WVU offense ineffective despite pass plan

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If at first you don't succeed, well, pass it again.

Five days after calling West Virginia's offensive balance "embarrassing" and committing again to the pass, coach Dana Holgorsen stayed true to his word and paid for it.

The Mountaineers (1-1, 0-1 Big 12) and junior quarterback Paul Millard threw left and threw right and came away with just one touchdown -- that on a bullish 75-yard rush up the sideline by junior running back Dreamius Smith -- en route to a 16-7 loss to No. 16 Oklahoma (2-0, 1-0) Saturday night in Norman, Oklahoma.

"[Smith] broke some tackles, made some guys miss," Holgorsen said, answering his own week-old plea for one of his tailbacks to make a big play. Smith made it in the first quarter, then got the ball just once more the rest of the game.

Millard completed 21 of 41 passes for 218 yards and turned the ball over twice on a fumble and an interception in his second career start. He still outpaced Sooners counterpart Trevor Knight, who was 10 for 20 for 119 yards and two interceptions.

Oklahoma more than made up for the passing deficit by churning out 316 rushing yards on 57 carries. The Mountaineers, in comparison, ran just 24 times for 169 yards -- running on 33.9 percent of offensive snaps, compared to 62.0 in the season opener.

"This one's going to be hard to swallow," Millard said.

The sloppy, low-scoring contest featured eight turnovers, a far cry from the barn burner a year ago when Oklahoma and West Virginia combined for 1,440 yards in the Sooners' 50-49 victory in Morgantown.

With both offenses drowning in mistakes Saturday, there still were plenty of opportunities for West Virginia to launch a comeback.

"We had four or five opportunities with guys wide open down the field, and we didn't take advantage of them," said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. "Take advantage of two of them and you might win the game. One of them and you might, too."

Late in the third quarter, trailing by six points, Millard and the Mountaineers mounted their longest sustained drive of the game. But the 11-play, 71-yard drive was halted and dashed at the Oklahoma 16 when junior receiver Kevin White caught a first-down pass and fumbled the ball away.

White was one of the lone bright spots in the game. A junior-college transfer making his West Virginia debut, White led the receiving corps with seven receptions for 80 yards.

Holgorsen called the fumble "devastating."

Aside from Smith's touchdown run, White's fumble and a last-minute desperation drive against a relaxed defense, the Mountaineers didn't again come within 25 yards of the red zone.

"I know there were a lot of missed opportunities," Millard said. "We had plenty of chances to make plays through the air; we failed to make them."

Holgorsen admitted he strongly considered sending junior Clint Trickett in to replace Millard. Trickett, a transfer from Florida State, was on the field for just two drives in the season opener, despite the coaching staff saying it had been a 50/50 battle at quarterback between Trickett and Millard in training camp.

It was Millard's job to lose against Oklahoma, and he almost lost it.

"It's open competition," Holgorsen said. "It's going to remain that way."

The coaching staff stayed with Millard largely because Trickett is still new to the up-tempo West Virginia system.

"At that point [late in the game], the guy that had taken the most reps in the game was the guy we had the best opportunity with," Dawson said. "You can second-guess that. We can second-guess that. It is what it is."


Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published September 9, 2013 4:00 AM


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