WVU notebook: Passing OK, but WVU running attack missing
MORGANTOWN - It has been more than a decade now since West Virginia has relied more on the pass than the run during the course of a football season. Two things in Sunday's aborted 34-13 season-opening win over Marshall seemed to indicate pretty clearly that that trend is about to change.
For starters, the Mountaineers threw the football 35 times and ran it just 26.
But even more of a tipoff was the yardage generated by those plays.
While the passing game generated 249 yards, West Virginia gained just 42 yards on 26 rushes. The ground game went, in a word, nowhere.
True freshman Andrew Buie started and got most of the workload, but gained just 30 yards on 15 tries before leaving with what was called "an injured upper extremity" just before lightning delayed the game initially with 4:59 to play in the third quarter. He was replaced by another true freshman, Vernard Roberts, who carried seven times for 12 yards.
That despite the fact that coach Dana Holgorsen many times went with at least one and sometimes two fullbacks - usually Ryan Clarke and Ricky Kovatch - in the backfield with Buie or Roberts to serve as lead blockers. But few of those plays worked, save for when one of those power-formation looks opened the door for a play-action fake and allowed Ivan McCartney to catch his touchdown pass in the second quarter.
Later in the game, after the delay and after Roberts had replaced Buie, the Mountaineers tried the power formation again twice inside the Marshall 5 and got a Roberts touchdown that put the game away at 34-13 just before the final delay and eventual end to the game.
Still, the 42 yards - although in just over three quarters - marks the lowest rushing total by a WVU team in perhaps as long as 10 years. The 2001 Mountaineers ran for just 33 in a loss to Virginia Tech.
It seemed as if West Virginia used just about every combination on the defensive line except the one indicated on the depth chart.
That would be Bruce Irvin at end, Jorge Wright at nose guard and Julian Miller at tackle.
But Miller, who missed three weeks of practice because of an ankle injury, didn't start. Instead, it was sophomore Will Clarke, an end, teaming with Irvin and Wright.
Miller then came in for the second series, but not in place of Clarke. Instead, it was Miller and Clarke flanked around Wright, with Irvin on the sideline. The next defensive series started with Miller and Clarke again and Josh Taylor in the middle.
West Virginia's third-down package was also interesting on the defensive line. When the Mountaineers went to that, Clarke - at 6-foot-6 - lined up as the nose guard with Irvin and Miller on the outside, getting probably the three best pass rushers on the team on the field at the same time.
The other mild surprise from a defensive personnel standpoint was that Casey Vance, the fifth-year senior and former walk-on, played virtually every base-defense snap. He was expected to share time with junior college transfer Josh Francis, but Francis' playing time was largely limited to special teams.
BRIEFLY: West Virginia's captains - a group expected to change each week - were Keith Tandy, Geno Smith, Najee Goode and Don Barclay.
The Herd not only had to travel back to Huntington after the game, but faces a good Southern Miss team in its Conference USA opener Saturday in Huntington. West Virginia didn't have to travel and faces FCS opponent Norfolk State Saturday.
Norfolk State is 1-0 after beating Virginia State 37-3 Saturday.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.