WVU’s Offense Has To Be What It Is
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–After an unexpected week off, the Mountaineer football team is anxious to get back into game action.
Last Saturday’s contest at N.C. State was cancelled because of Hurricane Florence, so WVU turned its attention to Kansas State, which comes to Morgantown this Saturday for the Big 12 opener for both schools. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m., and the will be televised by ESPN.
West Virginia’s offensive had been sailing along for its first two games of the season in a 40-14 victory over Tennessee and a 52-17 win over FCS Youngstown State.
WVU is second in the Big 12 in passing offense (382.5 yards a game), fourth in scoring offense (46.0 points a game) and fifth in rushing offense (203.5 yards a game).
Now it faces a Kansas State team that typically gives up points and yards in grudging fashion. KSU led the Big 12 in scoring defense in 2016 (22.3) and was fourth in 2017 (25.2 points a game). Off to a 2-1 start this year, with wins over FCS South Dakota (27-24) and UTSA (41-17) and a loss to Mississippi State (31-10), the Wildcat defense hasn’t had a great beginning to the 2018 campaign. It’s currently seventh in the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing an average of 24.0 points a game in what admittedly is still a very young season.
The loss to Mississippi State is the most troubling for K-State defensively and all around, as the Bulldogs rushed for 384 yards that day in Manhattan and also threw for 154.
“(Mississippi State is) a running football team, and they do a lot of quarterback run game,” explained WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “That’s why (Kansas State) played a lot more man (coverage than usual), because (the Bulldogs) were doing a lot of quarterback runs. So, they’re going to get that added hat into the run defense just because of the threat of Mississippi State with the QB run game. That’s a whole other dimension. You guys saw that with Pat White for all those years. Defenses are going to play them differently than how they’ll play us.”
West Virginia’s 2018 offense is certainly different than Mississippi State’s. Bulldog quarterback Nick Fitzgerald ran for 159 yards on 19 carries against K-State. Spavital definitely isn’t going to ask his QB, Will Grier, to do the same.
“No, I’m out of that business,” chuckled Spavital when asked about calling designed runs for Grier.
That doesn’t mean WVU won’t run the ball against veteran coach Bill Snyder’s club. Grier will be very much involved in that Mountaineer ground attack; it’s just that he’ll be using his mind rather than his legs when it comes to getting effective run plays.
“I think we have to be disciplined with our communication, understanding what they’re trying to accomplish on that play,” noted Spavital. “I think they caught us a few things last year when we had run game called, and they shot a blitz or outmanned us in the box. We just didn’t get into any audibles. We have to make sure that we have a good feeling with what they’re trying to do to us and make sure we get into the right play. It’s going to be a big week for Will in terms of managing that. You sit there and study a lot of tape on them, and there aren’t very many tendencies these guys have. You just have to make sure your kids are on point, make sure to catch them in the right scenarios, communicate it out to everybody and make sure everyone is on the same page.
“I think a lot of that is getting Will up on the line and letting him decipher (the K-State defense),” added Spavital. “It’s a Bill Snyder-coached team. They continually get better. It’s like I’ve been saying about our offense; we need to as well. You can see the difference in their defense from week one to week three. They’re playing at a higher level than what they were playing at the beginning of the year. They are going to continually get better. That’s something that we have to make sure that we’re doing the right things from an offensive standpoint, because they’re going to be ready for everything that we throw at them.”
In the end, WVU has to be who it is – throw it, run it, play uptempo at times, but also slow down the pace at other times.
“We can’t completely change who we are just for one opponent, but there are some things that we can do that definitely to play into our favor,” said Spavital.
West Virginia, which is ranked No. 12 in the latest A.P. poll, is a 16-point favorite Saturday against K-State. WVU has never been favored by a larger amount against a fellow Big 12 team outside of Kansas.