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Bob Herzel

October 28, 2013

WVU struggling to overcome offensive woes

MORGANTOWN — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

— Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”

No one will ever confuse Dana Holgorsen with Charles Dickens, which probably is fine with each of them, considering the situations they find themselves in at this very moment.

Holgorsen, however, has lived his own “Tale of Two Cities,” so to speak, between Stillwater, Okla., and Morgantown, he hinted on Saturday night after yet another loss, this time 35-12 to Kansas State.

In Stillwater, and previous lives as offensive coordinator in Lubbock and Houston, Holgorsen was spoiled with a seemingly endless stream of offensive talent such as Justin Blackmon, Michael Crabtree, Graham Harrell, Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Wes Welker.

So it seemed almost natural that he should inherit Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in West Virginia.

It was, after all, the best of times.

Then he arose one morning only to find the cupboard bare.

Not to worry, thought he, for surely we can work our magic as we always have with this offense of ours.

He possesses that kind of faith in his system, in the proven schemes that he runs, stuff that set records everywhere he’d been, including Morgantown.

Over and over, he had stated that his offense was not difficult to learn, that he would put it in three days, repeat it once, repeat it again and then work on refining it.

Only this year something happened. It didn’t work.

Why?

Why had not Paul Millard first, then Ford Childress and finally Clint Trickett been able to create the 400-yard passing games and 40- or 50- or 60-point scoring games so common in other years?

Holgorsen answered that question humbly in the darkness of Saturday night’s defeat.

“We probably gave ourselves too much credit, thought we could coach them up a little bit better,” he admitted. “We thought our continuity would take care of itself by playing together and practicing.”

What is hardest to grasp is that Holgorsen let himself get into a situation where he did not have an exceptional quarterback on hand to run his offense, that he either misjudged what Millard, Childress or Trickett would be able to do this year or really overestimated what he and his staff could do with them.

Either way, the quarterback play has been far below anything Holgorsen has ever had to deal with, magnified by a rebuilding offensive line and inexperience at wide receiver.

The result has been a football team that can’t compete with FBS schools, winning just one of six games against major foes, completing just 49.8 percent of their passes against them, passing for 1,394 yards with only four TDs against the six while giving up 60.9 percent completions for 1,807 yards and 12 passing TDs.

It has been a mismatch.

“The frustration level is high,” Trickett admitted. “I’m frustrated with myself and it’s obvious. I have to play better. I’m tired of ‘Oh, well, he’s hurt.’”

An injured shoulder that still is troublesome enough for him that he returned to the locker room just before the start of the second half to have it checked has been part of the problem, but not all of it.

It’s been a case of failing to get the job done in a lot of areas.

“They did some good blitz packages,” Trickett admitted. “It was stuff we should have been ready for. We didn’t execute.”

The same can be said for the frustration that came with getting just three points out of consecutive trips inside the Kansas State 10-yard line in the first half.

“We struggled in the red zone there in the first half,” Trickett said. “We should have had more points than we did. It wasn’t necessarily the play calling. It was execution.”

All of that, of course, has made it the worst of times.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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