The Good News: The Offense Can Work

 

I have been hard on the offense all year.  What can I say?  I expected a lot.  As in, I expected us to score, at a minimum, 35 a game.  But, for a while now, we have lamented, as fans, our lack of offensive identity.  In fact, I recall writing a Fanpost as long ago as last year, asking what-the-hell-it-is we are doing. 

It's Year Three of Mullen-ism, and I recently asked in another post what the principles of the current Mountaineer offense are, with little idea of an answer, and a grim sense of resignation that our hopes as fans would rest on the collective manhood of our defense.  But, I think we have glimpsed what the offense could be three times this season: against Maryland, UNLV, and Cincinnati.  But only in the first half.  In each of those games, the prowess the O has shown feels as though it has evaporated after halftime.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at each of those games, half-by-half.

Maryland

Reading the first-half drive chart of the Maryland game, you would think the Mountaineers were Oregon.  Here is what struck me:  we had six drives and moved the ball, it seemed, at will.  We had 30 rushing plays, 10 of which were carries of 3.5 yards or less and two of those were sacks.  (The "meritless rush" seems to be a staple of our offense, hence I am tracking it for the purposes of this exercise.)

We had pass completions of 8 yards or more 9 times.  Three of those came on 3rd-and-longer-than-9, while three of them came on 1st-down pass attempts.  Clearly, throwing the the ball was on our mind after the Miracle at Marshall (or Soccertaco in Knoxville, if you were rollin' with me...you know who you are), and guess what, we are good at it.  Consider that we scored touchdowns on three of our first-half drives, failed on a fourth down in Maryland territory on one drive, and lost two fumbles, both times in scoring position.

Second half:  Five drives, 25 rushes, 13 for 3.5 yards or less, but three of those were kneel-downs.  The difference in the offense from the first half to the second was this:  four incompletions on the second drive, two incompletions on the third, and the gimmick play interception thrown by Jock on the fourth drive.  Each of these miscues resulted in quick returns of the ball to the Terrapins.

UNLV

Again, the play-by-play is egregiously in our favor here in the first half.  The lack of a quality opponent is apparent in the fact that we ran the ball only 11 times in the half, with a single carry for less than three yards.  Geno threw the ball at will with highlight completions of 41, 38, 22, 17, and 48.  Interestingly, this half sported what I think was the only all-passing three-and-out of the season, and the following possession resulted in a 48-yard passing touchdown on first down.  WVU faced a third-and-long only once, and converted.

Second half:  Maybe not fair to include because the regulars were relieved early, but we rushed the ball 22 times, with nine of them going for 3.5 or less.  Passing was 4-of-7 with the highlight being a 18-yard gainer from Geno to Will Johnson on 3rd-and-3.

Cincinnati

Scrolling through this first-half play-by-play was odd.  I guess I just don't notice, a bit beer-buzzed, no doubt, that the Mountaineers scored 30 points despite the fact that they were intercepted once and went three-and-out three times!  That  has got to be a testament to how good our defense is, but hey, we are talking O, here.  We rushed the ball 24 times, and 15 of those carries went for 3.5 yards or less.  We had one big passing bomb, a first-down throw for 48 yards.  Other than that, the highlight throws were of 9-to-14 yards, but there is no mistaking the fact that we were pass-heavy.  On two of our three-and-outs, we threw twice in the sequence and one of our scoring drives featured four straight passes, and six-of-seven throwing attempts.

Second half:  Even though the point total wasn't sexy, and perhaps the opponent had capitulated, which is to say, quit, at one point WVU ran 22 consecutive running plays over the course of three drives.  Of 35 second-half rushes, 15 went for 3.5 yards or less.  Passing highlights were minimal - completions of 19 to Sanders and 17 to Starks while going an efficient 7-of-10 - as the Mountaineers didn't throw much after the middle of the 3rd quarter.

Conclusions:

If we are remotely effective at throwing the ball, meaning, if we can complete 50 percent of our passes and have them gain even medium yardage, 12 or 15 yards, we seem to score.  Also, the first half of the Cincy game illustrates a trust in the defense I think we should continue to have in our remaining contests.  I don't think we should be afraid to risk three-and-outs where all three plays are pass attempts.  The defense can keep us in the right field position.  

Also,  it seems we have a whole lot of rush attempts that go for little or nothing.  In these, our three most successful offensive games against FBS foes, we had 150 total rushes and 63 of them went for less than 3.5 yards.  That's a 42-percent failure rate with regard to the run.  You've got to be able to get 4 yards per carry, and the difference since Mullen-ism began is that we aren't seeing that many big game-breaking runs to even out all the failed rush attempts.  In the three games examined above, only one run of 50 yards or more is to be found - Noel's run against Maryland.  Our big plays have come from the passing game.  The reason we have fallen off in terms of points production in the second half of these games, I think, is because we haven't been focused on throwing the ball, which leads me to...

I think Mullen-ism is this:  pretend like you care about the run, make sure the right people get some touches, and if a big play happens, great.  But, much like any pro offense, the stat that really seems to matter with this team is Yards-Per-Pass Attempt.  Keep that number high, and the offense is going to hum.  Consider:  WVU's YPA in every game but these three (not including Coastal Carolina): 5.7.  In the three games considered above: 9.97.

Mr. Mullen, forget about the offense you trashed (with respect to The 25314, the baby you threw out with the bathwater).  Make Mullen-ism about throwing the ball.

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