West Virginia's Offense Shut Down For Final Three Quarters In Russell Athletic Bowl Defeat

ORLANDO, Fla. - West Virginia's offensive woes against Miami were a combination of missed opportunities and a failure across multiple positions to handle the opposing skill level.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen called the Hurricanes the best defense WVU has faced, and the outcome, in both points and total production, would indicate such. Miami's front four controlled the line of scrimmage, while its back end shut down the vertical passing game. What was left for the Mountaineers was the ability, at times, to run wide, and then hit in the intermediate routes. But when West Virginia failed to do that consistently, it was left with a shell of itself in managing its fewest yards and points this season in a 31-14 defeat.

"I really couldn't tell what was going on, because I'm in my routes, but as a whole on offense we just couldn't get it going," said receiver Daikiel Shorts, a bright spot with a game-high five catches for 61 yards. "We got the ball a lot in the first half, first quarter, and we just didn't execute."

And that was the most damning aspect. West Virginia's starting field position over the initial 20 minutes was its own 40-yard line, it's own 30, then the Miami 39, 44 and 46 yard lines. Three times the Mountaineers gained possession inside Hurricane territory and yet managed just one touchdown on the shortest field when Kennedy McKoy capped a 39-yard drive with a scoring run.

First, quarterback Skyler Howard fumbled away the opening series once WVU had moved past midfield. Miscues forced a punt on the second drive when, strangely, West Virginia ran nine plays and gained just 10 yards. Then, with excellent field position via a series of solid defense and special teams execution, the offense was staggeringly stagnant. On the final two drives, needing a mere 15 to 20 yards to get into scoring range, West Virginia ran a total of nine plays, gaining 24 yards. Both drives ended in a punt, and a squandered chance to put distance between itself and an opponent searching for momentum.

That, in effect, was the game, as Miami began to click on offense following a 51-yard touchdown pass. West Virginia, meanwhile, punted on six consecutive possessions between McKoy's touchdown run and the half as the Hurricanes built a 21-7 lead.

"It's frustrating," Shorts said. "You have to capitalize on those situations, especially when you are going against a good team. You are not going to get them often. We didn't do that at the start and we ended up losing." 

It was WVU's third defeat over its last seven games after the 6-0 start, and it leaves a residue of what could have been. The Mountaineers finished 10-3 and should be ranked to end the season, but will also end the year beating opponents it likely should have while losing to every ranked team played. Still, the finish again raises the win total on the year, as the program has done each of the last three seasons.

"It was definitely a special season, and it meant a lot to the 21 seniors," Shorts said. "We tried to have the best year we have had since we have been here, and we had success with that. We didn't finish it the way we wanted to, but we had a heck of a season. This is it, and it's hitting most of us that this might be our last football game. We might give the next level a try, but you know how that works. You never know. I think we had a great year and I'm going to miss all these guys. There's nothing like having that bond of family.

"I think the future is bright. We have most of the guys back, got good backs, most of the receivers and guys up front. I am definitely excited to see these guys next year and see what type of season they have. We take a lot of pride (in leaving the program in better shape). That's one of the things we focused on this offseason, a chance to do that with our seniors and we did. It's good to go out on a 10-win season."

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