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WEST VIRGINIA OFFENSIVE PREVIEW: Geno & Co vs Gilbert...are you brimming with confidence yet?

Let's hope every time Quinn Sharp kicks or punts, it's unreturnable...

Justin K. Aller

Remember the last time Dana Holgorsen came to Stillwater as the enemy?

2009...Beat Georgia in the season opener at home. Oklahoma State was #5 in the country. Made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Then subsequently got torched by Houston, and a season that started with so much excitement and hope began going downhill, and would wind up with two horrible losses to end the season.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

As we all know, Gundy lured Dana to Stillwater the next season, which was enough to implant the "no huddle" spread attack at OSU, and the Cowboys will never be the same.

Now Holgorsen returns once again as the enemy, bringing what once was a high flying, point producing machine that is suddenly NOT hitting on all cylinders.

I fear that Justin Gilbert might just be what the doctor ordered.

When West Virginia came over from the Big East, many questioned their ability to handle the level of football in the Big 12. Narrow wins over several weak "sisters" and a blowout loss to Syracuse did not look good for running the gauntlet of a Big 12 schedule.

Then came the annihilation of Clemson, and suddenly the 'Eers and QB Geno Smith were the darlings of the media in their new conference home.

The warning signs were there...a couple of not so impressive non-conference wins...allowed Baylor 63 points in a win...then got completely shut down by Tech and Kansas State.

Based on Big 12 play, how can an offense that seems so potent essentially vanish? One would expect offensive production to lessen against better defenses (Baylor/Texas vs Tech/KState/TCU), but the drop in production is precipitous.

Turnovers? Not really, although they are averaging 1.7 per game in the three losses, while averaging 1 per game in their wins. But that's not much of difference, at least not enough to explain the change.

Penalties? Fewer penalties for fewer yards in the three losses.

Sacks? Fewer sacks for fewer lost yards in the three losses.

In 24 possessions (I don't count end of half) in 2 wins, WV scored 16 touchdowns. In the 37 possessions since, they have tallied as many turnovers on downs as touchdowns...6

Third down conversions dropped from 56% to 39%.

After completing 81% of his passes in the 2 wins, Smith has completed only 58% in the three losses.

Those numbers are all fine, but are also predictable outcomes of wins and losses. They don't necessarily tell a story.

These stats, however, do...

  • YPA...10.3 in 2 wins...4.7 in 3 losses
  • YPC...12.6 in 2 wins...8.1 in 3 losses
As we know, the Mountaineers are NOT a rushing juggernaut. The dropoff in production from the wins to losses was less than 80 ypg (177 to 99), or 44%. Passing yardage is another story.

Try 232 yards (462 to 230), or 50%.

To put it another way...WV averaged 312 yards less production in their 3 Big 12 losses, and the passing game was responsible for almost 75% of that.

Can we say YAC?

Without knowing what those stats are (don't think the NCAA compiles those stats, but could be wrong), I am going to draw one conclusion...that Texas Tech, Kansas State, and TCU were able to defend the run and pressure Geno Smith with the front 3 or 4 defenders, maybe one extra LB, and therefore were able to put more defenders in coverage of the short to intermediate passing game that Holgosen's system thrives on. Get the ball to your playmakers in space. However, if that space is filled with just 1 or 2 extra defenders, there is not as much room to run AFTER the catch. We have seen in the past, especially with Texas Tech, that without a legit running game, a team full of quick, athletic defenders can have success slowing down or stopping that style of offense.

Obviously the pressure from the front 3-4 defenders is also causing errant or hurried throws, and also some throw aways. The drastic drop in completion % would seem to indicate that. But given that, wouldn't we see more rushing yards or attempts from Smith, who is a mobile enough QB?

Nope. In fact, he averaged 6.5 attempts in the 2 wins and 6.3 attempts in the 3 losses. His best game was 31 yards against Baylor. He recorded 28 yards against TCU.

Vincy Young he is not. Not even J.W. Walsh. Maybe Clint Chelf?

So, for me, this game comes down to YAC. And that's where Justin Gilbert comes in.

Did a shiver just go down your spine? It should have.

The keys to YAC are three fold...
  • how quickly can the receiver get his eyes turned upfield after the catch;
  • does the QB hit the receiver in stride;
  • and where is the defender or defenders at the time of the catch;
If the defender is close enough in coverage, the first two generally don't matter. Catch is made, tackle is almost immediately made. Little or no YAC.

But if Gilbert is playing his usual 7-10 yard cushion and utilizing his 2012 tackling skills, the 'Eers will have a YAC feast. I really don't even want to think about it, so I'm not going to talk about this anymore.

Guys like Elkins and Johnson...linebackers with speed...will be key, and I hope Bill Young doesn't opt for the three down "speed" package too much. Barnett and Castleman should be able to blow up the middle of the West Virginia offensive line.

My final assessment...same thing I said in the podcast this week...our defense should be better able to slow down the opponent than their counterpart, so I expect OSU to eventually pull away for a fairly easy win, 55-28.

Welcome to bowl eligibility for 2012.