WVU football: Running game a 'huge issue'
MORGANTOWN - One of West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen's preferences for dealing with his team's struggles is to diminish the scope of the problem.
Defenders are in position to make plays on the ball, but don't do it. Defensive linemen are good against the run, but not with the pass rush. His special teams have trouble in some areas, but are sound in others. The offense isn't producing like it was before, but the calls are the same.
On and on it goes, and has gone, as the team has lost four in a row entering Saturday's 7 p.m. home game against No. 13 Oklahoma (7-2, 5-1).
Things changed Tuesday and he called the team's weakening running game a "huge issue." The Mountaineers, once as high as No. 4 nationally in rushing offense and No. 64 when they were 5-0, are now No. 93 out of 120 teams. They average 132.67 yards per game and Saturday's loss to Oklahoma State was the fourth straight time WVU was under its average.
"We did a poor job of establishing the line of scrimmage," Holgorsen said. "Look at all our third-and-shorts. We have no push. We had none. We were garbage on third-and-short, fourth-and-short when we handed the ball off."
WVU (5-4, 2-4) averages 4.02 yards per carry, but that is greatly inflated by the 35 carries, 331 yards and 9.46 yards per carry in the season opening win against Marshall. The offense has five games when it's averaged less than the 4.02 average and three when it's averaged less than three yards per carry. WVU had 25 yards on 25 carries against Maryland and in the past two games against TCU and Oklahoma State had 35 carries for 78 yards.
The Mountaineers have run 30 times this season on third-and-short when they needed three or fewer yards for a first down. They've gotten the first down only 14 times.
WVU has run 12 times on fourth down and picked up the first down just seven times.
"That is a combination of just not controlling the line of scrimmage up front and not having good enough running backs to be able to get the yards that we need," Holgorsen said. "You can blame it on what you want to."
Holgorsen said 6-foot, 230-pound running back Shawne Alston is still "hurt" and working his way back from the deep thigh bruise he suffered against James Madison on Sept. 15. Holgorsen said Dustin Garrison, the team's leading rusher last season, is not back to normal after an ACL injury in December, which leaves Andrew Buie.
"You give it to him 20 times a game, he is going to wear down," Holgorsen said. "He's not the type of guy who can handle that many carries. We are working extremely hard to recruit about five or six running backs who can come in here and give us help, and until that happens, it is what it is."
WVU RECEIVER Tavon Austin had five carries on end-arounds and from the backfield against Oklahoma State, but those totaled just 14 yards. He hadn't carried more than three times in a game this season, but Holgorsen said the offense won't change to give Austin more carries and more opportunities to help the running game.
Austin set Maryland high school records with 7,962 yards and 123 touchdowns as a running back. He had 2,660 yards and 34 touchdowns on 218 carries as a senior.
"I wish we could clone him and put three of him out there," Holgorsen said. "We have obviously felt like he is a pretty good inside receiver, and it has always been the thing about what can we do to get the ball in his hands. And you want to get it into his hands as much as we can.
"With that said, his trade has been being an inside receiver for four years now. We will continue to try and come up with creative ways to get him the ball, because he is dynamic as it comes in college football when it comes to him having the ball in his hands."
THE SOONERS went from No. 43 in run defense to No. 61 last week after allowing 252 yards on 51 carries against Baylor. Oklahoma had been allowing WVU's 4.02 yards per carry and 142.88 yards per game. Baylor, No. 1 in passing offense and total offense, but also No. 39 in rushing offense, pushed Oklahoma's averages up to 155 yards per game and 4.16 yards per carry.
"I knew structure-wise we would possibly be a little vulnerable to the run, but I thought though overall we had about five or six missed tackles that really gave them some yards," Coach Bob Stoops said. "Watching it on Sunday I thought there was still one or two plays where we can address some issues. In the end giving up 250 yards is not what you want to, but again it worked and limiting their passing attack."
The Bears ended up 12-for-32 passing for 172 yards - or five yards more than receiver Terrance Williams had been averaging receiving. He caught six passes for 91 yards. Baylor was averaging 392 passing yards per game.
Holgorsen said there's something to be learned from Baylor's success running on Oklahoma's defense.
"They are going to play a 4-1 or 4-2 front and their safeties are their fill guys - and if you remember what Baylor does, Baylor spreads you all over, and they go from way out here to way out there," he said. "They are going to line up like that, which means they are going to rely on those people in the box and those two safeties that come down to stop the run.
"There are going to be people in space. Baylor does as good of a job as anybody in the country of putting people in space. I feel like we do a pretty good job of putting people in space and then once those guys are in space, it is about making some people miss and Baylor did a pretty good job of making some people miss."