WVU taking stock at the midpoint and it isn't pretty
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Typically, a bye week for a football team is a time to step back and take stock.
Sure, it's also a time to rest and heal. It provides a few days for coaches to go recruiting. It can be cathartic just to get away from the game for a few days.
West Virginia's football team did all of that last week.
"I told them to come back in the right frame of mind,'' Dana Holgorsen said of giving his players three days off over the weekend to do nothing. "Here are three days. Go be human beings. Get away from it.''
But there was also that taking-stock thing to be done. Off weeks are a great time not only to evaluate what is to come, but also what has already transpired. Coaches do self-scouting all the time, but with a week off they can really do it in depth.
So Holgorsen and his staff did just that. At the midpoint of what is now a 3-3 season, what they found was disturbing in a lot of ways, particularly on offense.
"We looked at it like everybody does, to see if we developed any tendencies,'' Holgorsen said. "Offensively, we've been sub-par at everything, so there really aren't any tendencies. The only tendency is that we really are not great at anything.''
All of which means that heading into the second half of the season - which begins Saturday with a noon home game against No. 16 Texas Tech - West Virginia's issues aren't so much a matter of tweaking things as they are getting back to basics.
There's no point in identifying tendencies and changing them if nothing your offense does works better than anything else. But you do have to make some decisions and try to stick with them.
"We looked at it very closely and we've identified as coaches what we do well and what we do not do well,'' Holgorsen said. "We're not shifting guys around as we have. We understand what our personality is offensively and now we just have to get good at it and gain some confidence.''
So what has West Virginia done well offensively? Well, not much. The Mountaineers have run the ball fairly well at times during the season, but not with any consistency from one week to the next. They have thrown the ball well against no one save for Georgia State, and given the ineptitude of those Panthers that shouldn't even really count.
West Virginia still doesn't have a quarterback that everyone agrees is the one, a deep group of receivers seems to have one player step up occasionally but not consistently, and the running game is hit and miss behind an inconsistent line.
Still, there seems little doubt as to what the Mountaineers want to do. It's just a matter of getting much better at doing it.
"It's no secret that we're going try to establish the run and that we want to be a little more physical up front than we have in the past,'' Holgorsen said, veering from a philosophy that has always included the run game, but never as a primary mode of attack. "We've done a pretty good job, in my opinion, of getting the play started in the run game, but we haven't done a great job at getting the play started in the pass game. They have to go hand-in-hand. In order to be a good offensive football team, you have to be able to do both.''
The issues with throwing the ball, of course, are well documented. There have been three different quarterbacks throwing to about eight different receivers behind a constantly morphing offensive line.
"We've had a more difficult time in the pass game for a lot of different reasons,'' Holgorsen said. "That's not an excuse for not being successful. We have to focus on that and we have focused on it.
"We have inexperienced guys all around. When it comes to running routes, catching balls and timing with the quarterbacks because the quarterbacks are inexperienced or because we are playing three of them - whatever it is, we have to get better at it and get the play started and be able to take advantage of plays down the field when teams crowd the box and try to take away the run.''
Teams have done that with regularity, too. That's one reason why, in WVU's last game at Baylor, Clint Trickett threw so many seemingly hopeless downfield passes. There was nothing up front and the timing between him and the receivers isn't sufficient to throw shorter routes that depend more on execution.
"It's so hard for a new quarterback to throw to new receivers. It really is,'' Holgorsen said. "And we have so much inexperience at each position that it just doesn't look good at times. It'll get better and it has gotten better, and it will continue to get better over the next six weeks.''
It had better.
"We have to make some plays and continue to try to get better at the small things we ask the team to do,'' Holgorsen said. "As soon as that happens and we pick up steam, we'll look a little bit better to the human eye, which means points.
"We've done a decent job at making plays and moving the ball, but we haven't done a good job at scoring points. Obviously that's a problem and it's my job to get us there. I've said that since media days long before the season started. We have a lot of inexperience and a lot of guys that have never played football. But that's not an excuse to not be productive and it's my job to get us there.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.