With West Virginia trailing Kansas State 13-0 at the break, both head coach Dana Holgorsen and center Tyler Orlosky took stock of the game to that point. The immediate thought for both was that the Mountaineers became impatient in the second quarter, and were too focused on purely drop back passing, trying to gain max yardage and scoring in minimal time. But WVU was down just 13 points - though the psychological difference seemed greater - and simply needed to return to what it does best.
"It's a weird game," Holgorsen said afterward. "I felt like we were able to move the ball, we just weren't able to get points. I challenged the guys at halftime. It felt like we were down more than we were. But this team likes to play together and that's the thing I've figured out more than any other is this is a team that knows how to play together, plays hard for each other. I probably got impatient in the second quarter and got away from the run a little bit too much. Our game plan was to keep them off balance and to do things in the run game and we got back to that in the second half."
West Virginia had tallied just 43 yards on 14 runs at the break, while throwing 21 times. The play calling flipped in the second half, the Mountaineers dialing up 21 running plays to 20 passes, and gashing Kansas State for 81 yards and a touchdown. WVU's run game didn't necessarily set-up the pass - Holgorsen called four passes in a row to start the third quarter, and West Virginia never ran the ball more than three consecutive times - but it balanced it enough where K-State was forced to creep safeties up, and add help in the box.
"We went back to what we are good at doing, and that's obviously inside zone," Orlosky said. "That's our bread and butter and once we get that going it opens up the pass game. I thought we did a really good job for staying in there and fighting. We struggled in the second quarter, but kept our head and came out in the second half and played well."
It was Orlosky who largely noted the offensive deficiencies, which isn't an uncommon occurrence. The senior center has arguably the best vantage point on the field when combined for the feel of the game and what;s working, both as a whole and in certain situations against certain looks. Orlosky's initial conversation is typically with Holgorsen, then proceeds to line coach Ron Crook and running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider. It's sound constructive criticism, and it benefits all.
"I give them feedback," Orlosky said. "I'm sure you guys saw last week that I obviously give them feedback. I want to make sure they know how I feel. I think sometimes it's hard for coaches, because they're are not on the field, to see everything. I have a front row seat of what's going on. I think it's crucial for experienced players who have been in the offense for awhile to relate that to the coaches. When I come to the sideline the first guy I usually talk to is Dana, then coach Crook and then Seider. It's a good relationship we have between players and coaches and I thought we did a really good job with it."
While that aspect was solid, the play of the line overall left much to be desired. West Virginia didn't handle the KSU front as well as expected, but some of that had to do with the high caliber of play from the Wildcats, some of which they hadn't shown on film to date.
"Very, very average," Holgorsen said. "It was our worst game to date.T.O. played good, but he's always going to. Everybody else was very below average. Why? Because Kansas State is pretty good. The defense is really good, without a doubt the best we faced this year. I don't think it's even close. Those guys are good, and they have next level guys. They were at their best last year in game 12 and they are much better now."
What's left is much to build upon and much to improve during this off week. West Virginia has an entirely different set of challenges against a Texas Tech defense badly struggling against both the run and pass, and one which should be tested against this game Kansas State team this weekend when the two teams meet in Manhattan.
Note: Orlosky was asked what the approach is of the offensive line when Howard begins to scramble, as he did on the final touchdown pass. Howard was flushed, and rolled right, eyeing Jovon Durante cutting across the back of the end zone. On the run, Howard fired a strike that hit Durante a couple steps before he went out of bounds. The score gave the Mountaineers their first tie of the game, and Mike Molina's point after their first lead with 6:11 remaining. It was Howard's final pass in a contest in which he completed 24-of-41 throws for 298 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and among the hardest to block for the line.
"We are trying not to look stupid out in the middle of the field," Orlosky said. "Obviously, it's hard when he's out of the box scrambling. We want to give him as much time as he needs out there, but big people aren't good in space. That's where you usually get called for holding. For what it was, I don't think I really did anything that was crucial to that play, but I thought as a whole he made a good play and the receiver made a good catch. We couldn't ask for more than that."