Mountaineers look to establish run again
CHARLESTON, W.Va. ” So much for West Virginia’s plans to have Pat White throw more this season.
Efforts to shore up an underperforming passing attack have eaten away at No. 21 West Virginia’s bread-and-butter rushing game. The focus could be back on what White and running back Noel Devine do best when the Mountaineers (1-1) play at Colorado (2-0) on Thursday night.
One of the nation’s best rushing teams this decade, West Virginia is averaging only 164 yards on the ground this season, which ranks 50th in the Bowl Subdivision.
“We definitely have to establish the run,” White said. “If you can’t run the ball, people are just going to sit out in coverage and stop everything. You’ve got to balance it out and have both.”
With running back Steve Slaton and fullback Owen Schmitt now in the NFL, it’s up to White and Devine to re-energize a sluggish offense that has yet to establish a solid backup rusher this season.
West Virginia has had 24 fewer offensive plays per game than opponents. The elusive White has yet to rush for a touchdown, while Devine has averaged only 10 carries per game.
“Noel needs the ball 18-22 times,” coach Bill Stewart said.
West Virginia’s spread offense is all about rhythm, and West Virginia got nothing going in a 24-3 loss to East Carolina on Sept. 6. White was sacked three times and possessions were cut short by two lost fumbles and an interception.
White attempted only 18 passes and threw for 72 yards against the Pirates after tossing five touchdown passes in a season-opening win over Villanova.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen said plans were to run the ball in both games but the Mountaineers were forced to throw often because defenses clogged the line of scrimmage.
“We tried to establish the run and will continue to do that,” he said.
Re-establishing the run might be playing to Colorado’s strength. The Buffaloes are 11th nationally against the rush, allowing an average of 59 yards.
Of course, they have yet to face the likes of White and Devine. The pair combine to average 150 yards on the ground per game and 6 yards per carry.
Offensive lineman Greg Isdaner said the offense is partly to blame for the lopsided time spent by the West Virginia defense on the field.
Opponents have held the ball an average of 13 minutes longer than West Virginia, whose offense has converted fewer than half of its third-down opportunities.
“We have to get the defense off the field,” Isdaner said. “They are doing a heck of a job and are going through 15-play drives and we’re going three-and-out, or we’re scoring a touchdown in one play. It really puts the pressure on them. We’re going to do our best to give them a rest during the game so they can perform to the best of their abilities.”
Overall, the message Stewart is sending to his team is not to be tense coming off its worst loss in four seasons.
“I told them to play like they were little. I just want them to go out there and have fun,” he said. “You can’t be reckless but you have to let your people play.”