When you think of WVU and offensive football, a few names and moments naturally bubble in the brain.
There was the Mountaineers’ 80-7 win over Rutgers in what was an otherwise miserable 3-8 2001 start to the Rich Rodriguez era in Morgantown.
There were the 1,744 rushing yards recorded by Steve Slaton in 2006.
There was the 70-33 West Virginia win over Clemson in the Jan. 4, 2012, Orange Bowl.
There was WVU’s mind-blowing 70-63 victory over Baylor during the 2012 season, the Mountaineers’ first in the Big 12. Quarterback Geno Smith had 687 total yards in that one.
And there was the magnificent 344-yard rushing performance of Tavon Austin against Oklahoma, likewise in 2012.
Now, this season, West Virginia’s offense is seemingly back. Although Virginia Tech is the only team one can consider a formidable opponent so far, the Mountaineers are still No. 2 nationally in total offense, averaging 594.8 yards.
Oh, and the pass is back. While the Mountaineers, behind running back Justin Crawford, can boast the nation’s No. 26 rushing offense (231-yard average), they possess the No. 7 passing offense, averaging 363.8 yards.
Rodriguez brought the no-huddle, spread offense featuring Pat White and Slaton. (“Spot the ball!”) And then Dana Holgorsen brought the “Air Raid” offense, toned it down with a rushing attack and now, with the help of offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, is flying the friendly skies again.
The question is, how do these offenses work? What does it take?
“I think it’s a mixture of the culture and the players and everybody being on the same page,” Spavital said this week in preparation for Saturday’s Top 25 matchup at TCU. “I’m a big believer in football is football. A lot of people do the same things. You just have to be on the same page.
“When you look across the country and see teams struggling on offense, you kind of see a disconnect. When you see the good teams, you feel like everyone is on the same page. From a coaching standpoint, from a player standpoint, everyone has bought into what you’re trying to accomplish.”
“I’d like to think it’s a combination of a lot of things honestly,” Holgorsen said. “You have to have your quarterback playing at a high level, which I think Will Grier is. Really proud of our coaches and what they’ve been able to do, kind of bringing in some of their own ideas and changing things up just a little bit. You have to play off of what players you have as well. We’ve been fortunate to have some good offensive players here in the past and currently as well.”
Grier is the nation’s No. 7 passer, averaging 343 yards a game. Crawford, meanwhile, is averaging 112.8 ground yards and leads the Big 12 in rushing and rushing touchdowns (6). And Holgorsen wants to keep those ground yards coming.
“It just really helps to manage the team,” said the head coach. “Earlier in my career at [Texas] Tech and Houston and Oklahoma State and even here a little bit we were more pass-oriented. We wanted all those 1,000-yard receivers and that’s all well and good. I’m glad our passing game is getting back to where those numbers are more appealing to me. I think Jake has a lot to do with that. But from the head coaching perspective, running the ball is critical. It helps the defense, game management and the overall mentality of your football team. I don’t see us getting away from that any time soon.”
Even TCU coach Gary Patterson sees the benefit.
“No. 1 they have two backs,” Patterson said of Crawford and Kennedy McKoy. “It helps when you have two backs. You can do things. They’ve been physical. They go inside; they go outside. Anytime you have guys with abilities, the more you have to do to stop them.
“They have a good football team on offense. With the wide receivers on the outside, you have to be very careful where you overload — whether the pass or the run. Guys have to make tackles in space or you can’t overload it. They cause you problems in both.”
Yet Spavital goes back to his mantra: football is football.
“Against TCU it’s going to come down to athlete versus athlete,” said the offensive coordinator. “It comes down to Will being accurate with the ball. They’re going to squeeze the air out of the holes. You have to sit in there and receivers have to win contested plays. They match it all up.
“I think we’re ready for the challenge, though, and to play in this type of atmosphere to show what we’re capable of doing.”
The game will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET and be shown on Fox Sports 1.