By Cam Huffman
After cruising to a 69-34 win over Marshall in the season opener, West Virginia University head coach Dana Holgorsen would have preferred to take that momentum and keep rolling.
The schedule wouldn’t allow it.
When WVU’s move to the Big 12 Conference for the 2012 football season became official, WVU found itself with nine conference games on its schedule, compared to the seven it had in the Big East, and that meant dropping a nonconference contest that was already on the schedule.
Dropping Marshall was basically impossible. The political pressure that helped to create The Friends of Coal Bowl series in the first place wouldn’t allow it to end a year early.
WVU was upset when Maryland backed out of the longtime series with the Mountaineers a few years ago to play California, and WVU didn’t want to create more bad blood by doing the same.
Plus, the administration at WVU felt it was important to keep some regional nonconference games on the list, because the conference road trips were so far from the Mountain State.
That left James Madison and Florida State, and the JMU game brought about a guaranteed payment. There were sponsors for the event and contracts signed, and backing out of the game would have created too many headaches.
So WVU was forced to cancel its trip to Tallahassee, Fla., to meet FSU, a game that would have taken place last weekend. That decision not only erased what probably would have been the country’s marquee game last Saturday, it also left the Mountaineers with an off week much earlier in the schedule than they preferred.
“You worry about having an off week this early in the year and the guys losing routine,” said Holgorsen Tuesday during his weekly press conference.
But the coach said the down week went better than he expected, and after a few days off while the coaches hit the recruiting trail, WVU’s players came back Sunday focused and ready to work.
“I like our team’s mentality,” said Holgorsen. “They wanted to get back out there and get back in the routine, as well as play another game.
“I thought we got a lot done last week,” he continued, explaining that the few practices early last week also went well. “Tuesday and Wednesday was a lot of football. We put them in about four or five different situations and let them play. The competition was high, and I told them to compete within their positions. I was happy about how that went.
“On Thursday, we did more individual work and let the young guys get after it. Watching the young guys play 30 or so snaps was fun to do. Overall, I was happy with it. If I wasn’t happy with it, we would have practiced on Friday.”
Instead the coaches hit the road, trying to find the next crop of Mountaineers to bring to Morgantown.
Holgorsen has always been confident in his offense — which he learned from Hal Mumme and Mike Leach, who were his coaches at Iowa Wesleyan, and then perfected as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State — but after years of being considered an unconventional approach, he has recently seen it becoming more of the norm in college football — and slowly creeping into the NFL.
“(If) you saw the Baltimore Ravens game (Monday) night, it looked like a whole lot of uptempo offense coming from the shotgun with downfield throws and reverses,” said Holgorsen. “I would say that the NFL is headed there.”
WVU will face similar attacks throughout the Big 12, but first it must find a counter for a JMU attack that Dukes head coach Mickey Matthews admitted picked up a great deal from former Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez.
“It is the old Northeastern football,” said Holgorsen of JMU’s offensive philosophy. “It is what old Big East teams were. It is what West Virginia was before I got here, what Pitt was a couple years ago, what Syracuse and Connecticut did last year.
“What the Big East used to be is what the Colonial Athletic Association (JMU’s conference) is now. They will get the ball off to tight ends, they will try to establish the run and they will control the clock. It is all about playing with effort. I think JMU defended around 62 plays per game last year — that is what West Virginia was defending before I got here.
“The landscape of college football is changing slightly, but I don’t think it has gotten to them yet.”