Promise, Not Polish

Promise, Not Polish

West Virginia's offense is the awkward teenager fumbling with a bra strap.

A date stumbling around, whispering names in a darkened theatre. The flummoxed first-timer at a Toastmaster's meeting. It has no feel, no direction – not quite yet. But potential? Sure. Especially with a sizeable, slinging quarterback in Ford Childress that spearheaded a closer-than-the-score 41-7 win over Georgia State.

But that's the old joke about potential vs reality. One is a possibility. One is actuality. And, in all actuality, West Virginia was long on possibility and short deliverability. There were – again – flashes. Childress' howitzer of an arm thwarted any physical scrutiny. The kid's got the tools to be a legit starting quarterback. He stands tall, sometimes stoic-like. And he seems to view the field well, and appeared to choose the correct option the majority of the time. The receivers made plays downfield, both of the offensive kind like Daikiel Shorts' touchdown, and that of the defensive, when Ronald Carswell had to come back on an underthrown ball to avoid an interception. The backs split carries and were workmanlike, showing some burst and churning out some solid yardage.

Again, though, West Virginia struggled with offensive line play. It often failed to open running lanes, with partial credit given to a GSU team game on slowing the run and leveraging plays well from sideline to sideline. The backs, again, never truly broke through for more than a handful of major gains, and never a long touchdown. Childress, with all he did well, often forced passes downfield, throwing into coverage. His first half interception was a ball, thrown under pressure, that was well behind Mario Alford. He threw behind wideouts. His pocket sense could use some work, as he didn't feel backside pressure. Give the gunslinger credit for hanging in there, but that mental clock has to expire in a timely manner.

Consider: The Mountaineers, an overwhelming favorite against a badly outmatched Georgia State team, led just 10-0 with three minutes remaining in the first half. At the break, they had more than doubled GSU's yardage at 121 to 268, with Childress hitting 11 of 17 for 178 yards and two scores. But just as many times as one came away impressed with the deep throws, the middle drag and slant routes that were a display of pinpoint passing, one also furrowed a brow at lack of total team execution, lack of seams in the rush game, lack of that feel to an offense that makes it hum like a, well, Ford GT.

At no point in key moments in the game – and those were, to be clear, mainly a first half happening – did one ever feel as though West Virginia was getting going, that it was threading plays together in consistent manner, gaining solid, respectable yardage and was building a steady game. Instead, this team lived by the big play, and still led just 17-0 after a couple quarters. There was nothing shockingly poor about the outing, but there wasn't much that served notice to Maryland, or any other foe, that WVU was starting to patch it together as an entire unit.

The truth of West Virginia's offense likely lies somewhere between Childress threading a rifle shot to Carswell in the end zone and his pick a possession later; between a long Dreamius Smith scoring run, and getting stonewalled often by a Georgia State run defense that had allowed 253 rush yards per game entering. It's nailing down the wind with solid second half effort – and the lack of that effort that made the first half so close. It's a mix, a match, a mash tun. And much like what emerges from the latter, there are good ingredients available. It's what you do with them the makes the product.

An offense, it reads here, might not have to have a surefire "identity," with all that entails. But it must have reliable options, something it can depend upon when the sledding gets tough. If it works, certainly, do it again. But if, like in West Virginia's case, nothing works even a majority the time, it's hard to figure out what will work at any given time. The win's the thing. But there's a long way to polish for this version of the blue and gold.

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