What Is Holding the Mountaineers Back?

As much as I want to continue to ride the highs of a good first third of the season, we have to turn focus forward once again. Can WVU sustain this type of progress with the on-field product we’ve seen so far? No, probably not. The defense has been nothing short of lightning. I am not sure what changed in that room with those guys, but there is nothing they are doing that will lose the Mountaineers future games if they keep this pace. The offense, on the other hand, is a different matter.

People want to say well, Nicco shouldn’t be in there and the play calling suffers because they can’t run the whole offense. But much like every backup that has ever come into a football game, they need to have enough of a grasp of the system, or the progress suffers. Fortunately, Marchiol is not lost out there, but the play calling is incredibly reserved and does not scream that the powers that be trust Nicco as much as they suggest they do.

One hope is that Garrett Greene is back suited up this week and TCU has to prepare an answer for that. However, if he isn’t 100%, you will get him hurt to play him early with the type of injury he endured against Pitt. If you give Garrett the same type of designed runs Nicco took 14-15 times in the Tech game, I think that’s a part of the scheme TCU must acknowledge. However, stopping the run isn’t especially difficult if you are not trying to pass. As tough as it is to grab these wins almost exclusively on the ground, the attack isn’t sustainable. One dimensional football can only stay successful for so long, it’s kind of like gimmicks for teams. In the past years, Texas Tech won games by just breaking defenses down with their relentless play to play to play approach. Now, the Big 12 competition knows that’s coming and can design a plan to figure out how to manage the clock and factor substitutions. It’s less menacing than it used to be, despite what happened in Morgantown last year against the Red Raiders.

Success, at least success in the next third of the schedule, is going to have to come from a balanced attack. You cannot allow a defense to load the box and not end up with something damning like CJ getting injured again. You have to stretch out opposing defenses and that means receivers have to step up, the playbook needs to open up, and we have to start taking shots that force secondaries to think before checking down on the QB and runners. Play action and (successful) RPO is going to be the best category of plays in our arsenal moving forward.

Here are some important modifications to keep the Mountaineers competitive and keep momentum for the games ahead:

Keep Scoring Points

Obviously, right? But if you take Duquesne out of the equation, the Mountaineer offense is averaging 17.3 points per game. Our defense is doing well enough to get takeaways and limit blowout wins (I think) but 17.3 points is not enough to beat the best of the Big 12 by far. You have to figure out new ways to the end zone and not stop when the team gets the lead. One play going differently on Saturday takes that game with Tech to overtime. Brilliant red zone stand by the defense, but it might have been a better approach to never let off the gas and have that 10-14 points of separation at that stage of the game. We had the plays and the determination to march down the field and answer when Tech scored towards the end of the game, so where is the aggressive play calling that could have put some padding?

Let the Battle Begin for Best Hands

I said this before and still say it leaving the Tech game. Someone has to be THE GUY of our offense. We do not have the Stedman Bailey, the Kevin White, the Gary Jennings, the Bryce Ford-Wheaton. The list goes on. The talent is in that room for breakout performances, someone just has to take the frog by the horns this week and make some grabs.

Balance the Attack

At this stage, it’s unclear who the best receiver is, partly because we haven’t been exactly competitive in this area and partly because there has been a much higher percentage of run plays called.  Even just taking TCU into account, it is unlikely we beat them running 8 out of 10 times. So far this year, only 22% of the offense has been in the air. Run heavy is great, but you have give those runners a chance by throwing closer to 40% of the time. We can’t be scared because we have a set of QBs that could make mistakes, the most touted players in college football throw interceptions, fumble, and get the read wrong.

The Mountaineers are likely the closest thing to a professional team that the state will ever get. You ride the highs and you hit the lows when they come. It’s not easy to flip a switch and forget everything that has made the past seasons so terrible and not be among the many fans just waiting for the shoe to drop. Some comment that our coverage of stories and takes on the team border on bipolarism, but it’s really more likely a product of being smart enough to realize that we support this team and love its successes along with everyone but have to remain objective enough to say there are still areas for improvement. That’s any team in the country. Alabama is a powerhouse and yet they are learning this year that the wins just don’t just come because you’re the Crimson Tide. Our climb really begins by building a foundation stable enough for the mountain to stand on. Whether it’s Neal Brown or Nick Saban, have enough stumbles and anyone is coaching for their job.

photo credit: AP News

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Benjamin Gilbert
Benjamin Gilbert here - panhandle resident and enjoyer of Pitt losses. First and foremost, I am a lifelong West Virginia Mountaineer fan and do my best to inspire that passion in my beautiful wife and talented kids. Unfortunately, fandom doesn't always pay the bills. I have been writing for a decade and a half for various professions and multi-faceted franchises, so writing is what I do. Combining my skills with my passion for the WVU teams, I always seek to provide fair and honest takes on our path to finding the top of college athletics. Let's Go.