Having trouble putting a finger on why the West Virginia University football team’s run game is so bad? That’s because you need a few fingers.
It’s not one thing that’s holding back the Mountaineers as a running team, offensive coordinator Matt Moore said. It’s several. And they all can crop up at different times.
“It’s whether we do something incorrect up front and get on the wrong hat,” he said, “whether the fullback or tight end doesn’t fit the right thing or maybe the running back makes the wrong read.”
In WVU’s loss to Iowa State — where, after a couple of pretty good rushing performances, the Mountaineers crashed back to earth with an anemic 41 yards on 28 carries — Moore said there were five negative rushing plays. On two of them, the offensive line was to blame. On another, it was the tight end. On the other two, the running back made the wrong read.
West Virginia’s isn’t an offense that can weather mistakes. Youth plays a part. Of the 10 offensive linemen on the Mountaineers’ two-deep, seven are sophomores or younger. Mistakes from inexperience are bound to happen, but they can’t.
“We’ve got guys from a discipline standpoint not doing the right thing every single time,” Moore said. “And we’re not talented enough right now to overcome that kind of stuff.”
None of the numbers are good. Last Saturday was the third game of six where WVU averaged fewer than 2 yards per carry. The Mountaineers are 125th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards per game (94.33) and one of just seven teams in the FBS averaging fewer than 100. They’re 120th in yards per carry (3.09) and tied for 95th with seven rushing touchdowns.
And this is in a conference where half the teams are in the FBS top 40 in rushing yards per game. The next closest Big 12 team to WVU in the rushing charts is Iowa State, which is tied for 76th at 156.83 yards per game.
So when it comes to run-game futility, the Mountaineers are in a class of their own in the Big 12 — and the WVU passing game might be a culprit in that.
That part of the offense is in no great shape either, ranked 72nd at 231.8 yards per game. A more telling stat is that WVU is tied for 106th in yards per attempt at just 6.4.
The Mountaineer pass game is no threat to stretch a defense. If the ball is caught, it’s probably going to get caught in front of the secondary, so everyone from the linebackers on back can creep in. More defenders closer to the line of scrimmage means fewer openings for the running backs to dart through.
And if you thought all that was bad, here’s where it might get worse.
WVU coach Neal Brown said Thursday night that quarterback Austin Kendall, who was injured against ISU and didn’t finish that game, would start against the Sooners. How much the “chest area” injury he suffered against the Cyclones will linger on Saturday remains to be seen, but he’s only averaging 6.5 yards per attempt when he’s healthy.
If he gets hurt again, that likely leaves the passing up to Jack Allison and Trey Lowe. Allison averaged all of 5.8 yards per attempt in relief on Kendall versus ISU. Lowe has thrown two passes for zero yards in his Mountaineer career.
And WVU isn’t facing the Oklahoma defense that, last year, was a Sooner sieve in giving up nearly 454 yards per game. OU has cut that down to 340.3 yards per game this season and its 20.3 points allowed per game is 31st nationally.
A saving grace (if you can call it that) is that Oklahoma’s run defense is 51st in allowing a shade over 140 yards per game. Life, though, doesn’t get any easier from there. Future foe TCU is 18th nationally in run defense. Baylor is 28th.
How can West Virginia counteract that? Every facet of the run game needs to be as precise as possible. Whoever lines up under center could connect on some downfield throws to give the running backs some breathing room.
Until then, WVU’s offense should be reaaallllly nice to its defense.