MORGANTOWN - Critics of West Virginia's offense - and there are many these days in the wake of such poor production in each of the team's first three Big East games of the season - will most often point to play choices as the biggest concern.
After all, how does a team with so many offensive weapons manage to score just six touchdowns in three games - two of them losses - against relatively mediocre competition in the worst BCS conference in the country? In the second half of those three games, the Mountaineers have managed a total of just three points, none in the two defeats.
Doesn't it have to be a matter of how the coaches are using those skill players and the plays they are calling?
To a certain extent, that would seem to be a very valid point. Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, though, would beg to differ in the latest instance and, to a point, might be right.
In West Virginia's 16-13 loss at Connecticut Friday night, West Virginia gained 414 yards. The Mountaineers rushed for 254 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. On 22 pass completions Geno Smith averaged 7.3 yards gained. The offense converted a respectable 7-of-17 third-down conversions and had an edge in time of possession and plays.
In other words, West Virginia moved the football - not superbly, but at least adequately enough to win.
But the Mountaineers also fumbled the ball seven times, lost four and were hamstrung by penalties. A fumble by Ryan Clarke at the goal line in overtime perhaps was the difference between winning and losing. Another Clarke fumble almost certainly denied the Mountaineers at least a field goal and led to UConn's only touchdown drive. Fumbles by Noel Devine and Smith both came near midfield, and the latter led to another Connecticut field goal.
As for penalties, a hold by Matt Lindamood wiped out a Jock Sanders run to the 2-yard line in overtime, and a chop block called on Eric Jobe negated a Devine touchdown run in the first quarter.
Given all that, it's hard to argue that play calls were what bogged down the Mountaineers in this instance.
"We scored on the first play of overtime [actually Sanders was marked out at the 2] and there's a holding call. We get down to the 1 after [first-and-17] and turn the ball over and lose by a field goal,'' Mullen said. "That's a tough pill to swallow. We basically score twice and don't get any points for it.''
There is more to the issue than just statistics, though. For starters, those numbers are a bit skewed by one play, Brad Starks' 53-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Subtract that and the rushing average drops to 4.3 yards per play. That's good enough for a first down every three plays, but it isn't the explosiveness suggested by the presence of Devine, who gained only 67 yards and was more often than not running without the benefit of any holes. Even on his nullified touchdown run, he had to completely reverse field.