It was another tough night for Pat Miller and the WVU secondary as K-State generated 333 yards passing. Chris Harper (3) caught six passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. (Joe Sadlek/All-Pro Photography)
Examining the ups and downs, the dividends and downticks, from West Virginia’s 55-14 loss to Kansas State:
For the first time this season, Geno Smith is not the nation’s most efficient passer, and on Saturday night he wasn’t even the game’s most efficient. His two second-half interceptions came on underthrown sideline routes, mistakes Dana Holgorsen attributed to impatience as West Virginia tried to dig out of a 31-7 hole. K-State missed chances for two more interceptions and limited Smith to 143 yards on 21-of-32 passing.
Smith’s 1-yard flip to Tavon Austin represented the offense’s only touchdown, and it came in the final eight minutes, with Kansas State leading 52-7.
“I have to look myself in the mirror and just figure out ways to get better,” said Smith, who ranks fourth nationally (and third in the Big 12) in passing efficiency.
Though WVU’s inability to stop opponents seemingly compounds the pressure on the offense to put up big numbers, Smith bored that excuse.
“We have to block that out,” he said. “Our job, as an offense, is to score regardless of what the defense does. We should score in any scenario. The defense didn’t affect what we did on the field in any scenario.”
Paul Millard was 2-of-3 for 12 yards in one series of relief.
Running backs (NEUTRAL)
With a team-high 54 yards on nine carries, Dustin Garrison showed flashes of his pre-injury self. Garrison also gained 30 yards on four catches.
Andrew Buie carried 11 times for 49 yards, but was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1 on WVU’s opening series. (That play unraveled because K-State linebacker Arthur Johnson stood up lead blocker Cody Clay in the gap.) More alarming for Buie: He has zero receiving yards the past two weeks after being a vital pass-catcher the first five games.
Shawne Alston (thigh bruise) was unavailable for the fifth straight game, though Holgorsen continues to label the 230-pound tailback day-to-day. “It’s sad because he’s a senior, but we’re going to get some good snaps out of him,” Holgorsen said.
Stedman Bailey was questionable for Saturday with an ankle injury but he appeared to move well on a 13-yard third-down catch in the second quarter. The junior wasn’t very impactful otherwise, making four catches for just 34 yards.
Though Tavon Austin caught a touchdown for the eighth time in nine games, it came long after the game was decided, with K-State enjoying a 45-point cushion. The senior caught six passes for 34 yards, as the Wildcats linebackers and defensive backs kept him hemmed up.
“We definitely need to get our flow back,” Austin said. “And to be honest, we need to start playing with a little more heart.
“It all starts with the leaders and the seniors — me, Geno and Sted. It’s about us taking the young guys in and showing them the ropes. When stuff gets tough, we can’t just them hit us and not hit back.
“Kansas State came in with a good football team, and they were more disciplined than us. They probably wanted it more than us. Hopefully everything will get straight, and come next game, everything will get back on track.”
Ivan McCartney spelled Bailey at times, making three catches for 26 yards, and true freshman Travares Copeland caught three passes for 10 yards in his first start. Offensive coordinator/receivers coach Shannon Dawson said the staff decided to broaden the rotation after determining the lead receivers were playing too many plays.
J.D. Woods had a quiet day, making only one catch for 9 yards. That was one less reception than reserve Ryan Nehlen made on WVU’s final drive when backup quarterback Paul Millard led the offense.
Offensive line (DOWN)
Nothing like a Tweet to detail the plight of this team, and around 1 a.m. Sunday, right guard Jeff Braun summarized it with these 99 characters: “I cant sleep… All i can think about is what my senior class needs to do to right the ship…” (Braun had Tweeted earlier that night how a brace saved him from a serious knee injury, something that was a concern when he limped to the sideline in the second half. In truth, Braun was ineffective and looked to be banged up from last week’s loss at Texas Tech.)
Nick Kindler earned his first career start at right tackle, replacing Pat Eger. The sophomore was beaten on third down by Meshak Williams on WVU’s second drive, resulting in a Geno Smith fumble the quarterback recovered. Williams was in on back-to-back sacks in the third quarter, slipping inside past Braun to drop Smith at the WVU 2-yard line.
The line allowed four sacks for minus-25 yards overall. Those sacks contributed to West Virginia netting only 88 yards on 27 rushing attempts. (3.3 yards per carry).
Defensive Line (DOWN)
Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest saw the obvious leadership vacuum on defense: “You’ve got to have someone say, ‘Come on, follow me,’ and we don’t have that on defense. You need somebody in the huddle to grab them and say, ‘It’s our job to get this done.’”
The defensive line, and the entire WVU defense, continued to play adequately against the run, allowing 3.7 yards per carry. But there was no pass-rush rom the front four.
