Step right up, playmakers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Dana Holgorsen has a rather surprising take on his West Virginia football team's offense.
That would be the offense that on Saturday scored one touchdown - largely on a terrific individual effort - at Oklahoma just 10 months after scoring gaining 778 yards and scoring 49 points against the Sooners.
"This is going to sound silly, but our pass game was better schemed and we had more open guys this year than we did last year,'' Holgorsen said Tuesday during his weekly session with the media. "Stedman [Bailey] had a great game last year, but he made catches when the [defender] was right here in his hip pocket.
"We had more open guys and we didn't do a very good job of hitting those open guys and we didn't do a very good job of catching it when we had opportunities to make plays.''
He's right, of course. It does sound silly.
Taking the offense as a whole - not just versus one common opponent - last year's high-octane attack was the one that averaged over 500 yards and a shade under 40 points per game. This year the Mountaineers are averaging less than 400 yards and have scored three touchdowns in two games.
The Geno Smith-Stedman Bailey-Tavon Austin offense of 2012 could score three touchdowns in three minutes, or so it sometimes seemed.
Holgorsen's point, though, is that last year's bunch often did so because of great plays by great players. This year, he claims, the Mountaineers are actually in better position to make plays than last year, but just haven't done it.
And he knows whom to blame.
"I think we're closer than it appears on offense,'' Holgorsen said. "I accept full responsibility for seven points [in a 16-7 loss at Oklahoma]. It's embarrassing. I don't care who we're playing.
"I've got the utmost respect for [OU coaches] Bob and Mike Stoops, but with that said seven points is embarrassing and we have to fix it. We need to get guys that make plays. We need to do a better job of putting guys in position to make plays.''
Then he used the P word, with a certain amount of angst.
"There's potential on offense,'' Holgorsen said. "That word disturbs me. I don't like it very much. But there is potential on offense.
"A lot of people talk about how talented we are. Even guys on our team talk about how talented we are. Prove it. Make some plays when you're put in those situations. And if you don't then we're going to try to put some other guys in those situations.''
Holgorsen will start trying to do that this week against Georgia State by shaking up the receiving corps. When the teams play Saturday at Mountaineer Field (noon kickoff on Root Sports), junior college transfers Kevin White, Ronald Carswell and Mario Alford will be the starting receivers. They replace veterans Ivan McCartney and K.J. Myers, along with freshman Daikiel Shorts.
He is also pretty much holding open tryouts at quarterback, where Paul Millard, Clint Trickett and Ford Childress will all practice this week. But even he doesn't know how he will handle trying to rep three quarterbacks.
"We'll see how their attitude is at meetings, we'll see how they look in [practice] warm-ups,'' Holgorsen said. "We can't put two of them out there at once. We've got to call somebody's name and they've got to go out and we've got to see how they do.
"The difference in where we're at now is Ford will rep, where he hasn't repped for the last three weeks.''
The difference in the offense, Holgorsen said, is more than just the absence of three NFL-caliber playmakers. There are also minor issues with execution that turn into major ones in an offense where inches matter.
Take the Oklahoma game, again. The Sooners brought pressure constantly and Holgorsen tried to combat it with a play set that is tailor-made to exploit over-enthusiastic pass rushers - screen passes. But whether it was a misfire by Millard or a failure to make a catch or a play after the catch, few of them worked like they could have worked.
"It was something different on each one,'' Holgorsen said. "And that's my responsibility. That's me. That's coaching. It's my responsibility. We've got to continuously try to get guys in positions to make plays, but we've got to rep it and coach it. Those minor little details we were missing on every one of them, we've got to coach it better in order to get it accomplished.
"Again, it goes back to offensively we have the potential to be better than last year. Now, does that mean we're better than last year or we're going to be better than last year? No. It just means that we've got the potential to be.''
That has to be maddening. Thus, Holgorsen was asked if he felt good about the fact that the offense seems to have that dreaded potential or bad that the execution isn't matching the opportunities.
"I feel like crap right now,'' Holgorsen said.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.