Deep Dive Into Ocean’s Defeat
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The waves roll in on the ocean of defeat, one after another, pounding onto what once was a beach of hope.
The defeat came Saturday, and it was ugly.
Oklahoma State 50, West Virginia 39.
Each wave was a reason for defeat: You heard it from friends, saw it on social media, read about it in the newspapers, heard it on SportsCenter.
—The quarterback threw four interceptions
—The running game failed and turned the ball over once
—The defense gave up seven touchdowns
—The offensive and defensive lines were overpowered
—The receivers seemed confused, out of sync
—The coaching failed
All of this could not be true, yet all of it was and WVU is now in a position where a successful season is in jeopardy, standing at 5-3 with four games left, all of them against solid teams in Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma.
Let’s play Jacques Cousteau and dive into those waves and see what we find.
Begin with the quarterback, Will Grier, who a couple of weeks earlier had been amazing head coach Dana Holgorsen with his accuracy.
This time he was 20-42, which is 47.6 percent, after coming into the game completing 66.3 percent of his passes.
He had passed for more than 300 yards in all seven of the prior games but threw for just 285 in this one.
He is the easiest to target, for in the glory days the quarterback gets the glory and in the tough times he gets the blame, but how much blame really is his?
“We don’t want to make it like Will has to play a perfect game every single time he’s out on the field,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “Some guys have got to step up and make plays. I kept trying to emphasize that in the second and third quarters: Quit waiting around on Will to make a play. Let’s get out there and show some maturity. Someone step up and make a play.
“I felt like nothing was clicking,” Spavital continued. “I felt like there was always one person who was off. It was tough to get anything going. They have a very good defense and I thought we got outplayed and outcoached and our physicality was missing.”
It began probably with the run game, which is key, only there wasn’t any again. WVU rushed for just 62, meaning the rushing totals in the last four games have been 142, 44, 118 and 62.
That, with an uncoordinated passing effort, made life difficult.
“Our run game wasn’t hitting it like we wanted it to at time,” Spavital said. “Even when we had these easy completions like we normally do, we would get it out in space and we weren’t capitalizing on it.
“That put us in third down situations that make it hard on the quarterback.”
Hard enough that they were just 2 of 15 on third down.
Still, they tried to stick with the running game, hoping Kennedy McKoy could pick up the slack.
“You have to stick to it because that’s what we do,” Spavital said. “We throw off the run. We struggled with hitting the big run plays and were stuck in a lot of third-and-long situations. I thought that was something we were very poor at. We were 2 of 15 on third down and that’s unacceptable, especially against a team like that.”
Then there was the pass protection, or lack thereof.
“Pass protection had a lot to do with it,” Holgorsen admitted. “Will wasn’t sharp early. I thought our receivers were sluggish. I’m certainly not putting everything on the offensive line, but in a physical game like this, that’s kind of where you get exposed. They were more physical across the board.”
“We didn’t run the ball and we didn’t block,” Holgorsen said. “We didn’t block in general, pass protection was not good and the run game was not good as well.”
So you had Grier passing under pressure, often off his back foot, and the coordination between QB and receiver was off.
There were chances that he missed, a couple of times never spotting McKoy running free on wheel routes because he couldn’t check down to him, and with the Oklahoma State front handling the rush, they were able to do a lot of doubling.
“There were some things we haven’t done all year,” Spavital said. “There were plays we had done all year. Normally, when we get that look from the defense, this is what we expect to do and we had receivers not looking when the ball was on the way and there was obviously some confusion.”
Tyron Carrier coaches the wide receivers. He saw what was going on.
“Everyone was waiting for that one play to happen. Then we’d make a play and something wrong would happen,” he said, pointing to the confusion between Grier and young center Matt Jones that led to a fumble as he snapped the ball before Grier was ready.
Carrier knows he has a coaching challenge ahead of him to get it back in sync with quarterback and receivers.
“The hard part is you don’t want to beat them down. They know. They know more than anybody. They know how they feel,” Carrier said. “I’m not going to beat them down. They are going to learn from their mistakes and get better from it.”
And then there was the defense, a defense that ranks 115th in total defense out of 129 at 460.3 yards a game and 97th in scoring defense with 31.6 points a game allowed and 106th in rushing defense allowing 204.6 yards a game.
Kansas’ defense is ahead of them in total defense at No. 114.
“It looks like we have to scrap everything we’re doing and try to figure something else out,” Gibson said, who runs a unique, gambling 3-3-5 stack defense. “We got to get guys healthy and guys playing. It’s not hard what we do. Everyone else has figured it out, except us.”
Gibson knows something has to be done to change the trend.
“We don’t make a play when we need to. That’s the bottom line. In the losses we had an opportunity to win the game and we didn’t,” he said after the OSU loss. “Today was an emotional roller-coaster, from being down to coming back to a one-possession game and being down again two or three scores.
“Maturity? I don’t know what it is. I wish I could put my finger on it to make a guy make a play when we need one. That’s frustrating.”