West Virginia offense can't shake its funk, regain previous efficiency

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Call it a funk.

Call it being out of sync, or rhythm, or any other number of dubious nouns or verbs.

They all describe West Virginia's lack of offensive production -- which has dropped off dramatically during the team's three-game skid.

Why? The reasons range from obvious to inexplicable and have been gnawing away at the confidence of a group once brimming with it.

"It's how I always say once we get in the rhythm of things we can be a pretty lethal offense. When we don't get in the rhythm of things we can be pretty bad," said quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital. "So the main thing is to try and get this confidence back."

West Virginia averaged 52 points a game in its first five games, but the offense regressed against Texas Tech and Kansas State last month, scoring just three touchdowns combined in the two games.

Certainly both opponents were talented and executed well. West Virginia receivers struggled to get open as teams dropped seven or eight defenders into coverage. Geno Smith struggled to make plays and threw his first interceptions of the year.

Against TCU last Saturday there were steps in the right direction, but with a win within reach with just 3:19 to play and a touchdown lead, the offense could not get in position to find critical points to pull away and seal a win.

Seven passes were dropped against the Horned Frogs, four on third down.

The team was just 6 of 22 on the critical third down.

"If you're getting pressure with three or four guys, it makes it harder to go through your reads," coach Dana Holgorsen said earlier this week. "When they're dropping seven, dropping eight, it's about the same thing. You've got to win some one-on-one matchups up front. ... For whatever reason [Geno] got caught on his reads and missed some guys that he normally doesn't."

The offensive line has struggled to run-block, and the team's best back has been hampered by a deep thigh bruise, resulting in an anemic rushing attack, which puts more pressure on a passing game that's struggling to find its old rhythm.

Injuries have played their part.

Running back Shawne Alston revealed this week that his thigh bruise was so bad he had to be anesthetized twice so doctors could drain blood from the injury, then the team had to bring in a specialist from Atlanta to help break up calcification around the bruise.

Stedman Bailey has not been the same electrifying receiver since he left the Texas Tech game with an ankle injury.

So what gives?

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said the play-calling hasn't changed. He explained it's done by him but in constant consultation with Holgorsen.

"It's collaboration like we've done for a while," said Dawson. "We sit there between drives and talk. It might not look like we're talking because he's down there and I'm here. But we're sitting there on the headsets talking. In between every play we're talking. And in between every drive we're talking. No different."

In fact, Dawson said it's more about effort, poor perimeter blocking and losing one-on-one matchups.

Of 90 snaps, Dawson said the offense put the ball in play 70 times against TCU and gained just 340 yards.

"When you put the ball in play 70 times you should get more than that," he said. "Part of it is a testament to the defense we were playing. But we have to do more on specific plays as far as perimeter blocking. It's as poor as I've seen since I've been here. They outplayed us. They just beat us on the perimeter. They beat us and made a tackle."

Some has been inexplicable.

Certainly confidence diminishes after losses, but Smith said he thinks he and his teammates do a good job of getting past games -- whether it's a win or loss.

"I think so. I do think so. Immediately when I come in on Sundays you can tell guys, especially after a loss, they're just mad. Guys are edgy they don't want to talk as much," said Smith. "After losses guys are kind of bitter. It's kind of hard to see that. ... Usually on Mondays I see them in class, I see them around campus, everyone is back to their normal self. And Tuesday we got the right mindset where we've got to work, pull out this thing and stick together. As the week goes by you get better at focusing on the now. When the next game starts it should be out of your head."

NOTES -- Freshman wide receiver Travares Copeland left the team on Thursday for personal reasons, the school announced, though the player revealed his intention on Twitter nearly a day earlier. Copeland, 5 feet 10, 178 pounds, was being redshirted until he replaced Bailey in the Texas Tech game. He had 10 catches for 55 yards in three games. The school's statement said Holgorsen will have no further comment on the departure. Copeland is from Port St. Lucie, Fla.


First Published November 9, 2012 5:00 AM


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