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Mountaineer Minute: The Answer to the Running Game is Practice

September 16, 2011
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - As unreal as it seems, in the days after they scored 45 points in a half on their way to a 43-point victory, the West Virginia offensive coaches are saying there's plenty going wrong, and that in general, no one is happy about it.

Clearly, these are not your older brother's Mountaineers.

The 55 points West Virginia scored last weekend were more than they'd scored in any of the previous 42 games, dating back to the 2007 UConn game, or a week before a loss to Pitt no one will ever forget.

In some ways, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said, having some flaws at this point in the season isn't the worst thing in the world.

''If we're hitting stride this time of the year, we'd either be very experienced football team or probably regress later in the year,'' he said.

The problem, the coach repeats ad nauseum, is blocking across the board. No one has been able to spring a runner for a big gain (the team's longest rush remains quarterback Geno Smith's 15-yard run on a third down against Marshall). On the whole, a West Virginia team that had an epic six-play fail from the 1-yard line against an FCS team last weekend, is ranked 109th in the country in rushing yards at 72 per game. Meanwhile, the passing offense is rated 15th at 340 per game, and in total offense, the Mountaineers are 15th at 412 yards per game. Despite these skewed numbers, they're not hurting the bottom line, as WVU is 19th in the country at scoring at 44.5 points per game. Rushing yards don't win games, touchdowns do.

Still ....

''How many yards you rush for is not nearly as important as the defense respecting the fact that you are able to run the ball,'' Holgorsen said. ''If they come into the game saying, 'you know what, they can't run the ball and we're going to drop eight all the time.' That's going to be a challenge for us offensively. I don't care about the numbers, I just want the defense to know that we can do both.''

This week, on the road against an ACC school, will give the Mountaineers a gauge of how far they are, and how far they need to go.

''When you go up against a good team on the road, they are going to expose some things, and we are going to continue to adjust those things that get exposed,'' Holgorsen said.

That may well be, but Norfolk State coach Pete Adrian was talking after last week's game and said he knew the Mountaineers weren't going to be able to run on his guys.

And they really didn't.

West Virginia had 39 rushing yards at halftime. It finished with 102, meaning through all 45 of those points, they moved the ball just 63 yards further on the ground.

But it was still an improvement.

Running back Dustin Garrison, who scored his first career touchdown in the third quarter, said it's a mentality.

''When you run the ball, you have to run with a purpose,'' he said. ''You have to focus. You have to have vision, and you have to have patience to be a great running back.''

Given Holgorsen's track record, and the idea that a bulk of the guys running the ball are true freshmen, you have to figure this will get fixed.

''It's called practice,'' Holgorsen said. ''When you're dealing with inexperienced people, there's nothing better than snaps in games and at practice to get better at it. We didn't decide all of a sudden that we want to be bad at the run game. We also don't call plays that will get our running backs' teeth knocked out. I feel that we've got coaches that can scheme up some runs. It's about linemen and inside receivers and backs being targeted correctly and being able to finish blocks. The backs need to hit the holes quickly. The only way to get better is to keep working on it, practice, and get experience.''

New Guys

A total of seven true freshmen have seen action through the first two games this season for the Mountaineers. They are: Connor Arlia (WR), Jared Barber (LB), Andrew Buie (RB), Dustin Garrison (RB), Paul Millard (QB), Vernard Roberts (RB) and Shaq Petteway (DB).

Of those players, two are from the Ohio Valley in Steubenville's Petteway and Weirton Madonna's Arlia, a walk-on. Petteway has cemented himself as a special teams player and played defensive back late in last week's game against Norfolk State. Arlia also got in late in the game for four plays on special teams, becoming the first true freshman walk-on to take the field this season for the Mountaineers.

A receiver at WVU, Arlia was a running back/linebacker last season for the Blue Dons, where he rushed for 1,232 yards and 18 touchdowns and had 36 solo tackles, four for loss, three interception (one returned for a TD), and three fumble recoveries (one returned for a TD) on defense. An injury limited him to 8.5 games.