WVU looking for a balance
NORMAN, Okla. - When West Virginia and Oklahoma meet tonight in what is expected to be a sweltering Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, neither will bear much of a resemblance to squads that met last November in Morgantown.
For Oklahoma, that's more a matter of choice than anything else.
For West Virginia, it's a matter of necessity. At least offensively, there was little choice involved.
The Mountaineers, fighting to regain some semblance of their high-powered, pass-heavy offense of a season ago, face a Sooners team that has remade itself on both sides of the ball. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. (ET) and will be televised nationally by Fox.
Temperatures in Oklahoma are expected to reach into the high 90s today and still could be close to 90 degrees at kickoff.
That's not likely to do anything to warm up West Virginia's offense, although after a vanilla week one performance against William & Mary, that's exactly what coach Dana Holgorsen is looking for tonight. Not only did the Mountaineers struggle to score just three touchdowns against an FCS opponent, they had to resort to running the football in order to do even that.
West Virginia passed the ball just 27 times in the opener and ran it 44. Seldom in Holgorsen's coaching career has an offensive attack tilted so heavily toward the run, and it's not something he particularly wants to see happen again.
"I don't care much about stats, but we have to be more balanced,'' Holgorsen said. "What the heck's going on here? I'm talking about balance and everybody says it's an air raid and we throw the ball 80 or 90 percent of the time. I'm talking about balance because we can't get the ball in the air 50 percent of the time.''
Much of that, of course, has to do with a change in the passer. In Holgorsen's first two seasons, Geno Smith finished his career by breaking every meaningful passing record on the West Virginia books. That's the kind of offense Holgorsen likes to run. He doesn't mind rushing the football, but he does seem to mind it being the primary mode of attack.
But until junior Paul Millard - or Florida State transfer Clint Trickett - prove they can do more than hand the ball off, that's the way it might have to be. Millard is expected to start again tonight, but if WVU's offense struggles Holgorsen likely won't be shy about inserting Trickett.
Regardless of who is quarterbacking, though, he has to be able to run the offense and throw the football.
"I'd like to throw the ball a lot more than we did,'' Holgorsen said. "We're talking about throwing the ball 30 percent of the time. That's embarrassing. We're going to try to correct that, that's for certain.''
At Oklahoma, the offense has gone from heavy-pass to heavy-run, too, but by choice. Coach Bob Stoops held a month-long quarterback competition to replace four-year starter Landry Jones and chose a winner, redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who perhaps runs the ball better than he throws it. As a result, the Sooners resemble far more the option OU teams of the 1970s and '80s than the pass-happy teams Stoops has led the past 14 years.
"Offensively, they're not the thrilling team that they have been the last several years. They're going to run the ball,'' Holgorsen said of the Sooners. "They've got capable backs, quality receivers and big fullbacks. The receivers aren't getting the ball as much because their main focus is to get Knight the ball and establish the run.''
Defensively, too, both teams are different, but there it's for the same reason. Both were lousy a year ago - the Sooners primarily at the end of the season and the Mountaineers from start to finish - and both have tried to correct the flaws.
For Oklahoma, that meant altering the scheme, going more to a three-man front with a strong linebacker presence behind that line. A year ago, West Virginia gained a nearly unfathomable 778 yards against OU in a 50-49 loss, mainly because the Mountaineers put Tavon Austin in the backfield, got him past the line of scrimmage and let him run wild against a spread secondary.
"They addressed a lot of things in the offseason,'' Holgorsen said, referring mainly to OU's defense, which in games against WVU, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M gave up averages of nearly 635 yards and 46 points. "I don't think they liked how they ended the year last year, just like we didn't.
West Virginia didn't alter schemes, but the Mountaineers did change coordinators and worked on philosophy and attitude. The results in the first game were mixed. For the most part, William & Mary was contained, but receiver Tre McBride made two big catches and the Tribe converted a third down that led to all of its 17 points.
"You can say we played pretty well on defense with the exception of three plays. Well, three plays made us look really bad in the second quarter,'' Holgorsen said. "If you want to be a good defense you've got to cover. If you want to say we were good on defense with the exception of three plays, those three plays gave them 17 points, which is way too many.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.