It doesn’t take a football mastermind to know that West Virginia’s ground game struggled to get moving in its week one win over James Madison.
Head coach Neal Brown alluded to that Tuesday at his weekly press conference — saying anybody who looked at the box score would know the Mountaineers had a tough time — and he said those struggles stem from a lack of physicality.
“I think we lacked physicality across the board,” Brown said. “It’s easy to blame the running backs and O-line in the run game, but everybody has a piece in it, and it wasn’t very good.”
It also doesn’t take a genius to spot a glaring number in the box score from Missouri’s season opening loss to Wyoming: while the Mountaineers could only muster 34 yards rushing against JMU, the Tigers surrendered 297 yards on the ground to the Cowboys.
In the lead up to this week two matchup in Columbia, co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Moore said correcting the issues in the running game and learning from week one mistakes are both a “huge emphasis” for the Mountaineers.
Missed assignments aren’t what hurt WVU against the Dukes. In fact, Moore said missed assignments were limited on running plays.
But while the Mountaineers made their blocks, they didn’t block well enough to create gaps.
“We never moved anybody, never gave the running back a hole to hit,” Moore said. “So communication was good, all that stuff was really good, we just have to understand what it takes to move people in a game situation in Division I football. We didn’t understand that.”
West Virginia’s offensive line has gone through some major adjustments in recent weeks — namely Josh Sills’ move to center — and the unit also features several inexperienced players. Brown thinks some of those less experienced linemen focused too much on keeping their assignments in front of them, instead of focusing on blocking effectively.
“I think that’s what happened a lot to us on Saturday,” Brown said. “Those guys were playing a new position or had never played meaningful snaps before, they wanted to make sure they got on their guy and they were scared of really coming off the ball for fear of missing and having a tackle for loss.”
But it wasn’t just offensive linemen who blocked poorly: Brown said he was surprised by West Virginia’s ineptitude at perimeter blocking, something he thought was a strength of the team during fall camp. He expects that issue to correct itself this week.
“It’s all technique,” Brown said. “It’s not want to, it wasn’t lack of effort. It was poor technique and just not being physical enough.”
Even if the Mountaineers are significantly better at running the ball in week two, they still don’t have the same type of personnel that produced nearly 300 yards on the ground for Wyoming against the Tigers.
The Cowboys’ quarterback, Sean Chambers, was their leading rusher, racking up 120 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Wyoming also used sets with multiple tight ends, leading to more success in the run game.
West Virginia has neither a mobile quarterback or enough depth at tight end to play multiple tight end sets against Mizzou.
“Exactly how they ran the ball and how we can run the ball don’t necessarily match up,” Brown said.
But that doesn’t mean the Mountaineers won’t find more success running the ball in their first road game, and according to the coaches, they’re certainly going to try to be better.
They’ll have to be, said Moore, against their first Power 5 opponent of 2019.
“Compared to the team we played last week — that had a lot of experience, and they were good players — but these guys are much bigger and much more physical,” Moore said. “It’s gonna make our job that much tougher, so we’ve definitely gotta get better.”