MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen can readily identify what kept his offense grounded for most of the afternoon Saturday against Kansas State.Why it happened? Well, perhaps that remains a mystery.The Mountaineers gained just 338 total yards in a 39-38 loss to TCU, and that was with the benefit of two overtime periods. For the record, that's the third-worst offensive performance (in terms of total yards) since Holgorsen took over last year.Even more alarming is that two of those bottom-three performances have come in the past two games. The Mountaineers gained only 243 against Kansas State two weeks ago. The other low output in that group was the 291-yard total against Marshall last season, Holgorsen's first game as a head coach.
So, the simple reason?"They tackled a lot better than we blocked,'' Holgorsen said. "They whipped us up front. I thought the O-line played bad. The receivers didn't make many plays. And Geno was probably as bad as he's been since he's been here.''Indeed, quarterback Geno Smith had his third consecutive sub-par day. In the first five games of the season he was completing 81 percent of his passes for an average of just under 400 yards per game with 25 touchdowns and no interceptions. In the last three he's completing 58.5 percent for an average of 227 yards with five touchdowns and three picks.
Saturday against TCU he was 32 of 54 for 260 yards. He threw three touchdowns, but one was an interception waiting to happen until J.D. Woods made a play on it like a cornerback. Another was one of those flip passes to Tavon Austin that Austin turned into a weaving, 43-yard score.He was also rocked by TCU's defense, hit both in the pocket and on his scrambles. He finished with just one sack and 44 yards gained rushing (28 net), but he paid the price.West Virginia could also have won the game in several ways had the offense merely performed adequately. One first down with a 31-24 lead and 21/2 minutes to play would have iced it. Moving the ball just a little more to make Tyler Bitancurt field goal attempts of 55 and 50 yards a tad more manageable might have made a difference.
To his credit, though, Holgorsen admitted that fixing the problem was his responsibility."It falls on me,'' Holgorsen said. "We'll look at it and figure out what we've got to do to get better offensively. What we've done the last three weeks is total unacceptable offensively.''BrieflyNo one was around more key plays than freshman safety Karl Joseph. Unfortunately, that worked both ways.
Joseph was credited with eight solo tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. But he was also at the back end of a defense that gave up two wide-open touchdowns to TCU receiver Josh Boyce - 31 yards in the second quarter and 94 in the fourth. It may or may not have been his responsibility to pick up receivers who ran past Brodrick Jenkins (on the 31-yarder) and Ishmael Banks (the 94-yarder), but he was the one left chasing both.
Overtimes have not been good to WVU lately. Saturday's was the fourth loss in the last five overtime games, along with Connecticut in 2010 and Cincinnati and Colorado in 2008. The only win in that stretch was at Marshall in 2010. West Virginia is now 5-5 all-time in OTs.Smith passed the 10,000-yard passing mark for his career. He now has 10,134. He also pushed his total offense to 10,409, which means he should get the 121 he needs to pass Pat White's school record next week at Oklahoma State.Bitancurt is now fourth on the school's all-time scoring list with 310 points and should soon be No. 2, passing Paul Woodside (323) and Steve Slaton (330). He would need to average about 15 points over four more regular-season games and, if the team is eligible, a bowl game in order to pass Pat McAfee's record of 384 points.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.