Offensive Outing

West Virginia's second poor offensive outing in as many spring scrimmages is forcing Rich Rodriguez to consider scaling back his offensive development in favor of more fundamental work.

The Mountaineer offense was again dominated by a defense that both completely erased the passing game and forced more than a half dozen turnovers. That number might seem abnormally high, and it is, but also consider that the offense is ran plays constantly for nearly two hours. Still, with interceptions galore and an inability to execute and hold onto the ball on the ground, WVU's spread scheme is likely getting a scaling back over the final two weeks of spring drills.

"I'm not really happy with the offense," Rodriguez said. "What I saw from standing back there, I thought the defense did some good things and tackled well, got some turnovers. The offense was just the opposite. I thought there was no intensity, no emotion, no enthusiasm, no execution. It just was not a very good day for the offense."

That's about the most succinct way to describe the miserable outing. West Virginia didn't score for more than half of the scrimmage. It missed field goals, threw picks and generally looked totally confused on the second and third teams and somewhat hesitant – in comparison to the defense – on the first unit. And though some of that is expected this early in the year, the degree to which it happened is causing some alarm.

"Typically first scrimmages are like that, but we have enough experience on offense that it should not be like that," Rodriguez said. "We gotta get some of that corrected. I am not going to push the panic button, but I will be concerned if they don't respond positively in the next scrimmage a week from now."

West Virginia isn't going to take any shortcuts. Rodriguez said he has never had the offense or defense remain in basic fronts just so other units can have success. That's won't start now. But he is going to lessen the offensive load for newcomers, enabling them to play at a higher level and faster pace.

"I have always said that sometimes your mind ties up your feet," Rodriguez said. "There are a lot of guys on offense, their mind is tying up their feet so that are not playing as fast as they normally would. I don't think, obviously, that they are screwing up on purpose. But the lack of intensity, of emotion and effort, is usually something we do not have to worry about. Standing back there, I didn't think it was what I expected.

"There were a few more things that we wanted to put in, but I am probably not going to let the coaches do that. We are going to limit our installation just so that we can execute what we've got."

The other problem was that Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt didn't show the kind of unabashedly hard running that made them the weapons they were last season. Slaton was bottled up for most of the day, and Schmitt was surprisingly stood up inside the 10-yard line by free safety Quinton Andrews, who is quickly becoming a marquee defensive player. The other youthful running backs, like Jet Best and Tyler Benoit, drew ire for failing to get upfield, instead sidestepping and wasting movement on east-west runs.

That might be the key, telling players to simply go hard. Rodriguez admitted that the offense is so intricate that "we could just talk about the zone play for five hours." So it's little wonder players are struggling. That struggle might show, too, more this year than in the past because of WVU's overall experience. It is easy, as a mentor, to forget that one's charges were not always this refined, and come to expect fairly easy adpation to all new schemes and styles.

"We are giving a lot of reps to our new guys, like Tyler Benoit and Jet Best," Rodriguez said. "Those guys are trying to learn and it is really difficult when there are so many fine points of just one play. So I have to be careful about not overloading them too much mentally. That will stunt our growth this spring offensively."

It should be noted that even Pat White made uncharacteristic mistakes, and that was with a no-contact jersey on – leading one to think that perhaps it was just a very bad offensive effort. The second team center, Tim Reed (a walk-on) had difficult elevating his snaps to even waist level, and Pat McAfee and Scott Kozlowski struggled with field goals. That reads like a doomsday scenario, and it will be if it happens in the regular season. But it's just now April, and though the above is no joke, it's also not yet reason to overly fret.

"If we have two of these back-to-back, I will be concerned," Rodriguez said. "Our defense is such a different look that it is hard for young players to recognize the scheme and concentrate on their fundamentals. Really, I thought the defense reacted pretty well. I thought the offense reacted poorly. I even told them what to do a couple times and they were still confused. I think Pat (White) understands it, but the rest of our quarterbacks are rookies. They really struggled."

The main thing that must be immediately addressed, the factor that completely devastates an offense, shuts down flow and creates short fields and rough defensive situations, is turnovers. The total number could be close to a dozen, but when West Virginia dropped the ball or threw an interception on four consecutive series', keeping count seemed akin to trying to tally the number of hairs on a dog.

"There were a couple of them that were really good defensive plays," Rodriguez said of the turnovers. "Most of them were just horrible offensive mistakes. Again, I am not going to push the panic button, but our guys will know the value of the ball, or they will not play. That has always been the case. I'm not going to stand there and threaten them. The kids understand it. We'll get that corrected. I think some of that is confusion and it is our job as coaches to try to eliminate the confusion."

Note: Nate Sowers' shoulder injury kept him in a no-contact jersey for the second consecutive practice. He did not participate in the scrimmage. Fellow Martinsburg High recruit Brandon Barrett was also out, along with Rayshawn Bolden (out for the spring with a broken foot), another wide receiver.

"He dinged his shoulder a bit and they thought he might be able to go today," Rodriguez said of Sowers. "He couldn't, and it is important for him to get back there pretty quick. It is important for a couple of those other receivers who are not practicing to get back on the field. The trainers and doctors determine that. We don't do that as coaches. But it is certainly not helping their cause if they are not playing."


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