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September 25, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Inept’ WVU offense is in good company

MORGANTOWN — It was obvious from the reactions across the state to West Virginia’s embarrassing 37-0 performance at Maryland that fans were beginning to believe Coach Dana Holgorsen’s once unstoppable offense had become as impotent as the shotgun of the 1970s or the split-T of the 1950s.

After being shut out by Maryland and held to seven points by Oklahoma, the only two major college opponents in the season’s first four games, there were questions about the offensive philosophy, personnel and coaching.

Holgorsen himself had called it “as inept as we can possibly be in college football.’’

Such talk makes one wonder if perception is reality, and so it was when the weekly college football statistics were published by the NCAA, we decided to see just where the WVU offense ranked.

Clearly it would not be up there with the Geno Smith offenses. The question was whether it was down among the bottom feeders who are happy if they can hang on to the football long enough to punt, and after six turnovers against Maryland the chances were that WVU would find itself among the teams it was trying to separate itself from when it jumped from the Big East to the Big 12.

What was discovered was surprising.

True, scoring the football has been a major problem and the 108 ranking is well deserved, but the fact that WVU stands 69th in rushing offense, 74th in passing offense and 72nd in total offense — while not exactly the results WVU expected when it ransomed its short-term profits to hire Holgorsen — weren’t at the bottom.

But here is what really was surprising.

WVU had some big-time, unexpected company.

Take that total offensive number of 74.

Horrors, right?

Well, No. 84 is a team named Alabama.

Not Alabama State. No, the national champion.

And how about these schools that over the years have been known to put up some big-time offensive numbers?

• Tennessee, 103

• Michigan State, 104

• Southern California 106

• Hawaii, 117

And passing? WVU stood at 74. Take a look at these rankings.

• Oklahoma, 73

• Michigan, 79

• Virginia Tech, 100

What is going on? That was the question put to Holgorsen.

“I don’t know,” he said after stammering for a while. “I wish I had an answer.”

He took a moment to think about it, then offered this.

“There’s a lot of people doing a lot of the same stuff. It’s so uptempo. Two weeks ago I looked at Oklahoma and I thought I was looking in the mirror,” he said. “This week, looking at Oklahoma State, it’s like looking in the same mirror. They are doing some of the same stuff. There’s a lot of teams doing a lot of the same stuff.”

Football, you see, is a copycat world where if it works, everyone runs it until someone figures a way to defend it, then goes back to the basics, which almost always begins with a run-based offense to set up the pass.

“When I studied Maryland’s offense, their offense looked a lot like our offense, a lot of the same stuff. There would be some different stuff with the quarterback run stuff, but a lot was the same,” Holgorsen said.

Maryland, of course, wound up with 37 points, WVU none.

“It sounds to me like a lot of guys are coaching it a lot better than I am,” Holgorsen concluded.

In truth, if you are going to run an offense, you have to know what you wouldn’t want to face defensively. No offense beats every defense. The familiarity with the offense is growing and as it grows, people learn to defend it.

“Is it happening?” Holgorsen said. “I think a lot of coaches are getting used to defending the same offense. Then you have to throw in some parity in college football as well. There’s a lot of good teams in college football. A lot of teams have a lot of good coaches.”

So there you have it. I’m not sure what, but it must be something because no one could imagine WVU being shut out under Holgorsen.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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