The Times West Virginian

November 2, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Air attack looking to get off ground

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — In each of its last two games, West Virginia University has scored 14 points.

Not in a quarter. In the whole game.

It has been somewhat out of the character that the Mountaineers established in the dying days of last season, when they went out and put 70 points on Clemson in winning the Orange Bowl, and carried over into the first five games of this 2012 regular season when the only thing that stopped the offense was the playing of “Country Roads.”

There can be any of a thousand theories as to why the offense disappeared, but the one thing you will not find is the Mountaineers making drastic changes to their offense or, for that matter, their badly overmatched defense.

Coach Dana Holgorsen so much as said so during a somewhat baffling press conference on Tuesday.

“Seeing as how we decided not to switch back to the 3-3-stack and we decided not to go to a 4-2-5; we decided not to start running the option and we decided not to go just 100 percent empty, just because we had a little success with it against Baylor, then we probably didn’t change much (during the off week),” said a sarcastic Holgorsen.

And offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson followed suit in his assessment of the offense later Tuesday evening.

“We just have to stay the course,” said Dawson as he began the week’s preparation for Saturday’s 3 p.m. meeting with TCU at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Why did the flood of points suddenly dry up?

Dawson doesn’t know for sure, but he has some thoughts.

“It is what it is. In my opinion, we played two pretty good defensive teams. Now we didn’t play well offensively. To play well against those teams you have to go out and execute. We didn’t do that, so to me it was a combination of them playing well and us playing poorly.”

Certainly, Texas Tech and Kansas State are two of the better defensive outfits in the Big 12, along with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, each of whom still lies ahead for the Mountaineers. That being said, though, they are hardly the Monsters of the Midway or the Purple People Eaters, either.

In fact, this TCU team that limps into Saturday’s meeting with two consecutive losses does so having scored 53 points in triple overtime against the same Texas Tech Red Raiders that held WVU to 14 points.

Dawson and the WVU coaches seem to be of the belief that things are never as bad as they seem, although when things were good they gave no indication that they believe the reverse is true, as in the saying that indicates when things are going good they never are as good as they seem.

To Dawson, WVU isn’t as far off of its game as 14 points and 143 passing yards from quarterback Geno Smith against Kansas State would indicate.

“When we watch film with them, we were this close to executing huge plays every game,” he said, holding his thumb and index finger narrowly apart. “Why did we execute them in the first five games and not in these games? I don’t know the answer to that. The only answer in my mind is to just keep doing what we’re doing and get better at it.”

The real fix may even be in finding some way to get a quick start.

After not having trailed in a game for 229 minutes and 13 seconds earlier in the season, WVU now has not led in 120 minutes.

“Starting fast is key for our offense right now,” Dawson admitted, and used it to point out just how small the difference is between good plays and bad plays.

“The difference between starting fast and not starting fast for our team in the past couple of games has been very marginal,” he continued. “We threw a laser behind (running back Andrew) Buie and there were zero people between him and the goal. We execute that, then you get some momentum.”

And as anyone has seen, this offense of Holgorsen seems to be one that feeds off itself, builds momentum as it goes along. Just as easily, though, it can be mired in a sea of mud if it doesn’t get untracked as it showed in a number of games last season, as well as at present.

“Those plays, where we have an opportunity to create big plays, are slightly off. We just have to keep pinpointing that and get kids in the right plays, then be more efficient,” Dawson said.

Quarterback Geno Smith puts it this way:

“Great teams, champions, do a great job maintaining things when the momentum isn’t on their side. When things aren’t going their way, they find ways to fight through that. Every game is not going to be as simple as you want it to be, even when everything is in your favor and guys are making the incredible one-handed catches we had in the past and we have great blocking all around and the backs hit those big holes. Everyone has an off day.”

Or two.

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