Blocking issues plague No. 19 West Virginia
West Virginia's inability to run the ball and sustain many drives in its season opener boiled down to one big problem - blocking.
Coach Dana Holgorsen spread the blame for the missed assignments among the offensive linemen, running backs and wide receivers. It's something he hopes to have worked out when No. 19 West Virginia (1-0) meets Norfolk State (1-0) on Saturday.
''I've mentioned it 275 times so far - we've got to block better,'' Holgorsen said.
While West Virginia's passing game thrived last week against Marshall, the Mountaineers were limited to 42 rushing yards on 26 carries in the 34-13, lightning-shortened win, their lowest yardage total in a decade.
The offensive line was tweaked after left guard Josh Jenkins hurt his knee in the spring and was lost for at the season. Jeff Braun moved over from right tackle to replace him. Tyler Rader made his first start at right guard and Pat Eger got his first at right tackle.
Holgorsen chose freshman Andrew Buie to start over a handful of young running backs. Buie ran 15 times for 30 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter with what the Mountaineers describe as an ''upper extremity'' injury. Holgorsen said he should be ready to play on Saturday.
Freshmen Vernard Roberts was the only other back to carry the ball, scoring on a 1-yard run just before the game was stopped for good early in the fourth quarter.
Holgorsen liked the way his running backs protected quarterback Geno Smith against Marshall's blitzing defense. But that was about it.
''It was spotty at best,'' Holgorsen said. ''We've talked a bunch about how we've got two different types of running backs. We've got smaller guys who carry the ball and bigger guys who block for them, but we need them both to pass protect.
''All of them need to run block, too. Playing that many backs, they all need to be in position to hold their own. They were subpar in pass protection.''
Norfolk State gives West Virginia more time to work out the kinks before the Mountaineers face tough tests next week at Maryland and on Sept. 24 at home against No. 2 LSU.
WVU is 11-0 against FCS teams, while Norfolk State has been outscored 128-3 in three previous games with FBS.
Spartans coach Pete Adrian is a 1970 West Virginia graduate. Bad knees shortened his playing career and he coached the freshman football team in 1969. The current Mountaineer Field, the site of a golf course back then, was still a decade away from being built. The football team's practice field is now where the basketball arena sits.
When Bobby Bowden took over for Jim Carlen as head coach in 1970, Adrian left to become a graduate assistant at Rhode Island.
''Having played there, I know the fans will be rather hostile,'' Adrian said. ''But for our players it will be a great experience to be in front of 60,000 people. The stadium there is a real pit as far as noise level, you won't be able to hear from about 5 feet away. I think it will help us in the future.''
Among the noise, Norfolk State quarterback Chris Walley will need to maintain his composure.
Last week he went 25 of 29 for 255 yards and two scores in a 37-3 win over Division II Virginia State but will face a West Virginia defense that didn't allow an offensive touchdown against Marshall.
''He's like having a coach on the field,'' Adrian said. ''He reads the defenses well. He gets rid of the football. He really doesn't get rattled and does a great job with it.''