On Saturday, the West Virginia Mountaineers will kick off their fifth season under Neal Brown while they are surrounded by 100,000 Penn State Nittany Lion fans in Beaver Stadium, under the bright lights of what Penn State is calling a “helmet stripe” game - essentially a white out with a single blue line. It will be one of the toughest road venues the Mountaineers have ever played and in order for Saturday to not be a blood bath there is one place they absolutely need to be good at.
Ok Jake so spill the beans already. A great writer I am not, but I do enjoy a good exposition of vocabulary and so I will do so in this space. The expectation of the 2023 season is that the Mountaineers will lean on junior quarterback Garrett Greene and his running ability to start the season. Yes, Brown hasn’t officially announced a starting quarterback but we can deduce that Greene will be the starter, and if he is the starter, the offense is going to look different than it has in previous season. Previous seasons have leaned on the arms of Austin Kendall, Jarret Doege (5th all time in school history in passing yards) and JT Daniels. What the offense has missed is the mobility of those quarterbacks. Greene figures to bring more mobility and less passing.
A running offense must be successful. Defining success in a running offense can be boiled down to efficiency and efficiency can measured as “staying ahead of the chains”. The formulas that break this down aren’t all that complicated but because they are formulas and rules, they will be debated, but we can all agree that a running offense can’t be caught in 2nd and 3rd-and-”long”. Generally the rules of efficiency are: 50% of necessary yards on first down, 70% on second down and 100% on third down. For a normal drive that starts with a first and ten, this would be: 5 yards, 4 yards, 1 yards. A drive that gains 5 yards on first down, 4 on second and 1 or more on third is successful on every play and would ultimately result in a score at the end of the drive.
Can Greene and Brown be successful? Can they generate the necessary yards and stay ahead of the chains? That is the question to be seen on Saturday. But - how has Greene does so far in his young career?
Greene got his shot on the fourth possession of the Oklahoma game. This first drive had a 36% success rate, starting at their own 10 yard line and moved to the Oklahoma 46 before punting, flipping the field. While this drive did not result in points, the expected success of this drive is low and a place where flipping the field is a win. Oklahoma fielded the punt at their own 10 and this meant the drive would cover 80 of the 90 yards and pin Oklahoma back.
Following two more poor drives with JT Daniels at the helm, Greene was given the keys to the car and immediately turned in a 100% successful drive. A 15-yard pass to Kaden Prather, a 33-yard scamper by Greene and a 5-yard touchdown run meant the Mountaineers stayed ahead of the chains and scored. Keeping score, Greene is now 7/14 (50%) on the day in success rate.
The first drive of the second half is where a running offense can go bad. A Tony Mathis 14-yard run put the Mountaineers at 1st and 10 before an illegal formation penalty that was declined put the Mountaineers at 2nd-and-11. Two incomplete passes later the offense punted. This is where a running offense can be bad - behind the chains and feeling like it has to pass to make up the yardage that it missed on first down. Momentum is fickle and when its on, passes are completed and when its off, passes bounce off the turf.
On the whole, Greene finished the Oklahoma game at a 52% success rate, gaining the necessary yardage 30 times in 57 plays. Against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, he finished 8/30 before injury. Against the Kansas State Wildcats, he finished 26/69. In his final three games, Greene had a success rate of 64/156 (41%). Can he be as successful or more on Saturday? We shall see.