The Times West Virginian

September 16, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU offense learning from growing pains

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — The problem with playing a bad football team is that, in the aftermath of the victory, it is so difficult to analyze what you just saw.

That, of course, is what the West Virginia coaching staff was going through on much of Sunday in the glow of a 41-7 triumph over Georgia State, a first-year Division 1-A school that just is not yet ready for prime time.

With that said, caution flags are being hoisted everywhere over the seeming progress that was made on the offensive side of the ball, from the emergence of freshman Ford Childress at quarterback to the depth that came forth at wide receiver to even an offensive line that found its identity with Pat Eger at center.

This is not to be taken as meaning what transpired before 57,440 fans at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday afternoon was either meaningless or useless, for it was neither.

“It was good to see someone make a play ... a single play,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said in the aftermath of that seven-point inburst against Oklahoma.

What was shown was a capability to make such plays, that you had a quarterback who was raw yet one with a certain flair and with the kind of arm that can pull off some of the same kind of throws Geno Smith made a year and two years ago.

Coach Dana Holgorsen had maintained when he came to WVU that you didn’t need a rifle of an arm to succeed in his offense; what this season has shown to date is that there really is no substitute for the God-given gifts of ability.

“Ford stood in the pocket good. He missed some passes that could have set up a really good game,” said Dawson in a telling statement.

To begin with, it is telling in that it showed Childress and Co. really were only scratching the surface in what is expected and that scoring 41 points, throwing three TDs and passing for 327 yards isn’t even considered a “really good game.”

This is crucial to accept because, as the year moves forward, the competition gets tougher.

This coming weekend it is a regional rival in Maryland, a team grooming itself to move to the Big 10 next season and improved enough to be unbeaten at present and carrying a chip on its shoulder for WVU, a team that has knocked it around for most of the past decade.

Following that you move into the heart of the Big 12 schedule with Oklahoma State, probably the conference’s best team, coming to Morgantown, so there is an urgency that Childress and the offense grow and mature quickly.

In actuality, the offense did seem to grow during the Georgia State game.

“I thought the second half we started to play with a little energy,” said Holgorsen. “We’ve kind of been focused on that all week of just getting guys out there that are positive with their body language and positive with their energy, and I thought we improved on that.”

That came with a growth in confidence, for these players who had not had any success playing with each other were discovering things about each other on every play.

“It was a frustrating game overall offensively, in my opinion,” Dawson said. “For some reason or another, we spit and sputter and drop balls or let a guy come through a gap untouched. Statistically, we ended up putting some things together to win the game. I guess that’s a positive.”

Surely it is, as is the stride made in putting together an offense with diverse weapons.

It appears now that there is the makings of a passing attack — someone to throw and others to catch — to go with talented runners like Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith.

If Holgorsen can create a balanced attack, one in which there are both deep threats and screen passes, one where on third and four it isn’t guaranteed the ball will be thrown, it will make the burden of having a freshman quarterback less troublesome.

This is crucial, for, as unlikely as this was to have been said coming off last season, it appears the Mountaineers’ defense is good enough that the offense doesn’t have to score 50 points to win, as it did a year ago.

Email Bob Hertzel at or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.