For the first time in the 2016 season the West Virginia offense faced some adversity in its match-up with the Kansas State Wildcats. The Mountaineers routinely stumbled and came up empty handed on multiple possessions that looked promising, failing to score a touchdown until the fourth quarter and being completely shut out in the first half for the first time since the dreaded Maryland game of 2013. Running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider credited Kansas State for making it tough on the Mountaineers and provided insight into some of the troubles the West Virginia offense faced in the first three quarters of Saturday's game.
"What happened this game was (Kansas State) did a great job of stacking the box on first down and taking away the run and forcing us to throw," Seider said. "So we had to be patient and then we kind of flipped the switch and said 'listen, make sure we don't get away from run, it's ok they have a six man box and we can run again.' So we started running and we had some success, which probably helped us, because Dana will probably tell you we probably got away from the run game in the second quarter too much ans we got back to it in the third quarter and we got back into a rhythm and started putting together some drives."
Perhaps the strongest part of Kansas State's defense was its staunch defensive line, led by end Jordan Willis, who consistently got the better of West Virginia's tackles and picked up two sacks on the afternoon. Seider discussed the challenges K-State's four man front posed, but also echoed some of the other comments made by Mountaineers after the game, saying that West Virginia players weren't playing loose enough and were overthinking some things.
"It put more pressure on the tackles more than anybody because when they know you're throwing those ends start to rush and they were adding all eight with he linebackers and then we took advantage of that in the second half," Seider said. "We started hitting them quick and we picked the tempo up. I thought we were really tight in the first half. I don't know if they were overthinking, because the biggest thing we preached all week was just be loose and go play. The receivers had that look in their eye and Skyler would be the first to tell you he had to go settle down. I thought we were doing some good things early in the run game but it goes hand in hand, you have to do both and I thought we did a great job of going to the locker room and making adjustments. We didn't panic."
And the Mountaineers adjustments certainly showed in the second half, as the West Virginia offense only was only forced to punt one time in the final two quarters of regulation. A big part of that success was the play of Justin Crawford, who for the second week in a row was integral in the running game, making big runs during big times down the stretch. Crawford picked up his second 100 yard game of the season and scored the Mountaineers first touchdown on a beautifully designed play where the entire K-State defense (and 60,000 plus Mountaineer fans) thought Skyler Howard was going to sneak the ball into the end zone as the Mountaineers rushed to the goal line. Seider said the play has been something the Montaineers have practiced a lot recently and its a nice new wrinkle that had Dana Holgorsen hadn't previously used.
"It's a play that we work every week," Seider said. "People want to bunch in to stop the sneak. Well we had them early and we false started. It's a check with me and the quarterback knows if the sneak is there then take it, but if they bunch in then hand the ball off and it worked. Quarterback sneak has been our best short yardage play because we get that extra push."
But despite the fact Crawford owns the Mountaineers only 100 yard rushing games of the season and has out-rushed starter Rushel Shell in three of four games, Seider doesn't expect the rotation to change going forward.
"They're both unleashed," Seider said. "We don't play as an I-formation team. These guys are going to sub and they're going to play. It might be a situation where you can go back-to-back series or even back-to-back-to-back series but these guys are going to play. They're both really talented players. We're going to put them out there and we're not going to hesitate. The last thing we want is for one of them to lose their confidence because we need both of those guys. Last week it was Rushel taking over the game for us, this week it was Crawford. If one's down the other picks it up. It's a good balance to have. They bounce off each other and they need each other."