The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 21, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU’s offense is broken

LOUISVILLE — The time has come to take off the kid gloves.

Pitt week starts now. It started right after West Virginia walked off the field with its seventh victory in 10 outings, another tribute to a defense that may be the best the school has ever fielded.

West Virginia University needs a win over the Panthers to keep alive its last chance to win the Big East Conference, something that became a longshot back when it lost to Syracuse and Connecticut in consecutive weeks.

It isn’t going to get that win with the offense the way it is at present.

There’s no nice way to put this after the Mountaineers scored 17 points and gained 261 yards against a game but not very good Louisville team.

The offense is broken.

It doesn’t run well. It doesn’t block well. It doesn’t protect the passer. It doesn’t even pass well.

It is anemic in its production, isn’t improving in any area and, quite frankly, if WVU’s defense was as unproductive as the offense, the Mountaineers would be last in the Big East.

The weapons it was supposed to have turned out to be nothing but pop guns. Running back Noel Devine, who some thought was Heisman timber entering the season, has been chopped down to size, gaining 100 yards in a game only once in the past seven games.

If John McKay, the former Southern California coach, was the offensive coordinator and was asked what he thought of his offense’s execution, he would be pulling out his famous old line and answering:

“I’m in favor of it.”

It is so bad that they seem to be unable to do anything right, quarterback Geno Smith even juggling a couple of snaps and once actually being hit in the butt by the snap as he turned to call a time out before the play clock ran out.

There were dropped passes all over the lot, one a touchdown that was mishandled by wide receiver Ivan McCartney. He wasn’t alone. Tavon Austin chipped in, as did Jock Sanders.

The tipoff can be found in this statistic. Gregg Pugnetti punted for more yards than the offense gained running and passing … a lot more, so much that head coach Bill Stewart was willing to say Pugnetti was the player of the game for the way he got off his punts under pressure.

You know there’s something seriously wrong with the offense when the punter, not the quarterback or the star running back, is the player of the game.

What is offensive is that offense coordinator Jeff Mullen seems to be in denial.

Asked if he felt like the defense was winning the games and that the offense didn’t have a lot to do with it, he became defensive, even though it is a legitimate question in light of six games with 21 or fewer points scored in an era when teams are consistently in the 30s, sometimes in the 40s, and the best teams often get to the 50s or 60s … to say nothing of Wisconsin, which scored 80 a few weeks back.

“No, I don’t feel that way,” Mullen said when asked about the offense not contributing much to victories.

Did he see where the perception could be that way, he was asked by Colin Dunlap of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Sure,” he answered. “It’s a team game, Colin. It’s a team game.”

Indeed it is and, of course, it is foolish to think the offense contributes nothing to victories, but rest assured that scoring 17 points and 13 points and 14 points, as WVU has done in three of its past four games, makes winning harder.

And that has to eat away at a man as proud as Mullen, a man who puts all he has into offensive football, who does what he believes in and believes in what he does.

It just isn’t working, and when you ask him if he is tired of going home after games with 17 points to show for a week’s work, you don’t get the answer you thought you might, an honest, personal answer that gets down to the situation as it is.

“To be quite frank, we just want to win the football game and are ecstatic with the win,” he said. “Unlike the previous question, the kicking game has a lot to do with the offense and the defense. It takes three phases to win 3-0 or if you win 50-49.

“In my tenure here we’ve put a lot of points on the board at times and we’ve not put a lot of points on the board at times, but to be 7-3 right now feels pretty good.”

It would feel better if his offense had managed to score more than 14, 14 and 13 points in those losses. In fact, if it had just scored 21 points in those three games the Mountaineers would be undefeated, which is how they should be with a defense that has not given up more than 21 points this season.

The truth is that something is very wrong. It may lie in the players, but it would make more sense that it lies in the system, a system that goes away from everything WVU football has been and stood for over the years.

And now it runs into Pitt, a team much like itself in that it hasn’t been great offensively but has been solid on defense, a team with four losses but fortunate enough to have lost three of them outside the conference.

Looking at the way the two teams are going, next Friday’s “Backyard Brawl” could well finish 2-0 on a safety and, if that’s the case, it will be more cause for Mullen to celebrate another victory.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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