Same plan, worse results for WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Take a look around college football these days and the offenses you'll see are pretty much all the same.
Sure, there are different variations. There are exceptions, too. As for the exceptions, well, some of the best programs in the country aren't buying into new-era football. Alabama is certainly the best example, but not the only one.
Let's be honest, though. At Alabama, Nick Saban could run just about any type of offense he cares to run. When the players you recruit are better than the players pretty much anyone else recruits, you have all sorts of options.
For the most part, though, college football has become a spread-offense game. Coaches like to talk about getting players in space and the spread offense does that. It's the great equalizer in a lot of ways. Spread the field, get one-on-one matchups and see what happens.
The Air Raid that Dana Holgorsen learned from Mike Leach and Hal Mumme and has adapted over the years is just one variation. But almost everywhere Holgorsen's West Virginia team plays these days, the offenses are variations on the same theme.
And why not? Consider just a handful of WVU opponents this month and next. Oklahoma is still working from the same base offense Leach brought there in 1999, before he went to Texas Tech. Oklahoma State is still working with the principles Holgorsen took there in 2010. In a couple of weeks, WVU plays at Texas Tech, which not only still runs much the same offense as Leach and Holgorsen did while there, but now has one of their former quarterbacks, Kliff Kingsbury, as its new head coach.
Of course, sometimes the system isn't enough. It takes the right players and the right coaches and the right set of circumstances. And where West Virginia is concerned right now, something is missing. Perhaps it's all three.
"There's a lot of people doing a lot of the same stuff,'' Holgorsen said, mentioning Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and even Maryland, the team that blanked West Virginia 37-0 last weekend. "A lot of guys are doing the same stuff. Sounds to me like a lot of guys out there are coaching it a little bit better than I am.''
Indeed, whether it's the coaching or the playing, almost everyone is doing it better than Holgorsen and West Virginia these days. The Mountaineers, in their only two games this season against BCS-level competition, have scored exactly one touchdown with that offense. They've been outscored 53-7 by Oklahoma and Maryland. Even against lightweights William & Mary and Georgia State, West Virginia's offense managed just three first-half touchdowns and only four in the first three quarters of those two games combined.
But is it as bad as it seems? Well, perhaps. But circumstances and bad breaks also have to be taken into account.
"Everybody sees the obvious, which is they've struggled in a couple games,'' said Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, whose unit is next up against WVU's offense, Saturday at Mountaineer Field. "But if you watch the Maryland game, you'll see West Virginia went up and down the field on them, but they had six turnovers. It was just one of those days where it wasn't working out.''
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, every day they've played this season has been one of those days. West Virginia has scored a total of nine touchdowns this season in four games. Last year, WVU scored 10 in the opener against Marshall and 10 more a week later against Baylor.
Granted, that was with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but still.
"They have weapons,'' Spencer said. "Their quarterback can throw the ball. [Dreamius] Smith and [Charles] Sims are two great running backs. And Coach Holgorsen does a great job of spreading the field. It will be a test for us to defend all of it.''
Well, perhaps. But it hasn't been much of a test for anyone else to defend it.
If it's time for a change in offensive philosophy, though, Holgorsen isn't budging. He'll tweak, but he won't change. The system has been too good for him for too long.
"Our philosophy has remained the same for about 15 straight years, so I doubt that's going to change any more than it has,'' Holgorsen said. "There's always an evolution of what you're trying to get accomplished on offense.''
This year, that evolution has, in fact, been toward the running game. That's not unusual because there have been times in the past when Holgorsen's offenses have run the ball. His one season at Oklahoma State is a prime example.
"We've spent a lot of time in the run game and will continue to do so,'' Holgorsen said. "Our yards per play in the run game is not bad. It can always improve, but it's not bad. I think the bigger problem with what we're doing offensively is we're not executing the pass game like we should. I've been saying that since day one. It's still a work in progress.
"We have to coach them a little bit better. We've got to get them out there and get them to relax. I like where our team is. We just have to get out there and do a better job.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.