Mountaineers Look To Become More Complete Offensively
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Efficiency has become the buzzword for West Virginia’s offense.
One could also toss in consistency as well for a unit which at times was feast or famine. When the Mountaineers were hitting big plays – like Will Grier’s 76-yard pass versus TCU or his thread-the-needle throw to David Sills for a 53-yard score versus Baylor – they were nearly unstoppable.
WVU put up 38 or more points in six of the first eight games, and Grier’s list of longest completions in a game offers a ridiculous read as to why the quarterback threatened the all-time single-season school yardage mark before getting injured. Up until the Texas game, Grier had just one game in which he failed to complete a pass of at least 49 yards. He tagged Virginia Tech for a 60-yarder, and followed that with passes of 75, 62 and 49 over the next three games before he hit the season-best 76-yarder at TCU.
But sans the big play, West Virginia was rarely able to piece together lengthy scoring drives. The Baylor game was a prime example. The Mountaineers scored 38 points over the first three quarters with a dizzying array of deep throws between Grier and Sills. Three touchdowns came on completions of at least 35 yards, and Grier also found Marcus Simms for a 40-yard score. Then the offense suddenly went cold, failing to put up a single point over the last 17:42 of the game as it tred to hold on for the eventual 38-36 win after leading by 25.
It drove head coach Dana Holgorsen to flat out state that the offense seemed like nothing more than a series of deep throws, and that something had to change.
“There’s a lot of talk on efficiency right now and just trying to get the most efficient play that we can,” said Grier, who has returned to form over the first six sessions of spring practice after being limited through January and early February while recovering from the hand injury. “Our third-down efficiency, we want it to be better. There were some situations where we know we could have had a better play or could have had a better mindset going into the third down than we did. It’s miserable tape to watch because you’re watching all of the failures on third down. But it’s good tape to watch because you can say, ‘What could we have done differently?’ We’ve picked that up and tried to take it and get into more efficient plays to become more efficient on third down.”
WVU converted 62 of 185 third downs last year, good for a 33.5 percentage that ranked a whopping 111th nationally out of 129 FBS teams. It wasn’t only that the offense couldn’t convert, it was that the inability to mount sustained drives created major scoring droughts. The Mountaineers scored just 20 points against an Iowa State team intent on eliminating the big play, and all those 20 came in the first quarter and a half.
There was also a lull against Oklahoma State in which the offense managed just 10 points through the first 41:05 of the game in getting into a 30-10 hole, and the lethargic start to he Texas Tech game, when WVU put up 17 points over the first 39 minutes of the game before exploding for 28 points in the final 21 minutes.
“What’s the situation with the game? Do we need to hand the ball off in this situation? Do I have an efficient RPO that I can get to?,” coordinator Jake Spavital said when asked about how to increase the efficiency and overall effectiveness. “Is the best situation to mix it up and throw deep? It’s been some really good conversations in terms of what runs work in certain fronts and when to hand it off and when to throw it. I think that (Grier) is enjoying spring that way because it’s actually very challenging for him.”
Grier finished 250-of-388 last season (64.4 percent) for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in triggering an offense that averaged 34.5 points per game – and would have averaged more if Grier would have completed the Texas game and played the regular season finale’ versus Oklahoma and the bowl.
“We’re having a lot of good talks, and spring is a good time to work on it,” Grier said of the consistency. “I think that speaks back to the high-percentage plays. Instead of throwing the ball deep every play, maybe take a higher efficiency throw. Like I said, that’s really the talk right now. That’s our focus right now, just higher percentages.”