The much heralded WVU offense called by Head Coach Dana Holgorsen is very exciting to watch and is very good at moving down the field. Over the past three weeks, it has proven itself effective in this capacity against, Norfolk State, Maryland and Marshall. However, 16th ranked WVU got hit in the face by SEC perennial powerhouse LSU last Saturday night in Morgantown, WV and its offensive weaknesses were exposed immediately and often.
There are two glaring weaknesses in WV’s high paced offense. First, is the lack of a running game. Now, I get it, the offense is designed to spread out the defense and create mismatches in space, but the line is not holding blocks long enough for the running backs to get to the second level and begin to stretch the defense up the middle. If Barry Sanders were the running back, I could understand the approach, but he isn’t and the offense isn’t running the ball effectively at all, but the biggest issue I think comes from a lack of a middle presence in the passing game due to the lack of influence from the tight end position.
There is a reason that the Tight End position was created. It is not just a blocker who can run a button hook route, it is a position that has evolved into a big wide receiver position and is embodied in the NFL by players such as Antonio Gates, Sterling Sharpe, Dallas Clark and Tony Gonzales.
What the Tight End allows an offense to do is to put vertical pressure on both the inside linebackers and the safeties. By doing so, the linebackers and strong safety cannot cheat close to the line of scrimmage and shut down the running game. If they do, the Tight End provides a mismatch that allows the Quarteback to move the chains and control the field inside the hash marks. If an offense can control the middle of the field, it controls the game. Domination, or at least high efficiency in the middle creates man to man coverage on the outside for the wide receivers and creates an incredible mismatch for the safeties and it can keep a defense from blitzing if the quarterback is good at reading defenses. Coach Holgerson’s offense gives the quarterback a lot of leeway to make decisions at the line of scrimmage. Against LSU, Geno Smith didn’t have a way to put pressure on the middle of the field and when WVU effectively attacked the middle of the field with TE Tyler Urban, they moved the ball impressively and scored easily in the red zone. After the touchdown, ABC commentator Brent Musberger commented that the “tight end in this system, of course flexes off the line”. I think that is great because of the stretch on the defense, but if you look at the review of the play, Urban is way outside of the slot, he is split. Again, I understand the idea, but when an offense like this runs into a great defensive player, like Tyrann Mathieu who is part of a great defense, the lack of a run game brings this player to the line of scrimmage to man up on receivers. Mathieu was all over the field and his tip pass interception was a big turning point in the game.
I think Coach Holgerson’s offense is both exciting and very creative, and when he gets more recruits it will be a great thing for WVU and it might be almost unstoppable. I believe with his aggressiveness of pace, if his offense could command the middle of the field and run the ball efficiently, then WVU could beat anyone, anywhere, but the offense has to get the linebackers and secondary off of the line and out of blitz mode. That can be done effectively by running the ball and with the Tight End in the passing game. WVU’s go to run play is the screen and we saw what Mathieu did with that.
It is going to be fun to watch Coach Holgerson continue to put his mark on this team. I think with a few more recruiting cycles, WVU will be able to score against the best. They are not quite there yet, but they are close.