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Was WVU's offensive letdown inevitable?

MORGANTOWN - Among the litany of items that constitutes Dana Holgorsen's to-do list this week, fixing what ails his West Virginia offense is not among the most taxing.

In fact, it barely bears consideration, even after that group finished with a mere fraction of its usual output Saturday in the Mountaineers' 49-14 drubbing at Texas Tech.

Sure, a few things might seem broken. That's hard to argue when the point totals that, through five games, were 69, 42, 31, 70 and 48, suddenly plummet to just 14.

But it also would be an overreaction to obsess too much about the 14 and forget the 69, 42, 31, 70 and 48.

"We'll go about it the same way we did the previous five games where we were successful offensively,'' Holgorsen said Monday when asked how to fix the offensive woes his team endured in Lubbock. "I don't think there's anything wrong with what we're doing offensively. I just think we had a bad game.''

It was bad even in a stand-alone aspect - 14 points, half of which were scored long after the outcome had been sealed, isn't going to win any game in the Big 12 - but it was far worse in a comparative sense. West Virginia had scored 10 touchdowns three times in the previous six games. It had gained 807 yards in a single game. It was unstoppable.

And then it was stopped. Dead in its tracks.

But perhaps, Holgorsen seemed to suggest, it was only a matter of time.

"I don't think anybody across the country in the history of football has been able to put up the kind of numbers that we were on a very, very, very consistent basis,'' he said. "We've got to find other ways of having other guys to step up and we've got to be able to win some games in other areas of the field as well, such as special teams and defense.''

Well, sure, that would be a huge plus. But given that West Virginia's defense has made a habit of surrendering nearly the type of eye-popping numbers the offense had created, well, winning with defense just doesn't seem like the Mountaineers' best option right now. And if there's a chance that special teams will win a game or two, don't count on it happening unless Tavon Austin is involved. Otherwise, kicking and covering have been nearly as problematic as playing defense.

So it probably is all up to the offense, which means it had better receive some attention this week in practice as West Virginia prepares to play one of the best defenses it will face, that of No. 4 Kansas State Saturday night at Mountaineer Field.

But again, Holgorsen isn't going to get carried away trying to fix a bunch of things that might not be broken. It would probably be wise to trust that the Geno Smith who threw 38 incompletions in five games is far more likely to show up Saturday night than the one that threw 26 against Texas Tech alone.

Aside from that, it comes down to just correcting what went wrong on one afternoon.

"It probably started with an inability to run ball,'' Holgorsen said. "We didn't do a very good job of finishing blocks early in the game and we didn't make anybody miss at the running back spot. But that wasn't the only problem.

"We just never got into a rhythm. Tech does a good job defensively. They have against everybody they're played. They're disruptive. And when we went out there and fell behind, I think our guys weren't mentally tough enough to handle another shootout. And I think that affected their performance.''

Toss in the obvious, which was that Smith wasn't hitting his receivers like he had the first five games, and it was all one big mess.

"It was a combination of a lot of things,'' Holgorsen said.

None of which are insurmountable. In fact, none of them were even all that unusual. The running game has stalled before. Smith has thrown his bad passes. The Mountaineers have fallen into a hole on the scoreboard. They have played in hostile environments. And they have overcome it all.

They couldn't do it Saturday when it all happened at once, though, and you get the distinct impression that Holgorsen was disappointed big time that his team - particularly his offense - pretty much folded the tent and gave up.

Now that, of course, needs work. But the offense itself does not.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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