Identity Unknown

Just like last year, West Virginia is searching for an identity as they head into the Maryland game.

As WVU tries to revive its struggling offense on the trip to tangle with the Terps, the Mountaineers might well look back at lessons learned from last season, and the methods by which they learned them.

Just as in the opening games of the 2003 campaign, West Virginia struggled on offense against quality teams in the early part of 2002. It wasn't until the late stages of the Maryland game that the Mountaineers figured out that they were a power running team. Once they settled on that as their base of operations, the offense got untracked and the wins began to pile up.

Most teams go through this process of "figuring out who they are". And although that may sound complex, it's really just a matter of identifying what players do best, then devising an offensive game plan around those abilities.

That game plan doesn't have to be complex. It might consist of a handful of base running plays, with a number of options off of them. For instance, a handoff to a running back for a zone stretch play might have options for a reverse, a counter, a quarterback keeper, and one or more passes off the same formations and same initial action.

In 2002, WVU's strengths were a talented, experienced and savvy offensive line that could block even overloaded defensive fronts, and a running back that excelled at squeezing every available yard out of a play.

This year, the line isn't overflowing with talent, and there are different styles of running backs getting the ball. There's more potential in the passing game, but so far, it hasn't been realized against decent defensive teams.

Another problem contributing to this identity crisis is WVU's poor third down conversion rate and an alarming number of 'three and out' offensive series. Head coach Rich Rodriguez likes to probe opposing defenses with a variety of plays and formations to identify weak points, but the opportunities to do that are limited when the offense can't even get a first down.

In order to correct that problem, WVU must get a few extra offensive snaps per series, especially early in the game. Even if those series don't result in points, they give valuable lessons in how to attack opposing defenses.

So, back to the point at hand. What kind of team is WVU? Are they a speed running team? Do they have the muscle to pound it inside? Are they an option team? Or will they be a play action or sprint out passing team? Whatever the answers, they need to be found quickly, because the clock on the 2003 season is ticking.

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