WVU Struggling to Find Winning Formula

  • By John Antonik
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  • October 27, 2013 12:30 PM
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West Virginia wide receiver Ronald Carswell makes this 50-yard catch in the first half of Saturday's 35-12 loss at Kansas State. The Mountaineers produced 293 of their 367 yards of offense in the first three quarters of the game.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
MANHATTAN, Kan. - College football is a four-quarter, 60-minute contest and West Virginia right now is not making enough plays at the end of games to win them.
“It’s a huge concern,” admitted Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen. “We talk about it being a fourth-quarter game. We talk about we’ve got to finish everything that we do. That doesn’t happen to good football teams.”
Two weeks ago against Texas Tech, the Mountaineers had a 27-16 lead early in the third quarter before watching the Red Raiders score 21 unanswered points to pull out a 37-27 victory.
Saturday at Kansas State, West Virginia had a five-point lead with 10:40 remaining in the third quarter after Josh Lambert’s 50-yard field goal made the score 12-7. Then, K-State answered with a 14-play, 78-yard drive that ate eight minutes off the clock and enabled the Wildcats to retake the lead at 14-12.
Three times quarterback Daniel Sams made critical plays on third down to extend the drive. On third and six at the K-State 40, Sams found running back John Hubert uncovered in the flat for 15 yards to the WVU 45.
Three plays later, on third and 11 at the WVU 46, Sams hit Tyler Lockett for 14 yards to the WVU 32. Then on third and goal at the West Virginia 9, Sams hooked up with Lockett in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score.
“It came down to those critical third downs and that’s where the confidence shows up,” said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “There were two critical third downs and if we get off the field on those it’s a different deal.”
Following the K-State score that put the Wildcats back in the lead, the Mountaineers started well when Clint Trickett hit Daikiel Shorts for a 20-yard gainer to the Kansas State 49. Another Trickett pass to Shorts and a Dreamius Smith run set up a third and five at the K-State 44.
Trickett had tight end Cody Clay open toward the near sideline, but he threw the ball behind him. Holgorsen chose to punt the ball back to the Wildcats on fourth down in hopes that his defense could get the ball right back for the offense.
It didn’t.
Again, Kansas State made two big third-down conversions, one on third and eight at its own 24 when backup quarterback Jake Waters found Curry Sexton for a 32-yard completion to the Mountaineer 44, and then on third and six at the 40 when Waters scrambled for 10 yards to the WVU 30 to set up his 30-yard TD pass to Tramaine Thompson.
“The third and (six) when he pulls the ball down and runs for the first down … we’ve got everybody covered and just play with your eyes,” said Patterson. “Boom. We get him and we’re off the field.”
Now trailing by nine, 21-12, West Virginia moved the chains twice on first-down plays by running back Charles Sims and Shorts before getting the football back into K-State territory on a Trickett scramble for first-down yardage to the Wildcat 46. But he fumbled on the play and the ball was recovered by Dante Barnett.
Five plays later, Kansas State was right back in the end zone and for all intents and purposes the game was over.
“You’ve got to be able to throw to open people and complete it and Clint was not doing a good job of that,” said Holgorsen. “We turned the ball over and at that point when we were down two touchdowns we obviously have to pick the pace up on offense.
“We have to throw the ball and Clint wasn’t doing a very good job of that so we went with Paul (Millard) because Paul has a little bit of experience at just spreading the ball around. I thought he did a very average job.”
In its last two games, West Virginia has been outscored 35-0 in the fourth quarter. Against Texas Tech, the Mountaineer offense generated just 29 yards in the fourth quarter and yesterday against Kansas State, the offense had 293 of its 367 total yards after the first three quarters.
“We are not playing winning offensive football,” said Holgorsen. “Are we improving and does it look better at times? Yes. But is it enough to win Big 12 football games? Absolutely not.”
Is it a product of inexperience, a lack of depth, a lack of explosive playmakers or a void in leadership? In reality, it’s probably a combination of the four.
“We’re not scoring and we’re not finishing drives and blocks. We’re not making people miss in the open, we’re not catching the ball downfield and it keeps me up at night,” admitted Holgorsen.
The coach mentioned before the season that he wasn’t losing any sleep over some of the key personnel losses that he had to replace on offense. Now, Holgorsen says he is losing sleep because of the way his young football team is performing.
“I thought we could coach them up a little bit and the continuity would take care of itself just by practicing,” said Holgorsen. “Leading into this game we have shown improvement, but it’s not winning football. And then your confidence takes a hit and you get discouraged and it’s tough. They’re trying. I do think our guys are trying, but it’s just not clicking.”