Bland running game among WVU's many issues
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — So much attention has been cast upon West Virginia's struggling passing game that perhaps a far more fatal flaw has been overlooked.
True, injuries to quarterbacks and a cast of inexperienced wide receivers have turned coach Dana Holgorsen's “Air Raid” offense into nothing more than some crop-dusting, but the fact that the Mountaineers (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) have been unable to mount a running game to take some pressure off the passing game and to control the flow of games has been a major shortcoming.
A year ago WVU did not have the backs to mount a strong running attack with Dustin Garrison trying to come back from knee surgery, senior Shawne Alston fighting injuries for much of the season and Andrew Buie an emerging sophomore.
Buie wound up the leading rusher with 864 yards, following a season in which Garrison was the leading rusher with 742 yards. Prior to that, which coincided with Holgorsen's arrival, WVU had produced a 900-yard rusher in 15 consecutive seasons, five of those years have two rushers of at least 900 yards and at least one 1,000-yard rusher in 14 of those 15 years.
WVU is averaging just 147.5 yards rushing per game, which ranks 80th in the nation.
Senior running back Charles Sims has 480 rushing yards through half of the season, putting him on a pace to reach 960, and Dreamius Smith has shown an ability to break a long run but no consistency.
The problem seems to be a lack of identity in the offense, unable to establish run or pass.
“I wish I was sitting here after six games saying that we know who we are, where we're at and where we're going. That's not the current situation, and it's not anyone's fault,” Holgorsen said. “We've played some pretty good teams, we have a lot of inexperience and we have some injuries. We're dealing with a lot of stuff that teams across the country are dealing with.”
The Mountaineers are 1-3 against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Maryland and Baylor, all teams that have been ranked this season. Holgorsen knew his offense did not have the potency of the previous two seasons.
“I knew we were going to be a work in progress. I knew it, and everybody knew it,” he said.
You don't lose Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Joey Madsen, Josh Jenkins and Jeff Braun without feeling it, but Holgorsen did say he could make quarterbacks out of straw, that he would have consistent 100-yard receivers and that the offense's deepest position was running back.
It hasn't happened.
“I wanted it to come together quicker,” he said. “What you have to do is line up and try to figure out what you can change. We had things we did wrong on Saturday (a 73-42 loss at Baylor) that we can work on today. That's what we'll do. We will try to get better at a couple of things each and every day. That's what the whole team needs to do, especially offensively.”
Holgorsen sees some promise, even in the ashes of losing to Maryland and Baylor by a combined 110-42 score.
“You can see some things happening that show improvement. Whether you want to believe that or not, you can see some things. We need to improve so we can win some games,” he said.
With an off week before facing No. 20 Texas Tech at noon on Oct. 20, Holgorsen has time to figure out what he wants his team to be and go after it.
Bob Hertzel is a freelance writer.