One aspect of WVU’s football team that head coach Dana Holgorsen can’t complain about is his team’s overall health at the midway point of the regular season.
“I couldn’t be happier when it comes to that,” he said this week.
The same, however, can’t be said about Baylor, the Mountaineers’ Saturday 8 p.m. opponent in Waco, Texas. The game will be aired on Fox Sports 2.
The 0-6 Bears have simply been ravaged by injuries. Leading rusher John Lovett injured a toe against Oklahoma State and is said to be “likely out” for the WVU game. Third-leading receiver Pooh Strickland sprained a foot in the same game and has the same designation. Returning All-Big 12 defensive end K.J. Smith has been ruled “definitely out” as he battles shin problems. His backup, Jamie Jacobs, is “likely out” with neck/shoulder injuries. Another DE, Xavier Jones, is indefinitely out with a leg injury. Offensive lineman Rob Saulin is out for the season.
On an on it goes. Standout receiver Chris Platt is out for the season with a knee injury. Ditto starting punter and kickoff man Drew Galitz.
On top of that, players like offensive lineman Ishmael Wilson and cornerback Jourdan Blake have left the team. According to a report in the Dallas Morning News, BU has lost 41 players from the 2013-16 recruiting classes who could be eligible this season. Much of that has to do with the sexual assault scandal the university experienced.
“I have the same amount of confidence in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” said BU coach Matt Rhule. “This isn’t a short-term fix. And we’re trying to do it the right way. I’m not tweaking anything as much as dealing with some injuries.”
A WVU concern emerging from the Mountaineers’ 46-35 home win over Texas Tech last week was the team’s rushing attack. Justin Crawford was held to 47 yards and the team ran for just 44. West Virginia is tied for 49th nationally in rushing offense with 185 yards per game.“I think it’s a combination of mentality and [Texas Tech] being in a good spot,” said Holgorsen. “Their mentality was in a good spot as a team. I don’t think ours was awful, but theirs was really good as a team. They were much better at it for three quarters. We were much better for one.”
He said establishing the run in Waco will be “critical.”
“It’s not any more important than at home, but it’s critical,” Holgorsen said. “We need to run the ball better. I mentioned that after the game and told the team that Sunday. We’ve addressed it and have worked hard on it. You have to have the mentality that we’re going to run the ball, which I didn’t see last week. I saw it in the fourth quarter. I think we’re capable of it.”
Offensive line coach Joe Wickline was asked if the problems in the run game can be corrected.
“Every bit of it,” he said. “I mean, we’ve run the ball on good teams already, so we’re not concerned. We’re concerned about communication. We’re concerned about technique and fundamentals. We’ll continue to work on combo blocks and drives and fits, but that’s never stopped. There’s a lot of contributing factors, but we need to get better.”
A theme this season has been for WVU opponents to stack the box against the Mountaineers. Maybe it’s helped in regard to the run but, overall, West Virginia is No. 6 nationally in total offense.“Everybody wants to take away something,” Holgorsen said. “That’s every defensive coordinator’s mentality. They want to make you run or pass to beat them. They try to make you one-dimensional. Whether they can do that, I don’t know.”
Offensive lineman Grant Lingafelter smiled.
“When I was recruited, we were ‘Air Raid,’ throw it 80, 90 percent of the time,” he said. “Now we have a three-headed, four-headed monster in the backfield that people are scared of. I don’t blame them. Dana has gone more to the running game the past couple of years and that’s helped open the pass game. I’m not surprised. As a lineman, though, it doesn’t matter to us.”
As for the rushing problems against Texas Tech?
“We just have to stick to it,” Lingafelter said. “Last week a couple times we got behind the chains or down. We had to start airing it out.”