Fixing an offense that’s been ‘subpar at everything’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bye weeks tend to be introspective times for football teams, ripe for self-scouting and deeper player evaluations.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, whose reputation as an offensive guru has tapered this season, didn’t care for what he saw from the Mountaineers’ low-scoring attack.

“Offensively we’ve been subpar at everything, so there’s really no tendencies,” he said. “The only tendency is we’re really not great at anything.”

While splitting its first six games this season, WVU (3-3, 1-2) ranks next to last in the Big 12 in scoring at 24 points per game. Going hand-in-hand with that stat is a near-bottom performance in red-zone scoring (73 percent). Whereas West Virginia only has 15 red-zone chances, the rest of the league has an average of 22.

Holgorsen called WVU’s 29.2-percent third-down conversion rate “atrocious”—a fair description considering it ranks ninth in the 10-team conference and 111th out of 123 FBS teams.

But with a half-season to go (and the difficult part of the conference schedule behind them), the Mountaineers can reasonably expect an uptick in offensive efficiency. Part of that involves trimming down the playing rotation at offensive line and receiver, not to mention angling for stability at quarterback, where three players have each made two starts. Clint Trickett is in line to start his third game Saturday when No. 16 Texas Tech visits.

“We have identified as coaches kind of what we do well and what we don’t do well, what the direction of our offense is going, who needs to play, who doesn’t need to play,” Holgorsen said. “We haven’t been moving guys around as much.”

Despite WVU’s offense looking slower and clunkier than Holgorsen’s past units, the coach’s “get-good” philosophy doesn’t require extravagant improvements or wholesale strategic changes.

“You’ve just got to get good at routine plays, you’ve just got to get good at simple execution,” he said. “The more success you have doing that, you’d be surprised at how many routine plays turn into bigger plays.”

“We’ve got to gain some confidence. Once that happens it’s going to pick up some steam to be able to look a little bit better to the human eye, which means points.”

Inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, the team’s top tackler through three games, is expected to return to action this week. He suffered a strained hamstring in the first half of the Week 4 loss at Maryland.

There will be no return this season for backup nose tackle Christian Brown, who sustained a weight room injury a few weeks ago. Holgorsen said Brown, a true sophomore, should qualify for a medical redshirt.

Backup outside linebacker Wes Tonkery expects to miss six weeks after breaking his thumb at Baylor, and reserve safety Ricky Rumph is questionable this week with an undisclosed injury.

Receiver Ivan McCartney suffered a concussion against Oklahoma State, missed the Baylor game and remains questionable. “I don’t know what’s going on there, if he’s going to be cleared to go or not,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t get into the whole head thing, concussion thing, obviously.”

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