WVU football: Longhorns opened up offense to keep up with rest of Big 12
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A season ago, Texas was one of only 10 teams among the 120 in the Football Bowl Subdivision that gained 2,500 yards rushing and averaged more than 200 yards and 45 carries per game.
That was what the Longhorns could do with a messy quarterback situation and yet unproven receivers and it worked only well enough to go 8-5 with one win coming in the bowl game against Cal and just four in Big 12 play.
Texas, which was coming off a 5-7 season, the first losing season at the school since 1997, finished No. 54 in total offense and No. 55 in scoring offense. The team would return its top two rushers for this season and wouldn't settle its quarterback situation until the week before the season-opener, but Coach Mack Brown thought it was time for a change.
"You can run the ball for four yards a play and win the game," Brown said.
So Texas set a goal to open up the offense or face the consequences.
"We need to have better offensive play, therefore our quarterback needs to play better and the one thing we need to do better is score more points," Brown said a few days after picking sophomore David Ash to lead the offense in 2012. "This is a points-driven league and if you start looking at the number of points we've scored, we've been averaging in the upper 20s a game.
"That's not enough. The year we won the national championship (2005) we averaged 51 points per game. We averaged 40-plus points for a long time. We need to get back to those numbers."
A running game is fine, but a passing game scores and wins in the Big 12. No. 8 West Virginia (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) won't have the only capable offense on the field at Texas Memorial Stadium Saturday night. The Longhorns (4-0, 1-0) enter the 7 p.m. Fox game ranked No. 23 in total offense, No. 9 in scoring offense and a week removed from answering Oklahoma State scores with scores of their own in a 41-36 victory on the road.
"Ash is playing at a very high level and doing a great job taking care of the football," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They have backs that will scare you. They're big and fast and take care of the ball as well. They have a couple kids outside that can flat-out run. They've got good, talented tight ends.
"Their offense, from a schematic standpoint, they're going to play conventional football, which is going to keep us off the field. It won't be a game like last week where we both took 90 snaps. There's a philosophical difference where they want to slow us down on offense."
Texas is No. 40 in passing offense, with 267.75 yards per game, but Ash is second only to WVU's Geno Smith in passer efficiency. He's completed 79 percent of his passes for 1,008 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception. The Longhorns are running it a little bit less this season, but average 26 more yards per game and better than a yard more per carry.
It's working, too. Texas charts "explosive" plays and defines them as a gain of 12 or more yards rushing or 16 or more yards receiving. The offense has 16 of each so far.
There are 16 combined rushing or passing plays of between 20 and 69 yards and six have been touchdowns.
"We've really tried to stay with the plan and be balanced," Brown said. "When we run the ball well, it brings more linebackers up for play-action passes and gives us a chance to get the ball deep. We're doing a better job now because we're older at quarterback and more mature and confident. We're older and healthier at receiver right now and that helps us block down the field better, too. "
The Mountaineers rank No. 106 in total defense (474 yards per game) and No. 94 in scoring defense (32.5 points per game), though that's inflated greatly by Saturday's game against Baylor. WVU set program records with 69 points and 700 yards allowed.
"We probably match up a little better with them," Holgorsen said of the Longhorns.
Still, much of the damage done to WVU's defense has been through the air and the Mountaineers rank No. 118 in pass defense (352.75 yards per game). The defense has allowed 23 plays of 20 yards or more. The top 15 are pass plays and five of those have been touchdowns. Eight of the 20-yard pass plays and three of the touchdowns happened Saturday.
"They do put the ball in the air, probably not as much as what we just saw, but they can do it," Holgorsen said. "When they do, we've got to do a better job making plays on the ball. Obviously, we didn't do a good enough job of that against Baylor."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.