West Virginia's passing game struggling with Texas on tap
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia's once-solid passing attack is in a rut.
The Mountaineers are struggling to move the ball through the air in conference play, and coach Dana Holgorsen will look for ways to get quarterback Skyler Howard going on Saturday when West Virginia (4-4, 1-4 Big 12) meets Texas (4-5, 3-3).
Howard has failed to reach 200 passing yards in four of five Big 12 games.
In a 31-26 win over Texas Tech on Saturday, Howard went 12 of 23 for 149 yards with two interceptions. It marked the first time this season that he didn't throw a touchdown pass.
''I'm not naive. I understand we have to do better in the pass game,'' Holgorsen said Tuesday. ''It's not where I want to be.''
Holgorsen said a goal for his quarterbacks is to complete 66 percent of their passes, something that's happened only once this season. Howard has completed 43 percent overall in conference play with seven TD passes and eight interceptions.
Not all of it has been Howard's fault. His receivers have had numerous drops. Holgorsen also points to improving his pass protection, his receivers running the proper routes and Howard timing his throws better.
''All that stuff has got to improve,'' Holgorsen said. ''It'd take me probably a little while to be able to list the order of what the problem is, but they're all in there somewhere.''
It might not get much better against Texas, which has allowed just one passing touchdown in each of the last four games after getting throttled for six TD tosses against TCU. Iowa State completed 50 percent of its passes against the Longhorns, the only one of Texas' last three opponents to reach that mark.
Texas made three interceptions in a 59-20 win over Kansas on Saturday, including two by freshman safety DeShon Elliott. The Longhorns' Dylan Haines is tied for the league lead with four interceptions, including one against the Jayhawks.
When Holgorsen was hired at West Virginia for the 2011 season, he had the chance to further develop his version of the Air Raid offense learned under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. But after Ron Crook was hired as West Virginia's offensive line coach in 2013, Holgorsen started incorporating more of the run game.
With a group of young wide receivers on board and running back Wendell Smallwood closing in on 1,000 yards, West Virginia has thrown the ball only 40 percent of the time this season.
West Virginia beat Texas Tech by amassing 300 yards on the ground. Smallwood ran for a career-high 163 yards and Rushel Shell had 111 yards against the Red Raiders.
But Holgorsen wants more balance. Howard has thrown for 1,875 yards so far and would need a solid finish to have the school's fifth 3,000-yard season in six years.
''We're not going to be able to run like that against everybody, Holgorsen said. ''Even this week, obviously we're playing against a Texas Longhorn team that does a good job of stopping the run. We'll get back to work here this week and try to improve our pass game.''