Freshman Kyle Rose made four tackles, tops on the unit. Christian Brown made one tackle behind the line, but also jumped offsides.
Nose tackle Shaq Rowell, who made three stops, while Jorge Wright had one assist.
Redshirt freshman Sam linebacker Isaiah Bruce made a team-high nine tackles, and continues to be a point of optimism for the future, provided he can overcome the mental scar tissue of this season. Bruce was tantalized on a couple of crucial pass plays, with Collin Klein dropping passes just out of the linebacker’s reach.
Senior Buck linebacker Josh Francis made a third-down containment play against Klein on K-State’s first series, resulting in a field-goal attempt. But he was held without a sack for the second consecutive week.
Star linebacker Terence Garvin, in on four tackles, but lost containment on Klein’s 15-yard run to the 1 in the second quarter.
WVU’s lone sack, a fourth-quarter takedown on Klein’s final snap, belonged to backup Jared Barber, who also had a second TFL. Will linebacker Doug Rigg added two stops.
But K-State’s 6-of-9 performance on third downs, and it’s 8-for-8 ratio in the red zone, is partly attributable to the linebacking unit not making plays.
“Can’t get off the field,” said linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “We’re getting them in long-yardage situations, and we’ve just got to get of the field in those third-down-10. You have to re-evaluate everything: who’s on the field, and scheme and how much we can do and not do. You’ve just got to do something to try to get better — quick.”
Said DeForest: “Our game plan was as simple as you can get, and we just didn’t execute it.”
Collin Klein’s previous season-high for passing yardage was 230 against North Texas, so when he put up 226 in the first half Saturday, you sensed that WVU hadn’t entirely patched its secondary holes.
It’s not for lack of experimenting. True freshman Nana Kyeremeh started in place of the injured Brodrick Jenkins (knee) at one cornerback, and true freshman Ricky Rumph saw ample time spelling starter Pat Miller on the opposite side, though his performance was even spottier than Miller’s. Redshirt freshman Ishmael Banks also got in the game early, and promptly was flagged for endzone pass interference against Tyler Lockett on K-State’s second series.
True freshman free safety Karl Joseph rapidly developed a representation as a thumper, and he equal Bruce with nine tackles Saturday. But he whiffed on Klein’s 8-yard option-keeper TD in the second quarter. Likewise he couldn’t bring down the spinning John Hubert on third-and-1 at the WVU 7 in the third period. In coverage, Joseph remains a liability. He was beaten on TD catches by Lockett and Chris Harper and also got turned around on Lockett’s 44-yard catch that set up another score.
“We’ve tried to cover up our deficiencies,” said defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “Then we tried to do other things to give them the ability to mix it up. We’re searching right now. We’re searching … but we’re running across different problems each week.”
Darwin Cook made eight tackles. from his safety spot.
Special teams (NEUTRAL)
The only unit without a “down” rating was saved by Austin’s 100-yard kick return, which temporarily rejuvenated West Virginia after falling behind 24-0.
In turn, the Mountaineers coverage units had their weak spots, as K-State’s Tramaine Thompson ran back the opening kickoff 41 yards and later went for 30 on a punt return. Tyler Lockett also ripped off a 49-yarder kick return.
Tyler Bitancurt averaged 39.2 yards on four punts, with a long of 49 yards. He shanked a 25-yarder and got littlr hang time on the punt Thompson ran back to the WVU16.
All the good vibes around this program after the 5-0 start have evaporated in microwave fashion. (Losing consecutive games by scores of 49-14 and 55-14 will have that effect, particularly when WVU was favored in both games.)
Though perplexed by the sudden dropoff, Holgorsen asked the restless fan base to resist panic.
“If you rewind two weeks ago, we’re looking at a team that had won nine straight games,” he said. “This program didn’t forget how to win just because we dropped two games.”
He supported the defensive coaches he brought in this season, saying schemes aren’t at fault for WVU ranking 113th in total defense (493.5 yards per game), 115th in points allowed (39.8) and 120th — dead last in the FBS — in pass defense (360.1 yards per game).
“Defensively, what we’re doing from a scheme standpoint, I stand to it,” he said. “We have good defensive coaches. We just got to get better.
“We didn’t just forget how to coach football. There’s a bunch of guys in that locker room down there that are upset, that are hurt, that have won a whole lot of football games,” he said. “We only had a couple hundred yards of offense, but I didn’t forget how to coach offense. The schemes have been the same for a long time and they’ve been successful.”
It’s hard to detect one thing WVU is doing well right now, as the season has jumped the rails precipitously. How Holgorsen’s staff responds during the bye week, and how it communicates with players who have been shell-shocked the past two games, will determine what can be salvaged.