The Mountaineers are not only winning with solid defensive play, but also while losing the majority of the stat sheet as well. WVU held Kansas State to just 108 yards and three points in the second half of Saturday's 17-16 win, but were dominated in most areas other than yardage. K-State won the turnover and time of possession battles, along with being better on third down conversions, in the coverage and return games, and in the red zone.
"I said look, good win, but we lost every category except yards per play," head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I am proud of the guys. That's two weeks in a row. The BYU thing was the same way in that we lost all the statistical categories that existed, but found a way to win. The guys like to play together and they fought their tails off to get in position to win those games. But we have to continue to improve and win some of those statistical categories if we want to continue to win games."
Namely being able to shore up special teams and at least get points after moving the ball inside the 20-yard line. Holgorsen is growing weary of the continued questions about the red zone productivity, and portions of that feeling are warranted. But the fumbles near the goal line in back-to-back games, along with a missed 30-yard field goal after a delay of game penalty are the kinds of issues that more often than not lead to defeat.
"It was only an 11-possession game," Holgorsen said. "Some of these are 18, 19 possessions. But we have to score more if we want to beat a couple of those teams, there's no doubt."
Those teams being the majority of the remaining schedule, all within Big 12 play. West Virginia is off this week, then plays its first true road game of the season on Oct. 15 against Texas Tech (3-1, 1-0). The Raiders defeated Kansas 55-19 in their Big 12 opener, and rank first in both scoring (59.5 ppg) and passing offense (547.8 ypg). No other team is within 119 yards of Texas Tech in passing yards per game. But the Raiders also rank 111th in total defense, allowing 472.5 yards per game, last in the Big 12.
Tech plays at Kansas State this weekend in a game which will be closely scrutinized by West Virginia's coaching staff. The Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0) are allowing 418.5 yards per game, which ranks just 80th nationally. But that total is a not-so-surprising fourth-best in the Big 12, behind K-State, Baylor and TCU. WVU is 20th in scoring defense, allowing 20 points per game.
"You gotta play defense in order to get yourself in position to win these games," Holgorsen said. "I am not going to apologize for that. We focused hard on that and got ourselves to where we were better last year, finished second in the conference. Coach (Tony Gibson) does a great job getting these guys to play hard this year. Kansas State is very well-coached. They are definitely as good as advertised."
West Virginia, freshly minted at 20th in the Coaches and 22nd in the AP poll, limited K-State to just 120 yards rushing on 42 carries, an average of 2.9 yards per rush. It was the third consecutive series game in which the Mountaineers have held KSU below its season average in the run game. Over the last three games against WVU, the Wildcats have run for totals of one yard, 98 yards and 120 yards.
Yet it was West Virginia's cornerback play that allowed Gibson to get extra numbers into the box, and utilize numerous blitz packages. The Mountaineers matched K-State's wideouts on the outside via man-to-man coverage, which freed up the hybrid safeties to move down closer to scrimmage, and for the free safety to creep up at times well. Besides limiting the run, WVU held quarterback Jesse Ertz to just 10-of-30 passing with no touchdowns and Rasul Douglas' interception, his second in as many games.
"We covered well," Holgorsen said. "We blitzed a bunch and got more guys in the box, which allows you to do a better job against the run. It helps in the pass game by pressuring the quarterback, but the plays were called more to disrupt the run than to get to the quarterback in passing situations. I thought Rasul Douglas and Elijah Battle did a great job covering their wideouts to where they didn't hit us deep with things. That allowed us to continue to pressure."