When the Offense Stalls, So Do the Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN – It was one thing when West Virginia was giving up 35 points per game and scoring 52.

It was winning games.

But after Saturday’s 55-14 bludgeoning by No. 4 Kansas State in a game in which the Mountaineers didn’t score until they trailed 24-0 and nearly 26 minutes had passed (and that came on a special team’s return), they’ve scored 28 points and given up 104 in the last two games – both losses – where they were favored to win.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen likes to talk about the continual developments on “all three sides of the ball.”

At the moment, two of them are flat, with a third leaking its share of air. Tavon Austin’s 100-yard kickoff return notwithstanding, there’s really not a whole lot about this team’s kicking game that is “special.”

“We just got beat every which way you could possibly get beat,” WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.

Offensively, they’ve slumped miserably during these last two games, sending them from what was a top-five team ranking two weeks ago to one that will merely be receiving votes this afternoon.


“We couldn’t get in a rhythm,” Holgorsen said. “We had the ball three times (in the first half). It’s hard to get in rhythm when you do that. Not to make excuses because the three times we had the ball, we didn’t move it.”

They’ve actually regressed defensively, too.

Kansas State scored the first eight times it touched the ball and on 9 of 10 possessions game-long. It was generally thought the Mountaineers defense already hit rock bottom a week earlier.

Now, they’re looking up at it.

“Right now we’re just not getting the job done,” defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. “They can’t score every time they touch the ball until the fourth quarter when it was over. We have to do a better job of creating turnovers, three-and-outs, tackling. When we get them in a passing situation, we have to get off the field”

In the first half, when things were somewhat still in doubt, K-State scored four touchdowns and a field goal on five drives and averaged 8.8 yards per snap (nearly triple what WVU had per play on 19 more snaps than the Mountaineers).

It got no better in the second half. The Mountaineers had a holding penalty that wiped out a fine kickoff return by Austin to open things, then Geno Smith was intercepted for the first time all season – and first in 326 attempts dating back to last season.

Kansas State kept on scoring with quarterback Collin Klein throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass and blowing by Smith on the Heisman lists in the process two plays into the second half. He wound up with four rushing touchdowns and three passing, a fine-looking – and attention grabbing – line of 19 of 21 for 323 yards, plus 12 carries for 41 yards, and seven touchdowns responsible for.

“He doesn’t do anything wrong,” Holgorsen said of Klein. “He’s the same guy we saw on film. He is exactly the same guy we thought he would be. He’s hard to tackle, he gets in good plays and doesn’t turn the ball over.”

Smith wound up throwing two interceptions (both within a six-attempt span where he was also sacked twice) and was 21 of 32 for 143 yards with four sacks in what was one of his worst showings as a starter at WVU. Thirteen yards was his longest pass completion.

“You start pressing, it’s inevitable,” Holgorsen said.

Some figured if anyone was going to test a Kansas State defense that hadn’t given up more than 21 points in any game all season, it was Smith and his Mountaineers.

The West Virginia offense never came close during the first three quarters. The Mountaineers reached the red zone once early in the fourth quarter before turning it over on downs, then later scored on a short touchdown pass from Smith to Austin with the Wildcats leading by 45 prior to the TD.

“We were trying to score 14 points on one play,” Holgorsen said. “That’s just not very good offensive football. You can’t have that mindset, you can’t have that mentality.”

All of this came against a Mountaineers team that was gunning for its fifth straight victory against a ranked team.

That was possible when they were scoring 70. Notsomuch when they’re scoring 14.