Despite falling 47-40 to Texas in overtime Saturday, West Virginia played one of its most complete games of the year on the offensive side of the ball.
Even with starting quarterback Clint Trickett being knocked out of the game with an unspecified injury, the Mountaineers were able to move the ball with ease against a Texas defense with superior size, speed and ability.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson engineered a balanced offensive attack that kept the Longhorn defense on its heels.
West Virginia ran 83 offensive plays Saturday with 47 runs and 36 passes. Running back Charles Sims carried the ball 24 times for 93 yards and three touchdowns and caught five passes for 42 yards.
Sims’ 29 touches set a new season-high for the versatile offensive threat from Houston.
His previous record was 27 in a 30-27 overtime win against TCU Nov. 2, when he rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown while totaling 35 receiving yards and a touchdown through the air.
It is no coincidence West Virginia’s two best offensive performances have come when Sims has seen his highest workloads.
Holgorsen and Dawson also utilized running back Dreamius Smith well. Smith carried the ball seven times for 24 yards and found the end zone on an eight-yard touchdown run that gave West Virginia a 33-30 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Junior quarterback Paul Millard struggled to find his rhythm on his first few drives after taking over for Trickett, but settled in nicely, finishing 16-for-32 for 259 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Millard seemed to establish a connection with speedy junior wide receiver Mario Alford.
Alford also had his best game as a Mountaineer, hauling in 4 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.
Trailing 37-33, Millard found Alford on a short post route. Alford broke away from the Texas defense for a 72-yard touchdown that gave WVU a 40-37 lead.
Alford has emerged as a weapon for West Virginia in the last two weeks. His quick cutting ability and speed in the open field makes him a threat in the short passing game and adds another dimension to West Virginia’s receiving corps.
When Millard had time to throw Saturday, he had success. Unfortunately for West Virginia, he wasn’t afforded that luxury very often.
The Texas defensive line consistently dominated the line of scrimmage and recorded six sacks on the day.
West Virginia ranks No. 8 in the Big 12 in sacks allowed with 24 on the season. For this offense to keep improving, the offensive line has to do a better job of establishing the line of scrimmage and keeping its quarterback upright.
The Mountaineers’ next two opponents, Kansas and Iowa State rank No. 8 and No. 10 in sacks, respectively.
If West Virginia is going to win its last two games and reach bowl eligibility, it has to take advantage of this and give its quarterback time to throw while opening holes for its running backs.
Although the end result of the game was a loss, if West Virginia can replicate its offensive performance from Saturday over the next two weeks, the Mountaineers will be going bowling once again.