To say that the running game has been a huge letdown so far in 2008 would not be fair. In fact, it would be quite harsh. In two games, the Mountaineers have run for 328 yards, an average of 164 yards per game. An average of 5.7 yards per carry isn't too shabby either.
Senior Patrick White, already with a pair of 1,000 yard seasons under his belt, is still on pace to become college football's all-time leading runner from the quarterback position.
Still, the Mountaineers have not yet had one of their patented big-number games on the ground. You know the type. Gashing the opponent from start to finish, with the offensive line opening up holes the size of the Grand Canyon.
While the big-time numbers have yet to show, though, the Mountaineers aren't panicking.
"We just need improvement," said running backs/slot receivers coach Chris Beatty. "We're trying to get better every day in making our reads, and getting a little more upfield. I think we tried to dance a little bit more the first two games than we would have liked to. We're going to try to get more vertical. I think it's more a lot of little things we need to improve than anything else."
On paper, West Virginia's running game should again be among the nation's best. The return of White combined with sophomore speedsters Noel Devine and Jock Sanders running behind five veteran offensive linemen would seem to dictate big numbers out of the gate.
In the season-opener against Villanova, though, the Mountaineers took what the Wildcat defense was giving them. With nine men stacked in the box, Villanova head coach was essentially daring WVU to throw the ball. West Virginia, in turn, took Talley up on his dare, completing 26 of 34 passes for 205 yards and five touchdowns.
Against East Carolina, West Virginia opened the day with nine consecutive running plays on offense. By game's end, however, offensive plays of any kind were hard to come by as the Mountaineers were unable to control the ball and – conversely – not able to keep East Carolina from doing so. The Pirates ran off 71 plays to WVU's 54 en route to the 24-3 win.
This week against Colorado, West Virginia's runners will take the field looking to make their first big mark of 2008.
"We've got to go out and execute and just play ball. We've got to forget about the past," Devine said. "Coach has had a gameplan, and whatever it is we have to execute it. If it's not successful, then we've got to change it up. I just feel like we have to go out and set the tempo."
Getting an early score would certainly do just that against the Buffaloes, who are expected to improve upon their 6-7 record from last season under third-year head coach Dan Hawkins.
Just like ECU, Colorado features an experienced and athletic defensive front, though the Pirates were a little bit bigger up front than CU. Despite the slight size differential, the Buffs have the ability to present the same problems that ECU did in the trenches.
"They execute well," Devine said. "They have a good team, a different front on their defense with how they attack. They're kind of similar to South Florida I guess."
In one sense, the Mountaineers need not worry as much about the Buffaloes as they do about themselves. Improving upon the rushing effort at ECU – no matter what looks Colorado gives the Mountaineers – could go a long way to picking up the season's second victory, something sorely needed after the ugly rout in Greenville.
"We've got to jump out in front," Devine said. "If they jump out in front, then we've got to jump back and punch them in the mouth."
"There's got to be a sense of urgency when you lose one," added Beatty. "You better get things straight and work on it in practice. I think there are some things we've got to do better, and I think those things will get done."