WVU football: Offense vanishes on final drives in loss
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When Dana Holgorsen stood behind the podium Saturday afternoon and tried to explain away a loss for the 10th time in his past 15 postgame press conferences, the West Virginia coach said the sort of thing that grows out of the most desperate, most frustrating times.
"It's a game we should have won," he said following a double-digit loss to a Texas Tech team that is now ranked No. 10 in the country and one of just 10 unbeaten teams left in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Certainly Holgorsen believed that, and such bravado is neither new to Holgorsen nor any other coach who's down on his luck and confident in his schemes. The thing about that statement on that that day, though, is many of the 54,084 in attendance at Mountaineer field, be they in gold and blue on Homecoming or red and black on Texas Tech's first regular-season game in the Eastern Time Zone since 2003, probably agreed.
Punchless so often this season, the Mountaineers were landing blows with regularity in the second half.
They scored on five straight possession, turning a 13-0 deficit into a 27-16 lead in the middle of the third quarter, and it was as stunning as it was emphatic.
WVU (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) had only scored on successive possessions four times this season. Two were against Georgia State.
Only once had the offense scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions. That was against Georgia State.
Only once had WVU scored on more than two straight possessions. That was also against Georgia State.
The opposition matters, and WVU had only five scoring drives combined against William & Mary, Oklahoma and Maryland. In the best performance of the season, there were only five scoring drives in an upset at home against Oklahoma State.
Yet against a Red Raiders defense that entered ranked No. 15 in scoring defense and No. 11 in third down defense, the Mountaineers pieced together four long drives and one short one, that after forcing and recovering a fumble on a kickoff late in the first half.
"Our tempo was the best it's been all year," said Holgorsen, who this week readies WVU for Saturday's 3:45 p.m. game at Kansas State (2-4, 0-3).
It began with an 11-play 73-yard drive for a field goal before nine plays traveled 99 yards for a touchdown and the fumble-aided field goal ended the half and somehow tied the score 13-13.
The Mountaineers began the second half with a 13-play, 74-yard drive that lasted 5:28. WVU hadn't used as many plays or as much time on a touchdown drive all season. It was followed by a seven-play, 72-yard touchdown drive to make it 27-16.
"When positive things happen, more positive things are more than likely going to happen," said Clint Trickett, who quarterbacked the drives by picking up 13 first downs and converting 7 of 10 third downs and one fourth down. "But you've got to keep the momentum and we didn't do that."
No, because WVU's offense disappeared as quickly and as shockingly as it seemed to have established itself. On the final five drives of the game, the Mountaineers ran 19 plays and gained 33 yards. They had one first down.
The final drive was meaningless - six yards on four plays, all passes - because the Red Raiders had already put the game out of reach with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jace Amaro with 1:01 remaining. The four before that were critical and telling.
WVU called 10 pass plays and five running plays after taking the 27-16 lead. On the way to that advantage, running plays by Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith and a designed draw by Trickett had gained 163 yards on 28 attempts - or 5.8 yards per carry.
After jumping ahead, the Mountaineers gained only 16 yards on running plays, including a loss of two yards on a reverse to receiver Mario Alford on a first down that preceded a punt.
"For 11/2 quarters, we didn't have the fight and the will to win and to finish blocks," Holgorsen said. "And that's not just about up front. It's perimeter stuff as well. But they played harder than we did up front the last quarter-and-a-half."
Texas Tech disrupted run and pass plays. On the 10 pass plays, Trickett had to scramble twice for positive yardage and was sacked once for a loss of seven yards on a first down.
He completed 4 of 7 passes for 13 yards. On the final drive with the lead, he was 3-for-3 for six yards. A pass on first down, which was a simple screen outside to receiver Daikiel Shorts, wasn't blocked at all by receiver Ronald Carswell and gained nothing. The pass on second down to Sims lost a yard. The third-down pass to Kevin White was surrounded and gained only seven yards.
"At times we did get in some grooves, which was really good, but what stood out was at the end," offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson said. "You can't go three-and-out three times (out of four) against a good team. They're 7-0 for a reason and obviously, they have ability to push through at the end. We didn't.
"It's all about execution. If one guy breaks down, it all breaks down. We run that zone screen, the same play we ran all game long and gained eight or nine yards on, and one guy decides not to block on that play and it breaks down. It takes just one guy to not do his job and it can all fall apart."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.