Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 9, 2013

Column: WVU grade sheet shows mixed results

By CAM HUFFMAN
for the Daily Telegraph

— It’s time to pull out my red marker to grade the Mountaineers on their 16-7 road loss Saturday night to No. 16 Oklahoma. This week’s report card includes the offense, defense and special teams — and another critical area, coaching.

*****

Offense: D

Only a couple things kept WVU from a failing grade this week. The first was the 75-yard touchdown run from Dreamius Smith that resulted in the only Mountaineer touchdown. The other was the play of Kevin White, who is starting to emerge as a playmaker at wide receiver. WVU, at times, ran plays to get receivers open, and there were some opportunities to really exploit the OU secondary.

Other than that, the Mountaineer offense was a complete failure. Quarterback Paul Millard continually missed open receivers — at least two passes could have resulted in touchdowns to wide open receivers had he not missed his mark — and when he did hit them, it was often enough off line that the receiver had to come back to the ball or go down to his knees to make the catch, ruining any opportunity for yards after the catch. That’s not even mentioning an interception and a fumble from the junior signal caller.

Millard wasn’t alone, though. Ivan McCartney let a sure touchdown pass fall directly between his hands, a play that could have changed the game. Even White had a crucial fumble that likely took points off the board for the Mountaineers after a catch-and-run deep into OU territory.

Oklahoma’s defense was good, but not that good. WVU’s offense was greatly responsible for its own woes.

*****

Defense: B+

I can’t give a defense that allowed 316 rushing yards an A, but the overall performance was certainly impressive, especially for a unit that was one of the worst in the country a year ago.

Keith Patterson’s defense forced four turnovers and held what was supposed to be an explosive Sooner offense to 16 points. The Mountaineers forced five punts and held OU to field goals on a couple of occasions when the Sooners were in position for touchdowns.

The WVU defense easily could have held OU to even fewer points. The Sooners’ first field goal came on a drive where they were stopped three-and-out but were allowed to continue after a roughing the punter penalty.

OU’s first touchdown came when the Mountaineers’ Mario Alford fumbled a punt return, giving the Sooners the ball at the WVU 32-yard line.

That’s 10 of OU’s 16 points that can — at least in part — be pinned on the WVU special teams. And the big rushing total was aided by the fact that the Mountaineer defense was on the field for 78 Oklahoma plays and more than 34 minutes. Eventually, it was going to wear down.

*****

Special teams: C–

There were a couple of positives in this area. WVU averaged a respectable 45.3 yards per punt and a 41.7-yard net average. Nick O’Toole pinned three inside the 20-yard line and had two punts of more than 50 yards.

OU didn’t have any big returns on either punts or kickoffs.

The problems were the two obvious ones mentioned above — the fumbled punt return and the roughing the punter — and a lack of big plays. WIth Tavon Austin last year, there was always the possibility of a game-changing return. Against the Sooners, WVU lost yardage on the only punt it returned and averaged just 15 yards per kick return.

Especially with an offense struggling to score points, WVU has to find a way to get some more production from its special teams.

*****

Coaches: C–

Again, there were a couple of positives. For starters, the Mountaineer staff did a great job of getting their players to ignore the doubters and believe. WVU went into the game expecting to win, and it almost did.

Defensively, Patterson and crew had a great game plan and played with aggression and intensity. The OU crowd really didn’t seem to be a factor, and that’s a credit to the coaches, as well.

But the game management was difficult to comprehend. WVU had to play most of the second half without any timeouts. With a couple of chances to stop the clock late in the game, the Mountaineers may have still had a prayer.

So what happened to those timeouts? WVU called a timeout to challenge a Millard fumble, which really wasn’t close. Holgorsen admitted his coaches were watching the replays in the booth, so they should have realized that a challenge was just a waste of a timeout.

Without a challenge left, Holgorsen also called timeout on White’s fumble, hoping to give the replay booth more time to look at the play. There was no need. Again, it was a clear fumble — and a clear waste of a valuable timeout.

Then there was the fourth-quarter WVU drive, after the Mountaineers had fallen behind 16-7. WVU needed points there to have any chance at a victory, and on a fourth-and-2 at the OU 44-yard line, the Mountaineers took too long to call a play. The result was a 5-yard delay of game penalty, and WVU could not convert a fourth-and-7. A fourth-and-2 would have been much more manageable had the coaches simply made a decision and called a play.

There were also some questionable play calls. WVU’s only big play on offense was Smith’s 75-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter, where he made some OU defenders miss and then turned on the jets for an impressive run. He touched the ball a grand total of two times the rest of the game.

Holgorsen admitted Smith made a great play and said he needs more guys to do the same. Why not give Smith a chance to do it again?

WVU’s rushing game, overall, was largely ignored for much of the game. Oklahoma rushed for 316 yards, but it did it averaging 5.5 yards per run on 57 carries. WVU averaged seven yards per run — and more than five yards per rush even if you take away Smith’s long one — but it gave its backs the ball just 24 times against a Sooner defense that was infamous for its failure to stop the run in 2012. Why?

Holgorsen went into the week saying he needed to throw the ball more. But if the run game is working, there’s no reason to cast it aside — especially when your passing game is causing fans to pull their hair out.

Another confusing coaching decision was the one to stick with Millard, who barely completed 50 percent of his passes and looked uncomfortable most of the game. Clint Trickett, who has played against Oklahoma before, spent the evening standing on the sidelines.

Oklahoma found a spark when it pulled Trevor Knight and put Blake Bell in the game. WVU never tried to do the same, instead leaving Millard in the game as the offense continued to spin its wheels on the Owen Field grass.

Would the offense have been any better with Trickett leading the way? Maybe not. But it couldn’t have been much worse. It was certainly worth a shot. Holgorsen, after all, has insisted that the job is still open.

*****

Overall grade: C

It’s hard to fail a team that went on the road as a three-touchdown underdog against the No. 16 team in the nation and made a game out of it, but when WVU looks back on this one it’s going to be viewed as a missed opportunity. The Mountaineers were just as good as the Sooners. WVU just made more mistakes.

*****

Cam Huffman is sports editor of The Register-Herald. E-mail him at chuffman@register-herald.com.