WVU offense evolving into power-based running attack
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After building his reputation by running a wide-open offense that has rewritten passing records at West Virginia, coach Dana Holgorsen may have to swallow his pride to save his program by turning to the running game and a physical approach.
After winning 15 of his first 18 games since replacing Bill Stewart as coach and lifting the Mountaineers as high as No. 5 in the nation, Holgorsen's WVU team is 6-11 in its past 17 games.
A year ago it was mostly defensive problems dragging the team down, but between last year's dismal showing against Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl and through a 4-5 start this season, the offense has been dismal. When WVU fell behind TCU, 17-3, last week, something dramatic had to take place. What emerged was an out-of-character run-oriented power game that led to a 30-27 overtime win.
“Our offensive struggles last year were mainly because we could not run the ball very well,” Holgorsen said as he readied for Saturday's 7 p.m. game with Texas (6-2, 5-0 Big 12). “Going back and studying the tape last year against Texas, we ran the ball well. Why that did not carry over to the next couple of games, I am not sure.”
Clint Trickett, the WVU quarterback, is not Geno Smith and this receiver group doesn't have Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
The best offensive player is Charles Sims, a running back, and in the end the offense rests with him.
“It's an evolution of probably where we're going anyway,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “People are covering pretty good. Football kind of goes in waves and, if you look right now, people are covering pretty good. If you don't have the ability to run the ball, it limits you in games like that TCU game. When you have teams who smother like that, what are you going to do, throw it 65 times?”
Dawson says there was a time when they still might have attacked through the air.
“We're getting away from the infatuation with having the leading offense to doing what it takes to win the game,” Dawson said. “I think, in the past, if you look at me in general, there were a lot of reasons I threw the ball so much and one was probably an ego thing.
“If you look where we came from and the people involved, then it will attest to that. But our mindset now is in the present to do what it takes to win the game. There's times you have to run the ball.”
Trickett noticed a change in the offensive approach at TCU.
“To an extent,” he said. “They were doing some different looks we haven't gotten before, so we ran. We really hadn't been running the ball very well, but the offensive line came together and Charles (Sims) kept doing what he's been doing, which is being a phenomenal player.”
Trickett says it's a reaction to the defenses they are facing.
“Luckily, we have such good offensive linemen and running backs that when they do drop eight guys and rush three, we'll run it. If they only five or six in the box, we'll hand off. When they start loading the box, we'll throw screens and all that,” Trickett said.
“It's still the same offense, but I'm sure it's different than it was five years ago or three years ago or even last year.”
Bob Hertzel is a freelance writer.