West Virginia Football: Turnovers and the blame game

West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood fumbles the ball (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood fumbles the ball against Maryland (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

The West Virginia Mountaineers turned the ball over six times in their loss to Maryland this past Saturday.

Turnovers sum up the West Virginia football team’s loss quite well; without them, the game would’ve been rather close. One thing is for sure this season, we can’t blame the WVU defense!

Youth and inexperience on offense are slowly revealing themselves to be two of the core problems. It’s rather obvious that it’s going to be a long season in Morgantown. Unfortunately, the only answer to those two problems are more experience and more games played.

Among the problems on offense, the line is inconsistent at best, rarely opening holes against Maryland. WVU sorely needs a consistent running game to help out young quarterback Ford Childress. The line really hasn’t opened holes against any team.

Perhaps this was to be expected with so very few returning starters, but WVU seems slightly worse than most thought going into the season up front. They certainly need time to gel, but as long as the line struggles to open holes, WVU is not likely to win.

The reality is, there are so many things wrong with the offense right now I don’t even know where to begin. The shutout loss was WVU’s first in 151 consecutive games dating back to a 35-0 defeat by Virginia Tech in Morgantown on Oct. 6, 2001.

When analyzing the offense, there’s plenty of youth, but everything begins up front. The offensive line must begin to set the tone against WVU’s opponents. It doesn’t matter how many running backs WVU has or how many play makers there are on the outside, if holes aren’t opened on a consistent basis, and protection isn’t provided for Childress, the offense will continue to be inept. Maryland’s defensive line held WVU to just 2.4 yards per carry.

Now, on to the turnovers. It’s clear that WVU has inexperienced players in important areas that can’t be masked easily. Their mistakes are on display for all to see.

Ronald Carswell misplayed a first-quarter punt and fumbled it at the WVU 24 yard-line. After the defense did their job, as they’ve been doing all season to this point, Carswell seemingly looked like a Pop Warner player trying to field a punt. One can never understand why punt returners just can’t seem to get away from the ball when they’re unsure. We see it all the time, at every level of the game.

That play summed up the entire day for WVU and set the tone for a blowout loss. However, it was just the beginning of a forthcoming landslide.

Maryland’s defense limited West Virginia to just 175 total yards and six first downs. Childress only completed 11-of-22 passes for 62 yards. His only completion down field came with 3:06 remaining in the game when he found Cody Clay for an 11-yard gain.

The Maryland game wasn’t close, not only because WVU turned the ball over, but because Maryland’s defense simply had more experience and they used it to their advantage. WVU’s offense didn’t know what had hit them.

As I said in my Maryland game preview, it would come down to turnovers and special teams play, and WVU proved me right. They were just on the wrong side of all the major mistakes being made. Maryland turned five of the six WVU turnovers into points.

Much like the Oklahoma game, only one legitimate scoring drive was put together against the WVU defense. Maryland went 89 yards on 12 plays during 4th quarter mop-up time and managed to score the game’s final touchdown. The final score of 37-0 was rather deceiving, but Maryland’s defense deserves all the credit in the world for a great performance.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has placed the blame squarely on himself for the Mountaineers struggles

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has placed the blame squarely on himself for the Mountaineers struggles

Now, on to the blame game. Who is to blame for the poor performance we’ve been subject to witness so far this year?

It begins with the coaching staff. Their inability to put players in positions to succeed on offense has been the downfall so far, according to head coach Dana Holgorsen.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the one that can be blamed more than anybody is me,” Holgorsen said. “The bigger issue is me. I’ve got to do a better job of getting these guys prepared to play, calling plays and getting these guys motivated and ready to play.”

Holgorsen has also stated that he’s had the same offensive philosophy for 15 years, so he doubts that’s the problem.

Last year, we knew the defense was the obvious issue. This year, the offense is slowly proving to be the problem, and it’s just as equally obvious.

Blame will continue to be thrust upon Holgorsen until the Mountaineers get things solved, but the players on the field will continue to decide the games.

Holgorsen said he needs to do a better job of motivating his players and getting them in positions to succeed, but I don’t see the defense needing this type of motivation, as they continue to have a bounce back season.

The players on offense need to grow more confidence in order to be successful, which only comes from having success through time. That kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight with the inexperience WVU is dealing with on the offensive side of the ball.

But the issue of motivation doesn’t fall on Holgorsen alone.

If each player on WVU’s offense needs someone else in order to become motivated, and is not capable of self-motivation, then the offense truly has more problems than originally thought.

  • Joe

    Excellent article Zach.. Spot on… Keep up the good work, but unfortunately it look like it will be a very long season.

  • Johnny T

    Over the years at times, it has been tough to be a Mountie fan. But the one thing we can say is that all Mountie fans will stay true to WVU. Most Mountie fans are thinking that there needs to be a coaching change now. But maybe changing coaches is not what we need. But changing their philosophy might be what is needed. It all starts with the coaching staff. I have gotten the impression that the coaches seem to be so cocky and self assured that they cannot admit when they need help and when they need to change. Coach Holgerson says that he needs to find ways to motivate the players. I don’t think the players need motivating, but the coaches sure do. They set the tone for the team, theybring out the leaders in the team, they develop the young players. Most importantly, the coaches need to figure out how to get the most out of the players they have. Everyone will point to poor recruiting, but if you look at these players,, they are not bad players. They just need to be able to have a system that fits their style and their abilities. Young players need to have limits. They cannot thrive in a complicated system. But if the coaches create a system that fits these young players then this kind of loss will not happen again whether you have 22 seniors on the field or 22 Freshmen. Coach Holgerson needs to remember that the young players on this team need to be developed. Football is a simple game, you block, you tackle. Keep the schemes less complicated don’t make the young players think so much. Let their football instincts take over. Good things will happen.