West Virginia Preview: Offense

What Air Raid? In absence of a great quarterback, West Virginia turns to a talented group of running backs to help find offensive balance.

Dana Holgorsen obviously has a reputation as an Air Raid guy, the type of passing guru who wants to spread and shred. But West Virginia hasn't gotten great quarterback play this year, with no QB boasting a passer rating of 120 or higher. And that's severely limited what the offense can do. In fact, at times, West Virginia — which ranks 88th nationally in Offensive S&P+ — has resembled recent Texas opponent Kansas, a team that has scrapped together a creative running game to try and take pressure off mediocre (at best) play at the quarterback spot.

In fact, for all the talk about the Mountaineers finding their guy recently in Clint Trickett (6-3 185), Trickett actually has the worst quarterback rating (108.76) of their three signal callers. For reference, Garrett Gilbert had a higher quarterback rating in 2010 for the Longhorns (111.0). Trickett took over in game five for the 'Eers, completing 52.1 percent of his throws for 1,218 yards and five touchdowns to five interceptions. He's coming off a 25-for-41 night against TCU when he threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns with two picks. The bottom line is that when the Mountaineers have gotten into passing situations, they've been in jail: last year they were eighth nationally in Passing Down S&P+, this year they're 84th.

West Virginia does have a dynamic running game, thanks in large part to a talented stable of backs. The best of the bunch is Houston transfer Charles Sims (6-0 213), who has 754 yards rushing on 144 carries (5.2 per carry) and five touchdowns. He's a really high level plant-and-go guy who sees the cutback lane exceptionally well, can make the first guy miss and has the burst to make plays happen when he gets a crease. He's also a threat in the passing game, catching 36 passes for another 300 yards and two scores. Sims was outstanding last week against a stout TCU run defense, rushing 24 times for 154 yards and a touchdown, with three receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown.

But he's hardly the only arrow in West Virginia's rushing quiver. The Mountaineers have discovered a good-looking younger back in freshman Wendell Smallwood (5-11 198), who is averaging 6.5 yards per rush. And JUCO transfer Dreamius Smith (5-11 217) adds more of a power element. He's rushed for 400 yards at 4.6 yards a pop, while scoring four touchdowns. With the Mountaineers operating at times out of two-back pistol or a three-back pod look, Cody Clay (6-3 252) comes in at times as a blocker. He also has eight catches for 67 yards and a touchdown on the year.

As much as losing Geno Smith hurt the Mountaineers at quarterback, it also never helps to lose players like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey at wide receiver. But the current receiver group is probably a bit better than their production numbers. JUCO transfer Kevin White (6-3 208) is what you want at the 'Z' position, big and explosive. He has 25 catches for 382 yards and three touchdowns. And true freshman Daikiel Shorts (6-0 201) has been excellent in the slot, catching 37 balls for 430 yards and two scores. That includes six catches for 98 yards against TCU last week. West Virginia has had a bit of a revolving door at 'X' with Ivan McCartney (6-1 185) getting four starts, Ex-Alabama wideout Ronald Carswell (5-11 187) three*, K.J. Myers (6-2 196) one* and most recently, JUCO transfer Mario Alford (5-9 175) with the start against TCU. Alford is listed as the starter again for the Texas game, and has 12 catches for 164 yards on the year. Carswell, who has missed the TCU game, and it was announced earlier this week that he's suspended indefinitely from the team, with his permanent status to be decided after the year. Alford had three catches for 62 yards in Carswell's absence. When West Virginia goes with another slot receiver, it's often former Katy jitterbug Jordan Thompson (5-7 168), who has 16 catches on the year.

* Carswell and Myers also each had one start apiece at the 'Z' position, though White, with six starts in nine games, has been more consistent there.

The Mountaineers are averaging 146.6 rushing yards per game at 4.2 yards per carry, and have allowed 18 sacks this year. That's probably part of the reason they've done some shifting on the left side of the line, with former left tackle Quinton Spain (6-5 335) moving to left guard in game five and Nick Kindler (6-6 298) sliding to left tackle the same week. Spain had started 17 games at left tackle. Pat Eger (6-6 302) has played up-and-down the line, and he's at center this season after logging 18 career starts at right tackle, while current right tackle Curtis Feigt (6-7 314) has 15 starts at the position. Mark Glowinski (6-5 305) has started all but one game this year at right guard.

Kicker Josh Lambert (6-1 199) has had a nice year, making 24-of-25 extra points and 13-of-17 field goals. That latter number is even deceiving a bit — he's 12-of-13 from to 49 yards, with three of his four misses coming from 50 plus. He has a long of 50 on the year. Daryl Worley (6-1 198) is listed as the kick returner, but doesn't have any returns on the year. Smallwood is the No. 2, and he's averaging 19.8 yards per return. Thompson is the punt returner, though the Mountaineers have been poor there, with Thompson averaging just two yards per return on his eight returns.

The return game is another spot where Carswell's suspension hurts. He the Mountaineers in punt return yardage, and was second on the team in kickoff returns to Smallwood.

Horns Digest Top Stories