Skill position players continuing to develop
MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen misspoke one day earlier this week, and in doing so, perhaps explained in a nutshell what he is convinced is West Virginia's most significant offensive problem this season.
It was nothing new, really, but it was telling.
"We just don't have the skill players,'' Holgorsen said while explaining something completely different, specifically the importance of the offensive line play.
Don't have the skill players? Isn't that what this offense is all about?
"I probably phrased that wrong,'' Holgorsen said later. "We haven't had guys develop yet.''
There is a difference, of course.
"I'm very comfortable with the bodies that we have,'' Holgorsen said. "They're going to develop.''
The problem, though, is that nine games into the season - the 10th is Saturday night's home game with Texas - that development isn't what Holgorsen had hoped it would be. For whatever reason, it has been slow.
And the truth is, Holgorsen has seldom, if ever, had to deal with that. Not at Texas Tech or at Houston or Oklahoma State or even at West Virginia, where he inherited the likes of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
"In the past, I've always been fortunate to have guys that have been developed,'' he said. "You develop them and then you lose guys and you plug guys in that have been developed for a year or two. We're just not there yet.
"We've not had our hands on these specific guys long enough to develop them.''
Part of that, of course, is Holgorsen's doing. He's been at West Virginia through two full recruiting cycles and part of another, but until the most recent one he didn't really come up with many players who have earned the right to play.
And so in this, his third season, he's working with players at virtually every skill position who have been on campus less than a year and, in some cases, only a few months.
Consider that five of the top seven receivers, according to the team's stats, are first-year players as either freshmen or transfers - Daikiel Shorts, Charles Sims, Kevin White, Ronald Carswell and Mario Alford. And Carswell isn't even in the mix anymore, having been suspended for the rest of the season.
The top three running backs, the only ones being used now, are also newcomers - Sims, Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood.
The quarterback, Clint Trickett, arrived as a transfer in June.
All are beginning to improve. Holgorsen said Trickett's fourth quarter in last week's overtime win at TCU was his best quarter of the season. Sims had more rushing yards, 154, than any player ever against a Gary Patterson-coached TCU defense.
And the receivers are coming.
"Mario Alford made three huge catches last week. He's going to get better and better every single week,'' Holgorsen said. "Daikiel Shorts had another big day. He's going to get better. Kevin White didn't perform, but he was being covered by an All-American corner [TCU's Jason Verrett] who's really good.
"So these guys are developing and they're going to continue to get better.''
Again, the evidence seems to indicate they already are. Sims, in particular, could be a huge asset down the stretch. But that still hasn't served to elevate the offense to the level at which it needs to be in order to compete every week.
And Holgorsen, who was asked if the performance at TCU allayed his concerns about his offense, knows that.
"Oh, absolutely not,'' Holgorsen said. "It's still a work in progress.''
Against Texas, West Virginia will play perhaps the most physically talented group of defenders it will see all season. It's a group that struggled mightily to start the season, but has settled in under coordinator Greg Robinson, who was brought on board as an emergency replacement after three weeks.
To have a chance against the Longhorns, West Virginia's offense will have continue to show that improvement.
"I do feel like we've constantly been improving and I do think we improved last week and I expect our guys to work hard and improve this week,'' Holgorsen said. "But there are also some things that exist with us offensively that are not going to get fixed until we probably have six months of offseason on our hands to be able to fix it. There's just a lot of new parts to our offense. And it's going to take some time for the continuity to improve to get to the point where I feel like it's winning football.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.