Physicality Continues As Watchword For WVU
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — There’s no doubt as to the buzzword of the week is inside West Virginia’s Milan Puskar Center. It was sounded in the Oklahoma State postgame by head coach Dana Holgorsen, and repeated by just about everyone in Tuesday’s interview session. The Mountaineers were out-toughed by the visitors, at just about every position, and that has to change if West Virginia is to get bowl-eligible.
“I thought Oklahoma State got up in our face and we couldn’t get any separation,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “We had a lot of problems in terms of physicality with our route running and getting separation, and Iowa State creates a lot of disruption on the perimeter. Our kids have to match that on the perimeter if we are going to have some success.”
Added to that, or perhaps in part because of it, were offensive errors. The mistakes West Virginia’s offense committed against Oklahoma State were numerous, and not limited to one group or unit. They were, perhaps maddeningly, spread across every position on that side of the ball, bouncing from player to player like a pinball. In the end, the total were glaring. Spavital listed eight dropped passes, five bad passes, a few missed one-on-one blocks and six or seven missed holes in the run game.
“We watched it together as a unit, and they could tell that they weren’t on the same page,” he said of the offense. “This is the ultimate team game, and we have to get that corrected if we are going to have success.”
Add up those mistakes, and that’s 25 errors. Out of 72 total offensive plays, a percentage like that is going to be fatal, and Spavital knows it. Finding the fix, though, is more difficult.
“Simplify the game plan more, so you can get more reps through the week on one certain play,” he said of one possible approach. “That limits you at times, but when you play a team like Iowa State, that is very base but plays very hard, keeps the ball in front of it and creates turnovers, the playbook doesn’t have to be expanded. [Hopefully] they can feel more comfortable going into the game.”
Distilling the playbook is a tactic that is also being tried on the defensive side of the ball, with fewer calls and checks as part of the game plan. However, none of that will matter if WVU is again dominated in the raw aspects of the game. There’s no doubt that a gauntlet has been thrown down in front of the players, and whether they pick it up or turn and walk away will determine how the final month of the regular season plays out.
“I’m a fullback on an offense with not much run game,” said Elijah Wellman, who epitomizes the quality the coaches are looking for. “Saying we’re getting beat in the toughness aspect, as a captain, it kind of rubs me the wrong way. I have to get these guys going.”