MORGANTOWN - If ever West Virginia needed a running game, this would be the week.
When the Mountaineers (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) try again to snap what has grown to a four-game losing streak, it will come against a No. 13 Oklahoma team (7-2, 5-1) that literally invites opponents to run the football. The Sooners gave up 252 yards on the ground to Baylor last week and because of that struggled mightily, winning just 42-34.
This is an OU defense that goes all out schematically to stop what West Virginia does best, which is throw the football. The Sooners rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense, eighth in passing yards allowed and have given up only three inconsequential touchdowns through the air all season.
So again, an ability to run the football when the teams meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mountaineer Field will be crucial, and everyone knows it.
"It's a huge issue and we're going to work hard on it this week,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We've done a poor job of establishing the line of scrimmage.''
It hasn't always been that way for the Mountaineers. In the season opener against Marshall, WVU ran for 331 yards and Shawne Alston gained 123. In beating Texas, West Virginia got 207 yards on the ground from Andrew Buie.
But during this four-game skid, the Mountaineers have averaged just 93.5 yards on the ground and have run for just 78 in each of the last two games. They are averaging 2.8 yards per rush in the last five games as opposed to 5.0 the first five, and those first five games included a 25-carry, 25-yard performance against Maryland.
Last week in a loss to Oklahoma State, WVU averaged 2.2 yards per rush, the same as a week before against TCU.
It's a combination of an offensive line being pushed around and a running back corps that is injured and overworked.
"We have no push. We had none. We were garbage on third-and-short, fourth-and-short, when we handed the ball off,'' Holgorsen said. "That's a combination of just not controlling the line of scrimmage up front and not having good enough running backs to be able to get the yards that we need.
"You can blame it on what you want to. Shawne is hurt. It's not what people want to hear, but he's hurt. That's why he's not playing. Dustin [Garrison] is still six months out from being where he was last year [because of knee surgery], which means we put it in the hands of Andrew Buie, who is averaging almost 5 yards a rush. But you give it to him 20 times a game he's going to wear down. He is not that type of guy who can handle that many carries.''