By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
West Virginia University is having trouble establishing an offensive identity.
The coach, Dana Holgorsen, knows it.
“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. 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,” he said.
The Mountaineers have played some pretty good teams … Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Maryland and Baylor, all teams that have been ranked this season. And that they are 1-3 against them isn’t to be unexpected, for certainly 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 tell us all that he could make quarterbacks out of straw, that he would have consistent 100-yard receivers, that the offense’s deepest position was running back.
It hasn’t happened … although he would add a yet to that.
“I wanted it to come together quicker,” he admits. “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 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.
A major part of the problem is that the players he has deemed his two best quarterbacks – Clint Trickett and Ford Childress – are injured and can’t make the necessary throws to run the offense the way it should be run.
This is, quite obviously, a superior offense if it is run by superior quarterbacks, but if you don’t have players capable of making the throws — or, conversely, catching the throws and making big yardage after the catch — you might as well not run the offense.
“The Baylor game last week was similar to last year’s except that we weren’t able to make those plays downfield. Last year we made those plays downfield, and it ended up a 70-63 game. We knew if we couldn’t do that then it would be a shootout and we would be in trouble,” Holgorsen said.
“We need to understand what to do. The guys are playing with effort. They care. They are trying. (Redshirt-senior offensive lineman) Pat (Eger)’s the new center. The snap is a little off at times, which affects the run play.
“The backs can’t hit it because the timing is all screwed up. We’ve got a quarterback trying to throw a post route to five different guys that he’s never thrown that to. Based on how fast the receivers are and the relationship between the quarterback and that specific receiver, the ball needs to be thrown accordingly. This is stuff that happens in the course of a second,” Holgorsen continued. “Last year, it was Geno Smith to Stedman Bailey. That was easier because they’ve been doing it for eight years. We got some to (junior wide receiver) Kevin White. That looked good. We got (redshirt-senior running back) Charles Sims loose down the field. We think good things are going to happen. We have to keep improving and getting better.”
“We try to attack, and we will try again. We are going to try and put ourselves in the best situation we possibly can,” Holgorsen promised. “If it doesn’t work, we need to do it again and again and again until it works out. You can’t use a magic wand or put some sort of a spell over them to make that stuff work. You just have to play. You need reps, time and practice. It’s a hard game, and we’ve played good teams. It is what it is.”
WVU’s bye week came along at just the right time, according to the injury report.
According to Holgorsen, junior running back Dustin Garrison and sophomore linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who had been the team’s leading tackler until injured, are nursing hamstring injuries but should be ready to practice next week.
Sophomore cornerback Ricky Rumph left the Baylor game with a foot injury but is expected to be able to face Texas Tech. Starting offensive lineman Quinton Spain suffered a concussion against Baylor but is expected to face Texas Tech, as is wide receiver Ivan McCartney, who missed the Baylor game.
Junior linebacker Wes Tonkery suffered a broken thumb against Baylor, and junior wide receiver Mario Alford has a shoulder injury that may keep him out of Texas Tech.
Finally, junior quarterback Clint Trickett will take this week off to rehabilitate his injured shoulder, and redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress is expect to be stronger with his pectoral muscle this week after Holgorsen held him out against Baylor, not thinking he was yet strong enough for game play.
“College football — everyone is dealing with what we’re dealing with,” Holgorsen said. “We have to regroup and get healthier, which is what I expect to do this week. We need to prepare for Texas Tech.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.