The Mountaineers entered the weekend desperate for a bounce-back win after coming out flat versus Texas Tech. From the second play on, the Mountaineers trailed and were dominated in all phases of the game. There aren’t many positive takeaways from this game for West Virginia as they limp into a much-needed bye week. The preseason optimism has evaporated as the Mountaineers need to scrape together four wins in the final six games just to make a bowl game. Let’s look at the numbers.
This game was an all-you-can-eat buffet of frustrations Mountaineer fans have watched so far this season. A wasted timeout before the first offensive snap of the game set the tone for another sloppy game for Neal Brown’s team. The Mountaineers once again lost the turnover battle (they haven’t won it in a single game this season) and performed incredibly poorly on 3rd down. Add in eight penalties, six sacks allowed, and losing the field position game, and it’s no surprise that this game wasn’t close.
The offensive line was probably the biggest loser this week. West Virginia could not run the ball with any running back; the five longest runs of the day for WVU were all by Greene or Doege. The line didn’t fare any better in the passing game. Six sacks help contribute to West Virginia having an average of eight yards to go on their fifteen 3rd down attempts. Baylor only blitzed on 27% of Doege’s pass attempts, but half of Baylor’s pressures came when they didn’t even send extra men. This is a massive deal, especially for a pocket statue like Doege, whose “clean-pocket” PFF grade of 78.1 drops to a lowly 52.6 when “under-pressure”.
Sometimes in sports being good in one thing allows you to be good in many. If you can force the opposition to respect one facet of your game, others have the ability to open up as they receive less attention. My question is this: what does a defense have to focus on when dealing with this Mountaineer offense? With the lack of an offensive line that can protect a quarterback long enough for a deep route to be run and a quarterback who doesn’t evade pressure well, the offense is reduced to quick passes (slants or screens) and a running game that is ranked dead last in the Big12 in most metrics. I don’t think teams feel threatened by a long vertical play; Doege threw only one ball further than 20 yards downfield against Baylor. The lack of a vertical threat isn’t helping the running game either. If I were scheming against the WVU offense, I would load the box every play until the offense proved that they could expose the defense downfield. Doege has completed eight passes thrown 20+ yards downfield in his five P5 games this season, four of which came in the second half of the Texas Tech game, the best half of his career. Doege has a decent PFF grade on throws over 20 yards (73.5), I’m just not sure the line can protect long enough for receivers to get downfield that far. The offense has to find a way to make vertical passing a threat to defenses.
West Virginia goes into the bye week looking for an identity. So what are realistic expectations for the rest of the season? According to Beta_Rank, West Virginia has a lowly 1.41 expected wins out of six games left on their schedule. That would put WVU somewhere around 3-9 or 4-8 for the season. Neal Brown and staff have their work cut out for them over the second half of the season to get the “climb” moving in the right direction again.