AMES, Iowa — A tickle in the throat. That first labored breath of nasal stuffiness. An achy twinge. All warnings to a body of what’s in store.
For two weeks we saw the symptoms facing West Virginia’s offense, and yet we ignored them, believing it was too skilled, too talented, too versatile to flounder.
Can’t ignore them anymore, not after Will Grier and his unit took the mother of all sick days in a 30-14 loss to Iowa State.
One offensive score. One!
Seven sacks. Seven!
Zero drives that exceeded five plays. Zip!
Where did the offense go? That once-vibrant and healthy touchdown machine that presumably made West Virginia a Big 12 championship contender clunked and sputtered and threw up on itself.
Iowa State donned all-black uniforms and West Virginia’s offense blacked out. Take the temperature on 1-of-11 third-down conversions. Soak up the excruciating reality of 152 yards total offense.
The ordeal became puny enough to invoke shades of that Baltimore shutout in 2013. Given the stakes this time — and the fact that the leading man was Will Grier, not Ford Childress — Saturday night felt worse.
Dana Holgorsen agreed, labeling it “the worst offensive performance I’ve seen in my 30 years of coaching.”
He pondered extemporaneously whether Iowa State’s defense was that stifling or his own crew that inept:
“I don’t know, but Oklahoma State scored 42, and we scored seven.”
David Sills provided the Mountaineers’ only offensive points on a first-quarter grab. Eight scoreless series later, he wore a backpack outside the visitors’ locker room and apologized to his defensive teammates.
“This one was on the offense. We really didn’t give the defense anything to feed off of. It hurts me saying that.”
Sills had never sounded so dejected, but that’s the toll of running around in futile anticipation of passes that rarely came. Their entire evening reduced to a scramble drill, West Virginia’s receivers couldn’t make a dent against a secondary that dropped seven or eight into coverage.
“It was very frustrating not being able to be open on the initial route,” Sills said.
After throwing three interceptions against Kansas, Grier did not suddenly regain his Heisman form. Not unless they redesigned the trophy in the form of a confused-looking quarterback lying supine on the Iowa fescue.
Grier was sacked seven times, a stat worth repeating because West Virginia had yielded 11 sacks across the previous five games combined.
“Our receivers were having trouble getting open, and Will took some unnecessary sacks when he was out of the pocket,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said.
Grier’s 11-of-15 passing line generated a measly 100 yards, less than one-third his season average, and he attempted only two deep passes. The first sailed 10 yards over the head of Gary Jennings with the receiver looking in the opposite direction. The second try wobbled and died into the arms of a Cyclones cornerback.
West Virginia snapped the ball only 42 times and went backward on nine of them. The end result was eight punts, a safety and a scathing review from Holgorsen:
“We didn’t do anything right. We didn’t make plays, we didn’t keep our eyes where they needed to be, we didn’t run fast, we didn’t get off coverage, we didn’t make good decisions. We didn’t call good plays and we didn’t block.”
So goes the blistering when your offense crosses midfield once.
West Virginia came in striking for 41 points per game and then completely disintegrated inside Jack Trice Stadium. And those Big 12 championship hopes? Let’s be real — they probably disintegrated too. With Oklahoma and Texas left to play, the Mountaineers are backed into a corner.
If you’re one for anniversaries, it was precisely six years ago Saturday that another 5-0 Holgorsen team got blasted at Texas Tech. The fans stormed the field in Lubbock that day, just as they did this time in Ames.
At least now West Virginia has a bye week upcoming.
When you suffer through a performance so sickly as this one, bed rest is the recommended approach.