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West Virginia football notebook: A search for answers on offense

| Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, 6:08 p.m.
West Virginia's Tavon Austin (1) eludes Kansas State defenders during a second-quarter kick return for a touchdown Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia's high-octane offense scored a total of three touchdowns in consecutive losses against Kansas State and Texas Tech. What was once considered a team strength is becoming a weakness.

“I am the leader of this team, and I am the leader of the offense,” said quarterback Geno Smith, who was held to a season-low 143 yards passing in a 55-14 loss to Kansas State on Saturday and threw his first interception in 273 pass attempts, an NCAA season record. “As an offense, we didn't do enough.”

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson wasn't sure how to explain his unit's season-low 243 yards against the Wildcats. West Virginia entered the game ranked No. 7 nationally in total offense.

“I'm not a psychologist, but we're going to evaluate the whole group,” Dawson said. “I don't know if I have any answers. If I did, I would have answered it earlier in the game.”

The Mountaineers, who dropped to No. 25 in the Associated Press poll and No. 19 in the BCS rankings, had the ball for a total of 20 plays in their three first-half drives. Coach Dana Holgorsen acknowledged the limited number of plays prevented the offense from finding a rhythm but said the unit must make better use of its opportunities.

“There's no excuse for when we have the ball three times and don't move the ball,” he said. “You have the ball a couple of times, and you look up and you're down 17 points. You start pressing. We were trying to score 14 points in one play.”

“We didn't run many plays in the first half — part of that was on us,” Smith said. “We have to do a better job of staying on the field and putting ourselves in a better and more manageable down.”

Dawson said the offense is feeling the heat after averaging nearly 50 points through the first five games. West Virginia has been outscored, 104-28, in its two losses.

“It's a mindset. We're going to do a good job of trying to talk our guys down from that,” Dawson said. “It's really a confidence thing. We have to get our confidence back. How do you do that? You go back to work. You've got to have some success, and that builds confidence.

“We know we can score points. For us not to score points, obviously there's a little bit of an internal problem, panic or whatever. We've got to alleviate that.”

Bad timing for bye

West Virginia has an open date this week. The Mountaineers' next game is a Nov. 3 meeting against TCU at Milan Puskar Stadium.

According to Smith, the timing couldn't be worse.

“This is bad timing for the bye week, but I am going to use this bye week as an advantage,” he said. “I am going to correct myself. I am going to look back on what I have done throughout the season. I am going to figure out a way to go out there and score points.”

Geno, by the numbers

After going 21 of 32 for 143 yards and one touchdown against Kansas State, Smith is now 217 of 292 for 2,417 yards, 26 touchdowns and two interceptions this season.

Smith passed current West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck for most completions in a season and ranks No. 4 on the school's career list. He also passed Jeff Hostetler on the school's all-time season passing yardage list to rank No. 7 overall.

Smith ranks No. 3 in school history for most touchdown passes in a season. He ranks first in school history in career passing yards, completions, pass attempts and touchdown passes.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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