MORGANTOWN - By any reasonable gauge, West Virginia's offense during the first half of the season has been a rousing success.Relatively speaking - relative to last year, that is - it has been spectacular.Yet in Dana Holgorsen's mind, it has been, well, just OK.If that.
Take the Mountaineers' most recent performance, for example. That was a 43-16 win over Connecticut in which the offense at one point scored 31 points in a stretch of less than 14 minutes."Offensively, we did just enough,'' Holgorsen said. "We had a lot of opportunities because the defense was giving us the ball and the field position was good. We ended up making some plays, but it wasn't our best offensive performance to date. Physically, we got beat, which is pretty disturbing. But we did make some plays that got us in a position to win.''If this is mediocre, though, how would Holgorsen have classified last season's WVU offense?Through the first half of the season, West Virginia ranks fourth in the nation in passing offense, 11th in total offense and 12th in scoring. By comparison, a year ago the Mountaineers finished No. 54 in rushing, No. 55 in passing, No. 55 in total offense and No. 51 in scoring.
In truth, the improvement is not at all unexpected. At Holgorsen's last stop, his first-year results were even more dramatic. Oklahoma State was No. 61 in total offense, No. 99 in passing and No. 56 in scoring in 2009. In Holgorsen's one year there as offensive coordinator, the Cowboys jumped to the top three nationally in each of those categories.So why the lukewarm reception by Holgorsen over WVU's improvement? Well, because no area is close to reaching its potential.Receivers coach Shannon Dawson lamented the mistakes made by a receiving corps that is statistically among the best in the country.Holgorsen and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital constantly warn that Geno Smith is far from reaching his potential.
The running game has had one good performance all season.And then there is the line, which has made steady progress through the first five games. Perhaps it was designed merely to ground that group a bit, but Holgorsen lashed out at them twice last week in public comments."Physically, their D-line whipped us up front,'' Holgorsen said the day after the Connecticut game. "It didn't matter if it was run blocking or pass blocking, they physically whipped us.''
Then a few days later, he expanded on the topic."The protection has been decent, for the most part,'' Holgorsen said. "Saturday was not one of them. UConn did a good job taking away the run because they're big, strong guys and they gave our O-line fits and were collapsing the pocket. Because of that Geno was rushed a little bit, but he did a good job of hanging in there and making some plays.''Figure on that aspect of the offense improving after an off week and before the No. 13 Mountaineers (5-1, 1-0 Big East) play again Friday night at Syracuse (4-2, 0-1). If nothing else, Holgorsen and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will have had some extra time to bring that group back down to earth.The other thing the Mountaineers tried to do during the off week was maintain timing. And in Holgorsen's offense, timing is everything."You can lose it really quick. If you take a couple of weeks off, you're back where you started in August,'' he said. "That's the reality of throwing the ball and maintaining how fast you run your routes and knowing when the ball needs to come out of your hands. The timing, from an offensive perspective, is critical, and if you do take too many days off, then you're going to lose it, and you've got to start over.''Thus, the Mountaineers really only took a couple of days off. They are always off on Monday, then they went through normal Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday practices. They had two days off before reassembling today.
Then there's another six games to see if the offense can rise to Holgorsen's expectations."I don't think we're very good right now, to be honest with you,'' He said. "We did enough offensively [against UConn], but we weren't very good. You can take it for what it's worth, but that's where we are.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org