Offensive Approach Changes; Work Still Remains For WVU
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — West Virginia’s offensive approach against Iowa State was based partially on the now over-hyped desire to establish toughness, but it also had at its core the tactical idea of taking what the opponent gave.
The Cyclones, who play with at least two deep defenders on most snaps, present the offense with the opportunity for short gains, but with a long-term view. That is, that most college offenses can’t string together 10 and 12 play scoring drives with consistency. ISU, under head coach Matt Campbell, also realizes that its talent was a bit short of some other squads in the Big 12 conference, so it chooses to go with this more conservative approach. WVU, also on the short end of some overall depth match-ups, changed its approach for this game.
“Me and Spav (offensive coordinator Jake Spavital) talked all week,” quarterback Will Grier said. “We had to be patient take what they give you and move the ball. It’s not the way we normally play. We stuck to it, and our guys did a really good job of buying in this week.”
WVU did run the ball adequately, piling up 208 yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry. It had 47 carries (43 designed runs) as opposed to just 25 passes on 29 dropbacks. The Mountaineers didn’t fumble, and the only turnover came on a 50-50 pass that was picked off halfway through the fourth quarter. That wasn’t a forced throw, and West Virginia did a very good job of sticking with its plan, even when the Cyclones went to four down linemen in the second half.
“I thought we played with an edge today and I think it showed,” Grier said. “We ran the ball really well.”
True enough, but the Mountaineers did come up short on a pair of short yardage possessions where a touchdown could have caused a big momentum swing. On its first possession of the third quarter, the Mountaineers had a third and two at the Iowa State 35, but could only gain one yard on two rushes. On its next possession, a loss of one yard on third and one led to a punt. It’s tough to classify the running game as a total success, or jump wholly aboard the bandwagon, in the face of those two possessions.
“I wish we had finished a couple [of drives] a little better,” Grier admitted. “We have to be better in third and short, fourth and short situations. Those are big time. But overall we had a good day.”
That is a fair assessment, and there’s credit to be handed out all-around for sticking with the approach and seeing it through. There was also the matter of responding to the manhood challenge, as offensive lineman Kyle Bosch put it. But it would also be folly to assume that the Mountaineers have everything in the run game ironed out. The Iowa State game was a building block, but tough defenses are on the schedule the next two weeks, and West Virginia must be able to convert those third and shorts if it is to build a November winning streak.