Grounded Rushing Attack Needs Clearance for Take Off - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Grounded Rushing Attack Needs Clearance for Take Off

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MORGANTOWN -

A program starving to return to some position of offensive power welcomed the idea of an "Eer Raid" with open arms.

There's no doubt that the numbers show it works. It worked for offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and it is working for him as a head coach. But when it doesn't work, it looks forced.
Holgorsen himself has admitted to pressing at times and to his players pressing to make the big plays through the air that they believe they should be capable of.

When the cant make them, though, they haven't gone to the ground. Initially, it was a lack of experienced rushers but after the win over Bowling Green, that reason went out the window.

Dustin Garrison has proven his worth with the ball in his hand. Shawne Alston has, too, providing a quality one-two punch for the rushing attack. Still, it appears to be an anecdote to the real story of the offense, which currently is a lack of attention to any plays that don't involve Geno Smith flinging the ball all over the field.

Sure, his numbers have been flashy, but they've been inconsistent. The program's leader in completion percentage earlier in the season, Smith has seen his career numbers drop below those of former WVU quarterback Pat White in recent weeks with just 51 of 85 passes finding their targets.

That's 59.3 percent in the two weeks.

When he connects, the results are undeniable. Touchdown tosses to Stedman Bailey and Bradley Starks against Syracuse were fun to watch.

When he's off, it's another story. Many of the passes in the past two weeks have required receivers to contort their bodies to get back to an under-thrown ball and the fade route has yielded more incompletions than success.

As much work as the Mountaineers put into that throw in each practice, it hasn't been effective. Still, they continue to go to it.

Meanwhile, Garrison wastes away in the backfield and Alston is right by his side.

In his breakout performance against the Falcons, Garrison carried the ball 32 times. No one expects him to reach that number again anytime soon, but he's had just 29 in the two outings since. Conversely, Holgorsen's workhorse at Oklahoma State -- Kendall Hunter -- had 47 carries in his first two league games.

No one is about to compare the freshman Garrison to Hunter, who now plays on Sundays, but Hunter never had 291 yards in his first start, either.

Garrison's average in the last two games was 4.4 and 5.3. Not too shabby.

On the season, Alston averages 4.7 on just 29 total carries.

Neither back has been given a chance to catch fire or even get in a rhythm with two straight games in which two-thirds of the plays called favored the pass.

On 23 first down plays against Syracuse, the Mountaineers had nine incompletions. Alston and Garrison averaged 5.4 yards per touch on first downs. The rest of the team averaged 2.4 yards.

At one point in the second half against the Orange, Garrison had nine carries for 52 yards, 29 of which came on WVU's opening drive of the half in which it marched down the field to quickly pull back within one score.

It may not have been a spectacular 64-yard connection with Bailey worthy of SportsCenter's top play, but it was just as productive, if not more.

It kept the clock running, kept the Orange defense on the field and the Mountaineers defense off it. Holgorsen has made it clear that he doesn't mind losing the time of possession battle. He thinks it's irrelevant. But if he can win it and still put up the points necessary to win the game, then why not?

With the way WVU's defense surrendered yardage, points and clock to Syracuse, it became increasingly difficult to pay any real attention to the running game. Had the Mountaineers given it a chance early in the game, though, Smith may never have found himself in situations where he was forcing passes and looking like the same player who threw three interceptions to the Orange a year ago.

Balance is important. Taking care of the ball is important. Breaking down a defense is important.
Numbers are great, sure. But to this point, WVU's flashy numbers haven't always made the team look all that intimidating for an entire game.

The most points the Mountaineers have put up this season was 55 in wins over Norfolk State and Bowling Green.

Those are also the only games in which WVU has put up over 100 yards rushing.

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