Good, Bad & Ugly – WVU Midseason Offensive Analysis
MORGANTOWN, W.Vs.–The theme of this article certainly would have been much different after game five of West Virginia’s football season, because at that point, there was plenty of good, but finding anything bad or ugly would have been a chore. But following WVU’s performance at Iowa State, all the sudden there the bad and ugly came pouring out.
Still, we’ll mix the positive and negative and analyze the Mountaineer offense at the midway point.
Good – After West Virginia’s dismal offensive performance at Iowa State, it’s hard to remember that there was actually plenty of good in the first five games of the 2018 football season.
Even when combining that otherwise forgettable 14-point, 152-yard performance in Ames with the other stats this season, WVU is still fourth in the Big 12 in scoring (36.8 points per game), second in passing offense (320.5 yards per game) and fifth in total offense (464.3 yards per game). It is also in the top 30 in the FBS in each of those categories.
Like the offense as a whole, senior quarterback Will Grier admittedly struggled against the Cyclones (11-of-15 for 100 yards) but still, he’s thrown for more than 330 yards in every other game this season. He remains in the top 10 in the FBS in TD passes (third with 22), completion percentage (tied for sixth at 71.4), passing yards (seventh at 324.2 per game) and passing efficiency (fourth at 185.8).
Receiver David Sills is again one of the nation’s best when it comes to catching touchdowns, as his seven so far this year ties him for sixth. He’s also getting scoring help this season from Gary Jennings, who had only one TD catch last year but six so far year.
When healthy, Leddie Brown is proving to be one of the best freshmen running backs in the country. His average of 59.2 rushing yards per game is seventh among all true freshmen in the FBS ranks. If he can stay healthy the rest of the way and continues at his present pace, Brown would finish in the top three in WVU history in rushing for a true freshman.
Bad – The second halves for West Virginia are becoming problematic. In the first three games of the season, WVU averaged 15 points in the first half and 24 in the second. Over the course of the last five games, though, it has improved its first half output, averaging 23.3 points in the first 30 minutes, but it is managing just 8.0 points in the second half, including being shut out at Iowa State. Obviously big halftime leads against Texas Tech and Kansas could have led to WVU’s second half slowdown in those games, but still, West Virginia hasn’t played a full 60 minutes since it throttled Kansas State, 35-6.
With 11 giveaways, the Mountaineers don’t have the most turnovers in the Big 12, but they are in the bottom third of the league, tied with K-State, one behind Oklahoma State and four behind the conference’s most generous turnover machine, TCU, which has 15. WVU has eight interceptions as a team, and seven of those are by Grier. Again, that’s not the worst INT mark in the Big 12, but it’s not far in front of the league’s bottomfeeders in TCU’s Shawn Robinson and Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius, who each have eight.
Ugly – West Virginia’s run blocking has been an issue most of the year, but all of the sudden WVU’s pass protection is starting to break down as well. The Mountaineers’ average of 143.8 rushing yards per game is ninth in the 10-team Big 12, and if the season ended now, it would be the lowest average by a WVU squad since Dana Holgorsen’s first year as head coach (122.7 ypg in 2011).
Even more troubling, though, is West Virginia’s difficulty protecting its quarterback. Now, not every sack can be laid at the feet of the offensive line. Wide receivers who fail to get open, quarterbacks who hold onto the ball too long and running backs who falter when asked to pick up blitzers all can contribute as well. But whatever the reason, Grier has been getting sacked at a much higher rate lately than he had last year or earlier this season. In the 11 games he played in 2017, Grier was sacked an average of 1.36 times per game. Through the first three games this season, that sack number was 1.33 per game, for minimal losses, as those four sacks amassed just 12 negative yards. Grier averaged 373.7 passing yards in those three games when he received little pressure. In the last three games, Grier has been sacked 4.67 times per game, including seven by Iowa State. Of those 14 recent sacks, they have thrown WVU backward a total of 108 yards. And Grier’s passing average has gone down, just 267.3 yards per game in those outings, though obviously the 100-yard passing performance against ISU brought that average down significantly. Place the blame wherever you want, but West Virginia’s pass protection, which had previously been a strength, is suddenly a major issue.