Blocking, tempo a concern for WVU offense
MORGANTOWN - There was no official betting line on the Norfolk State-West Virginia football game.
Unofficially, it was about 44 points. WVU almost covered that, winning 55-12 in front of 51,911 fans at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The line, though, was a big concern through the first half. The Mountaineer offensive line, that is.
I know, it's tough to nitpick when a team wins by 43 points. But last week the Mountaineers had 42 rushing yards in a shortened game. On Saturday, they had 102 ground yards against a team picked to finish fourth in the MEAC.
At one point, WVU had six tries to score from the NSU 1-yard line. They were all unsuccessful. A field goal was the result.
It led to boos. It led to the visiting Spartans hitting halftime with a 12-10 lead.
All that, you might know, was wiped out in the second half. WVU quarterback Geno Smith threw for 371 yards and four touchdowns. The Mountaineers wore down the visitors and rolled to the big win.
Still, there remained a concern with Maryland looming at College Park this coming Saturday. There remained a big concern with LSU in the immediate future. WVU coach Dana Holgorsen didn't try to hide the concern.
"Offensively, they were giving us the run all night and we weren't sustaining our blocks," he said during the post-game press conference.
Later, he expounded.
"The run game was not good," Holgorsen said. "Usually, we're targeted right. But we're not finishing blocks. We're just not. Some of it are our running backs, who are young and not getting it. It's not what we want right now. We've got to get better.
"Pass-protection-wise, we're fine. They were rushing three and dropping everybody."
Indeed, Smith was sacked but once. Backup Paul Millard wasn't sacked in mop-up duty. But the Mountaineers averaged 3.1 yards per rush - against Norfolk State. Ouch.
"They outplayed us in some parts," said WVU left tackle Don Barclay. "Sometimes it was our fault. Sometimes the backs didn't pick up a block. It was overall a team thing. We weren't on the same page. In the second half, we came out and started hitting it.
"We all got together in the locker room and said, 'We've got to get on the same page, together.' It started clicking in the second half. Everyone was making their blocks. Everyone was doing their assignments."
In that first half, WVU had 39 rushing yards on 15 carries.
"The first half, we struggled," Barclay said. "We could have blocked better. In the second half, [quarterback] Geno [Smith] was a lot more comfortable. We gave him a lot more time and he was hitting receivers. They were getting open."
It seemed the WVU offensive problem was two-fold. First, there was the line blocking. Second, the tempo necessary for success in Holgorsen's offense wasn't there until the second half. Both will have to improve quickly if an away victory is to be earned next week against Maryland, a team off this weekend.
But back to the blocking.
"It's everyone's fault,'' said first-year WVU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. "It's us as coaches; it's them as players. It's not any one person's fault. Watch every run play we had. I'll bet somebody different is making the mistake. If you get 11 guys doing their job, then we'll be able to run the ball effectively."
He addressed the ugly goal-line debacle.
"[Norfolk] played a bare front," Bedenbaugh said. "Lined up five guys and put three guys in behind them. We just have to get better movement when that happens. You have to knock people off the ball. It's what I tell them: I don't care if they put all 11 up there. You knock people back, the running back will follow you into the end zone."
"It's flat-out embarrassing," Holgorsen said of the goal-line failure. "If you want to say it's the scheme, say it's the scheme. But it's the same stuff we've been doing for a long time."
Has there been a problem for the players adjusting from former line coach Dave Johnson?
"I don't think that's a problem at all, honestly," Bedenbaugh said. "The biggest thing with me is we're blocking the right people. If we were blocking the wrong people, I'd have a huge issue. We're blocking the right people; we're getting to the right people. But now it's about sustaining and finishing blocks."
The uptick in tempo in the second half seemed to help.
"We were dragging [in the first half]," Holgorsen said. "We were dragging. I don't know. Maybe we didn't respect our opponents, which we talked about all week."
I asked if he's having a difficult time getting his players to understand the tempo necessary for this offense.
"Yep," Holgorsen said. "We don't understand it. We don't understand it. The only way I can get them to line up fast is by yelling at 'em. We don't get it. And we're going to have to get better and improve on that. When the play's over we have to hop up and play with some tempo. We have to get lined up and be ready to do something the very next snap. All we do is slug around for about 10 seconds after the play is over. It's frustrating."
In the second half, the tempo picked up. WVU absolutely rolled.
"We called the same stuff," Holgorsen said. "I can assure you it's nothing schematically. I'm not saying we know everything about coaching.It's about being a work in progress."
On Saturday, the final score was satisfying. A 55-point output is always impressive.
But Holgorsen and those that watched the game know the progress of the work has to pick up.
Perhaps, appropriately, in a hurry.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.