WVU football: Mountaineers still searching for consistency on offense
BALTIMORE - Shannon Dawson had both the solution and the problem for West Virginia following Saturday's alarming 37-0 loss to Maryland.
"We've got to get back to our identity," the offensive coordinator said. "We've got to figure out what our identity is."
Right now, it's that of a 2-2 team that's scored seven points in eight quarters against BCS competition and cannot consistently stick with a plan to run or pass the ball because it hasn't been able to consistently do one or the other.
Something has to change, but WVU runs a pretty simple offense, one with finite features that haven't changed much through the years.
"We've just got to get better at it," Dawson said. "We're not doing simple things. It's just routine plays. It really is. It's an offensive lineman doing his job on this particular play. When there are five guys in the box, you've got to go get the (middle) linebacker. If you don't, what could be a 10- or 15-yard play ends up being no gain.
"That's frustrating to watch. We're not going to sit there and come up with a magical formula and say all of a sudden that we've got it. It's routine plays."
WVU's loss to Maryland, which was its first in eight games in the series, the first shutout loss in 12 years and the worst shutout loss in 38 seasons, asked many questions of the Mountaineers.
They came away with one answer.
Redshirt freshman Ford Childress remains the quarterback. He threw 22 passes, the fewest in Coach Dana Holgorsen's 40 games at WVU, and had 62 passing yards, the fewest in school history by someone with at least as many attempts.
Holgorsen said he plans to stick with Childress, despite Childress guiding an offense that finished with just 175 yards, the lowest total since 2003.
"We made a decision he's going to be our guy, and he's going to be our guy," Holgorsen said. "He's going to continue to get better and better. He's a redshirt freshman who'd played one game. He's not very experienced; he's not very seasoned. That's not an excuse. He needs to step up, man up and get better.
"The people around him need to step up and do the same. A lot of the guys around him are a lot more experienced than him and they're not doing a very good job right now and that needs to change, including me."
As troubling as the passing game was on a day when six receivers combined for one 12-yard catch, its issues were attached to the pedestrian running game.
"We've committed a lot of time, a lot of practice time, a lot of effort to being able to run the football," said Holgorsen, who hadn't been shut out in his first 82 games as an offensive coordinator or head coach. "When they have five people in the box and we can't get a yard, it's going to cause problems."
The Mountaineers ran the ball 110 times and passed it 109 times the first three games as they invested in the talent of Houston transfer Charles Sims, junior college transfer Dreamius Smith and freshman Wendell Smallwood.
"We knew we weren't very good offensively at the beginning of the year," Holgorsen said. "We felt like we needed to keep improving."
It was to continue against a Maryland defense that entered with a NCAA-best 14 sacks. WVU intended to run and finished with 25 runs and 22 plays - and having just 47 snaps and two conversions on 12 third downs is a major problem.
Yet the offense did very little with the run, averaging 2.3 yards in the first half, when Maryland led 30-0, and 3.1 yards after three quarters. WVU finished with 113 yards rushing and 4.5 yards per carry, but 30- and 52-yard runs in the fourth quarter inflated the average.
"I thought we played incredibly poorly up front, probably as bad as we've ever played offensive line-wise," Holgorsen said.
The Mountaineers believed they'd have success with the run because Maryland would try to help their starting cornerbacks, both starting in place of injured starters. WVU would then have more blockers than defenders on run plays.
"We thought they were going to bump people out of the box, so we needed to run the ball," Dawson said. "Then we thought we needed to attack the flats because they didn't really adjust to (the run and bring people inside), and we did at times.
"Then they started to get a little more aggressive and take that away, but we never hurt them in those areas and we couldn't get them to come up in the secondary to play off (the receivers) for a majority of the game because we never established the run or the perimeter game."
WVU's trouble is beyond the quarterback, the offensive line and the receivers. The problem is that each of those has problems.
"We've got open people, at times," Dawson said. "The frustrating thing is sometimes the quarterback overthrows him and sometimes he makes a bad throw. Sometime we completely whiff up front.
"Everybody is taking their turns. It's not like we can pinpoint one deal like, 'OK, this is the issue.' We've got to grow up as an offense. We've got to grow up and start making plays."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs'dailymail.com/wvu.