdowns this season, including a 76-yard punt return in a 39-38 double overtime loss to TCU. “You've just gotta know how to finish.”
Asked the same question, senior quarterback Geno Smith offered a similar response.
Smith, however, added the solution to WVU's current problems can be found in Saturday's road game against Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2).
“I'm 100 percent confident. I've lost no confidence in myself, my teammates or my coaches,” Smith said. “We have a formula to win (Saturday's) game: Win one by one. That was the goal at the beginning. We've got four or five games left (including a potential bowl game). My goal is to win them all.”
Smith said the Mountaineers must rediscover their running game before they can re-establish the pass against defenses dropping seven and eight players into coverage.
In losses to TCU, Kansas State and Texas Tech, WVU averaged 98.7 rushing yards and just over 3.0 yards per carry. That includes 78 yards and a 2.2-yard average against TCU.
“We're not running the ball well,” Smith said. “We've got to be able to run the ball. When we should have stepped up as an offense, we didn't. We couldn't move the ball in the run game.”
Senior running back Shawne Alston returned to the lineup after missing several games with a thigh bruise, but he managed only 16 yards on seven carries against TCU.
Oklahoma State ranks No. 36 nationally in run defense, fifth best among Big 12 teams.
“I don't have any doubt in my mind. We definitely can bounce back,” Austin said. “At the end of the day, it all boils down to who wants it the most.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.