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Teams ‘Totally Disregarding’ Run Game

Shawne Alston, returning from a six-game absence, gained just 16 yards on seven carries, though he did have a 1-yard touchdown. WVU averaged only 2.2 yards per carry. (Joe Sadlek/All-Pro Photography)

West Virginia’s running game struggles were glaring again in Saturday’s 39-38 double-overtime loss to TCU, something that’s hampered West Virginia during its current three-game losing skid. The Mountaineers had just 78 yards on 35 carries against the Horned Frogs, averaging just 2.2 yards per carry.
“I don’t know,” said Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith. “We understand that we have to run the ball. We have to be a balanced offense in order to be good. In the games we have excelled in and done great in, we ran the ball well and passed the ball well.”
But now?
“Teams are disrespecting our running game,” Smith said. “They are totally disregarding it and putting one linebacker in the box against our sets.”
Andrew Buie was West Virginia’s top rusher with only 40 yards on 10 carries. Shawne Alston — back from a thigh bruise injury that sidelined him for most of six games — and Dustin Garrison ran for 16 yards apiece.
With West Virginia’s inability to mount a rushing threat, it’s making it even harder on Smith to find open receivers — and for the receivers to even get open.
“It’s the same formula, back everyone up,” Smith said. “They don’t want to give up the big play and teams are very mindful of the fact that we have a very potent passing offense. It’s very hard to throw against eight-man coverages on an every-down basis.”

Kicking Game Ups and Downs
It was a roller-coaster game for Mountaineers kicker Tyler Bitancurt — with more lows than highs. While he made a career-long 52-yard field goal early in the second half, he missed four other field-goal attempts.
Then there was also the fumbled low snap on a punt attempt, a flub that TCU took into the end zone for a score.
“Special teams I thought played well other than the people that were snapping and kicking,” said head coach Dana Holgorsen. “Other than that, I thought we played well on special teams … but our snappers and kickers kind of let us down tonight.”

DeForest In The Booth
Despite the loss and 94-yard touchdown pass given up that tied the game late, there were signs of progress on the defensive side for West Virginia. Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said part of the improvement in defensive calls was precipitated by his move from the field to the coaches’ booth.
“I loved it,” DeForest said. “I thought I was calm and it’s so surreal up there. In 23 years of coaching I’ve never been in the box before and I don’t think I’ll ever leave. I could see what was going on in the secondary and the big picture. I was calm making calls, and I think that had a lot to do with how we played tonight.”
With DeForest shifting to the coaches’ box, co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson moved down to the field.
“It’s one of those deals where I think it helped us today, but what helped us more than anything was that our kids played with great effort,” Patterson said. “The theme of today, though, was the game is 60 minutes and we have to finish.”

Level In – Cook Out
One of the personnel changes for West Virginia’s secondary saw senior Cecil Level move from cornerback to boundary safety, where he replaced Darwin Cook.
“He gave great effort everyday and was on the scout team with the offense,” DeForest said of Level. “He showed up on special teams and we had that extra week of preparation and wanted to give him a try. I think he performed well and gave the effort that we want.”
Level finished with five tackles and one forced fumble on Saturday, though he was caught out of poisition on the game-tying 94-yard touchdown pass from Trevone Boykin to Josh Boyce in the final two minutes.
As for the status of Cook?
“He’s not playing very good,” Holgorsen said.

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