By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It is easy to pin the problems West Virginia University has struggled with through a 2-2 start on the most visible of the Mountaineers: the quarterback, be his name Paul Millard or Ford Childress, which is why coach Dana Holgorsen has tried to deflect that and put the blame on himself.
The truth is the QB play has been mediocrity as it is defined in today’s game, but Holgorsen has been right that much of the fault lies with him for West Virginia has failed dismally in the most basic and crucial parts of the game, areas that fall directly under the job description of coach.
First of all, to understand this, one must throw out the two victories over lesser opponents William & Mary and Georgia State and concentrate upon the two top FBS foes on the schedule to date – Oklahoma and Maryland.
What has let WVU down?
True, the quarterback and receiver play, but let us look at three vital areas:
Turnovers: WVU has 10 turnovers in those two games. Against Maryland, the Mountaineers fumbled four times and recovered none and against Oklahoma they fumbled three times and recovered none.
They threw two interceptions against Maryland, one run back for a TD, the other giving Maryland the ball at the WVU 6.
Oklahoma had one interception.
Third down: In those two games, the Mountaineers were 5-of-25 on third down, 20 percent and certainly not good enough to create any rhythm in the offense.
Penalties: In the two games against major college opponents, WVU committed 15 penalties for a combined 125 yards. That nearly offsets the entire 175 total yards WVU compiled in the Maryland game.
Certainly the third-down situation is amplified by penalties, which make it far more difficult to convert third downs.
Looking at these statistics, you understand that if Holgorsen can’t get this straightened out by Saturday’s noon home game against Oklahoma State, at No. 11 the best team they may face all season, things could deteriorate rapidly.
Probably the turnovers are the most glaring of the deficiencies, but even with seven fumbles in those two games Holgorsen is not overly concerned in that area.
“It’s not like there’s one guy that we’re giving the ball to a bunch and he’s got a fumbling problem,’’ Holgorsen said. “It can be fixed pretty easy, and I think it will be.’’
Say Holgorsen is correct and the fumbles from running backs and wide receivers can be fixed and that since two of the quarterback fumbles belong to Paul Millard, no longer playing, you also can say that has already been fixed.
But there already have been two fumbles not in this category, being muffed punts, and we all know who coaches the special teams, Joe DeForest, who last year ran the worst defense in WVU history.
It appears even Holgorsen is getting tired of that act.
“Well, we could field a punt,’’ Holgorsen said, when asked how to fix the turnover problem. “That would be a start, because that’s been an issue.’’
An issue? Both muffed punts were lost, and just changing return men doesn’t seem to help as already WVU has used Jordan Thompson, Mario Alford and now Ronald Carswell, whose muff started the onslaught last Saturday.
Holgorsen is in no mind to make another change there.
“You can’t just keep playing musical chairs,’’ Holgorsen said. “You’ve got to believe in some kids. And I do believe in them. I’m going to believe in them a little bit more, and we’re going to go out and we’re going to practice and we’re going to get better.
“Their guy dropped two,” he continued, speaking of Maryland. “The wind was swirling. It was wet. (Carswell) made a poor decision. He’s inexperienced. He’s going to get better at it. I like his confidence, and I think he’s got the mental makeup to where he’s going to get better at it.’’
There is yet another side to the turnover problem that is being overlooked, and that is WVU’s total inability to do anything when it has a takeaway. To date this season, the Mountaineers have capture eight turnovers – this against all completion – and turned it into just seven points.
Somehow, the blame for this has been internally turned on the defense taking the ball away rather than the offense, that can’t do anything with it.
“We’re having a hard time scoring period,’’ Holgorsen admitted. “So it’s not like when we get a turnover all of a sudden we’ve got a killer instinct and can go out and execute the offense.
“But we’re not setting them up. We’re giving it to them in the wrong spots at the wrong time. Defensively, if we want to go from being good to great we’ve got to start making some critical plays in some critical situations and helping our offense set up scores. Or score (on defense) if that’s what we need to do.’’
Like you can pick where you are going to take the ball away?
Really, that’s what they are saying.
“We have a plan on how we defend certain field positions,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “Just like (WVU linebacker) Jared Barber. He had a shot at a key interception. He has to make that play. I mean, he makes a good play, but it could have been a great play with us having the ball on the 20-yard line going in.
“There are opportunities all the time. I’m challenging them to get more aggressive, more ball conscious when we have them backed up.”
Fine, maybe the offense then can start working on knowing the snap count.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.