COLUMBIA, Mo. — When a football team is not especially good in one area during its season-opener, it’s easy to write off as aberration. When that same problems shows up again in the second game, however, it is easy to point at as a trend.
That’s where the West Virginia University football team is at with its offense after a lopsided 38-7 loss Saturday at Missouri.
Last week, in a narrow 20-13 win at home against Football Championship Subdivision power James Madison, the Mountaineers took some time to warm up before eventually pulling away for the win. That win, however, came with some causes for concern.
At the top of that list was the running game. WVU ran for just 34 yards on 24 attempts against the Dukes in that game. On Saturday at Missouri, the Mountaineers struggled on the ground again, carrying the ball 32 times for a total of 30 yards. That brings West Virginia’s two-game total to 64 yards on 56 rushing attempts.
“It’s never fun, no matter how many times you’ve done it,” WVU offensive coordinator Matt Moore said Saturday. “It’s never fun and I felt like we had gotten better though the week, then we come out and we just lay another egg.
“I just went in the locker room and told them right then that my guys are my guys. We’ve got to keep working. We’ve got to be on the same page. We’ve got to get hats on hats and we’ve got to get movement. [Having] not watched the film, I just know it was bad. I don’t know what it was, but it was bad. Whether it was miscommunication or guys trying too hard and falling down, I don’t know. It’s just something, at this point, that you’ve got to keep working.”
First-year West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said diagnosing the Mountaineers’ problems on offense is not difficult, but fixing those problems is much harder.
“Everybody that plays us is going to do this: they’re going to give us some kind of front where they make us block one-on-one situations,” Brown said. “They’re going to put one more in the box, and they’re going to play man coverage. Until we win one-on-one blocks, until we win one-on-one coverage and until we break tackles we’re going to struggle.”
West Virginia’s passing attack was not very good on Saturday either. Starting quarterback Austin Kendall threw two first-half interceptions before backup Jack Allison threw another in the fourth quarter that Missouri returned for a touchdown. WVU was in danger of being shut out for the first time since 2013 and only the second time this century until Kendall found Florida State graduate transfer receiver George Campbell for a 46-yard touchdown pass with 5:13 to play in the fourth quarter.
“Offense was a mess until the fourth quarter when we finally started being physical for the first time in two games,” Brown said.
“The interceptions, the first one [Kendall] went to the wrong spot. They played us in a one-high look. He’s supposed to go to the right, he went left. The second one, it was tipped.”
Redshirt junior offensive lineman Josh Sills started last week’s win against James Madison at center but moved Saturday back to his more natural position at right guard. Junior Chase Behrndt got the start at center.
“We just felt like we didn’t get everything out of Josh we thought we could get out of him,” Moore said. “At center, you’ve got a guy right on you, right now. Using his strength and his size, we weren’t getting the movement we needed at center. Chase had gotten more consistent with his snaps, and that was my biggest worry. So we put Josh back at guard hoping we could get more movement, just trying to get answers. You can’t just keep doing the same thing and expect something different to happen. You’ve got to change things up.”
West Virginia’s group of starting offensive linemen played nearly the entire game, and according to Brown it was not because they were playing especially well.
“I think it’s an indication that the guys behind them have got to get better because those five didn’t necessarily play great,” Brown said. “Nobody behind them has shown that they are ready to play.”
The depth on West Virginia’s defensive line took a hit Saturday when junior college transfer defensive end Taijh Alston left the game with an injury to his right leg in the second quarter.
Alston was blocked low and came down awkwardly on his right leg. He went down to the turf before trainers put an air cast on the injured leg and he was carted off the field. Brown said he did not have all the details, but Alston’s injury could be serious.
“We’ll visit more about that on Tuesday,” Brown said. “It doesn’t look good.”