Two games into the 2011 season, West Virginia University fans who were looking for some insight as to how good their football team was going to be still have not a clue. The two halves in the game vs Norfolk State on Saturday were as polar opposites as possible. Take your pick.
The first half was a complete embarrassment. Playing against an FCS opponent, the Mountaineers began two possessions at the Spartans'26 and 12 yard lines and failed to score in five attempts from the one yard line and came away with no points. They were outgained by a ridiculous 179 yards to 19 in the first quarter, failed to even register a first down until the second, and trailed 12-10 at the intermission.. It was the worst half of WVU football in recent memory.
Or take the second half. West Virginia scored six touchdowns and a field goal in their first seven possessions, and piled up 375 total yards and 45 points.
While our hearts say it was the second half that was the real WVU team, our heads remind us that this was against an outmanned small college opponent. And even considering the offensive explosion, the Mountaineers were still able to gain only 102 yards on 33 carries running the ball throughout the entire game.
While the Holgorsen offensive system may be a pass first offense, it is by no means a pass only attack. With Holgorsen as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2010, the Cowboys had a runner who gained nearly 1600 yards. They run the same offense in 2011, and on Thursday night their running backs gained over 200 yards.
For this offense to be successful against quality opponents, it must be able to run the football with some success. If not, good teams will disregard the run and find a way to stifle the good passing attack which the Mountaineers clearly have. Norfolk State dropped eight defenders on nearly every play yet West Virginia still could not mount any effective rushing attack.
The Mountaineers have an outstanding quarterback and good receivers, and they will put points on the board. But without a running game we will not see the 35-40 points per game juggernaut that WVU fans hoped to see. The play of the offensive line has been uneven at best, and WVU has three freshmen carrying the ball. Things will need to improve in this phase of the game. A great offensive system on paper won't work if you can't control the line of scrimmage.
This Saturday: West Virginia has now defeated Maryland five straight times, including a 31-17 impressive win last season. But this is not the Maryland Terps squad to which we have become accustomed.
Randy Edsall has moved to Maryland as head coach from Connecticut, but did not bring with him the stodgy UConn offense. Instead he has hired an offensive coordinator who most recent stint as a coordinator was at Oregon, and the offense has some life. Whether it was the new offense or their wacky uniforms, there was an energy level at the Terps opening game at home vs Miami that we haven't seen in the recent past. Maryland played well in that upset win, and is on an emotional high and has had a week off to get ready for the Mountaineers. This is not the best spot for a WVU team still trying to find its bearings. Maryland 27, West Virginia 24.