"We don't do anything different," assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. "Some teams have plays they use in the red zone. We run the same stuff."
That "same stuff" often easily moved the ball down the field, and it makes one wonder why some coaches change approaches when nearing the goal line. Reasons range from decreased areas in which to run pass routes and patterns to a more bunched up defense that could call for a power option. West Virginia? It just continues to bull straight ahead, but with its variety of zone stretch reads, bubble screens and a mix of finesse plays that can showcase speed. With head coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, the original thought, often put forth by Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen, was that the system could not work near the end zone. There was simply nowhere to spread teams any loner, and the end of real estate meant the end of success.
That idea has proven to be a bust. Rodriguez, if not the inventor of the spread, then the coach who modified it into the run-based attack it is today at WVU, has so many formation variations that his No. 5 Mountaineers (4-0) can run a power-I look with superback Steve Slaton behind fullback Owen Schmitt one snap, then go four wide and allow Schmitt to line up at tight end with Slaton in the slot. The ball is given to quarterback Patrick White, who simply runs horizontally until he finds a crease to get vertical, relying on the blocking of his line and wideouts. That freedom, and the physicality it demands, have taken away the thoughts that the spread will not work in close quarters. And since West Virginia ranks second in the nation in rushing with an average of 357 yards per game, 129 better than the next closest Big East foe, it will simply stick with what got it into scoring position originally.
"There's no reason to get away from what we do well," Magee said. "We just run the plays that we can run best. Whatever works is fine with us. You have to do what your players can do and execute."
Of the 29 scoring drives thus far this season, 18 have involved snaps from inside the 20-yard line. The percentage of scoring – 22 of 23 times – is at 95.7 percent. An average team goal would be 80 percent efficiency, meaning if WVU were converting at a normal rate and making just field goals out of them, it would still have scored approximately nine to 10 fewer points this season. If one factors in the scores to be touchdowns, as 19 of the 22 West Virginia scores have been, that becomes 21-25 fewer points scored this season. Over the four game period, that drops the Mountaineers from their 47.2 points per game average (good for ninth-best in the NCAA) to 41, or about one less touchdown per game just factoring in missed red zone chances. That, in turn, also puts more pressure on the defense and special teams.
In all, West Virginia has scored 141 points in the red zone: 34 against Western Michigan, 35 at Marshall, 24 at Maryland and all 48 versus East Carolina. That breaks down to 16 rushing touchdowns, three passing touchdowns and three field goals. The lone failed attempt was a missed 22-yard field goal in the first half against Maryland. WVU's foes have scored every time they have reached the red zone, going nine of nine for 47 points. WMU accounts for 24 of those. Four of the nine scores are field goals.
The impressive numbers become even more so when one factors in that West Virginia often has not been tested in the red zone as much as other teams because of its explosiveness and quick-strike ability. The Mountaineers have 38 plays of 20-plus yards this season, including 10 that have gone for a touchdown. WVU has 15 plays of 30-plus yards and five of more than 50 yards. Of its 29 scoring drives, just 13 are more than seven plays. It has scored eight times of four or fewer plays. Eleven scoring drives have lasted two minutes or less, with just two being more than five minutes. Opponents, meanwhile, have taken 10-plus plays on half of their 12 scoring drives. They have 15 plays or 20-plus yards.
In all, West Virginia's rushing game has tallied 1,428 yards and 20 touchdowns and an average of 7.2 yards per snap. The passing attack shows 672 yards, six scores and an average of 12 yards per completion. That's a combined 2,100 yards on 276 plays (7.6 yards per snap), 26 of which (nine-plus percent, or nearly one of every 10) have gone for offensive touchdowns. The scores have come eight times on first down (six rush, two pass), 14 times on second down (11 rush, three pass) and four times on third down (three rush, one pass). West Virginia, which already has three games of 500-plus yards of offense (it had five total last season) has not scored a touchdown on fourth down. The total yardage and average per play are the best through four games in the six-year-plus Rodriguez era.