Off a 49-14 loss at Texas Tech, the No. 15 Mountaineers (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) play host to No. 4 Kansas State (6-0, 3-0) with a now-myriad of defensive questions. WVU was shredded for 686 yards, the second time this season it has allowed more than 600 yards of total offense (700 vs. Baylor) and the fourth time a team has tallied at least 400 yards and 34 points.
“From a scheme standpoint, I am happy with where it’s at,” Holgorsen said of WVU’s 3-4 defense. “I can sit here and make excuses. I critiqued that very well yesterday. It boils down to there are a lot of good schemes out there. It’s not the scheme, it’s the way they are playing. The problems defensively were the same things as on the offensive side. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency. Our effort was spotty. We were way too hesitant. And when the situation got the best of us (we collapsed).”
The offense didn’t fare much better, having by far its worst outing of the season in all phases. Quarterback Geno Smith struggled with accuracy and the wind, though he says otherwise, and West Virginia could never mount enough of a running game to counter the slack caused by a lack of yards after catch and ability to hit a dep ball as needed when Texas Tech frocused on limiting shorter patterns.
“It started with the inability to run the ball,” Holgorsen said. “We didn’t do a very good job blocking from the start of the game. We didn’t make anybody miss at the running back spot. That wasn’t the only problem. We never got into a rhythm. Tech did a good job defensively. They were disruptive. When we went out there and fell behind. I think our guys maybe weren’t mentally tough enough to handle another shoot out and it affected their performance. We weren’t able to throw the ball down the field when we got some guys open. We didn’t do a good job of handling them.”
Just a week after amassing 460 yards at Texas, with running back Andrew Buie netting a career high 207, the Mountaineers were held to 133 rush yards. WVU did rack up 428 total yards, but could not convert multiple key fourth downs to keep drives alive, most often around the Texas Tech 30 yard line, a sort of no-man’s land, especially with swirling wind conditions and a thus-far subpar kicking game. Holgorsen didn’t think there was anything wrong with West Virginia’s approach. It was more execution and a base failure to make plays as needed that doomed the second road effort of the season.
“We will go about (Kansas State) the same way we did it the previous five games when we won,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what we are doing offensively. We just had a bad game. I don’t think anybody else in the history of football was able to put up the numbers we were on a very, very consistent basis. We gotta find other ways to find other guys able to step up. We have to be able to find ways to win games in other ways such as special teams and defense.”
That starts this week with slowing a potent Wildcat ground game averaging 5.7 yards per carry. K-State already has almost 1,500 rushing yards and has totaled 22 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Collin Klein (79 of 118 passing, 1,074 yards, 7 TD, 2 INT) has 10 scores on the ground. KSU excels up front and with its physical play, and will provide a far different look for WVU than what it saw in the first three Big 12 games.
“I am very familiar with Coach (Bill) Snyder and what he was able to do during his tenure at Kansas State,” Holgorsen said. “They are very, very tough. This will be our biggest challenge of the year, no question. They are extremely disciplined, and it doesn’t matter if it’s offense or defense or special teams. Their whole program is built around being mentally tough, physical tough, disciplined and with a tremendous amount of effort. Any coach at any level could turn on their tape and be appreciative of how they coach their kids.
“They do a great job of controlling the clock. It all starts with Collin Klein, their quarterback, who does a great job of taking care of the football. Their skill guys do a great job of taking care of the football. But having the understanding that they are going to try to control the clock doesn’t change our job defensively. Our job is to stop the run, create turnovers and try to get off the field.”
Holgorsen did address the idea that broadcast color analyst Chris Speilman said WVU tackle Quinton Spain was giving away the run-pass play selection via his stance: “It’s something we talk about a lot,” Holgorsen said. “It’s something we knew about and have talked about since we have been here and since we started coaching offense. We try to make sure our stances and signals don’t give anything away. If we are doing anything from that standpoint, it’s something we need to get fixed. I think it’s predictable with every offensive tackle in the country on various plays.”
The coach also said WVU seemed more focused and intense on Sunday in the warp of the Texas Tech and start of preparation for Kansas State than it did just prior to game time in Lubbock. “We were really disappointed we weren’t able to bow up when we faced adversity,” Holgorsen said. “Bottom line, we kinda got our butt kicked there. This group, their sense of urgency was a lot better (Sunday) than it was (at the game). I think we will bow up and play harder and play better this week. That doesn’t mean we are going to win, because we have a great team coming in here. We have to play like that every week.”