By Cam Huffman
Dana Holgorsen, No. 8 West Virginia University’s second-year head football coach, is asking his team to play harder, when his team takes on Maryland Saturday at noon on FX, and it has nothing to do with effort.
Holgorsen didn’t fault his team’s hustle or desire in the first two games of 2012 — wins over Marshall (69-34) and James Madison (42-12) — but on several occasions, especially against the Dukes, he felt his Mountaineers were too soft.
A prime example came on the opening drive of the second half last week at FedEx Field. With WVU already leading 28-3, the Mountaineers had driven into JMU territory, where they faced a third-and-one at the JMU 48. On the third down play, quarterback Geno Smith handed the ball off to powerful running back Shawne Alston, who was brought down behind the line of scrimmage for a 1-yard loss.
Frustrated with the result, Holgorsen chose to go for the fourth down and handed it back to Alston. This time, the senior gained a yard, but he was still stopped a yard short of the first down, giving the Dukes the football with good field position.
JMU responded by driving all the way down to the WVU 1-yard line, where it faced a second-and-goal. WVU’s defense rose to the occasion, stopping the Dukes on three straight runs, including a fourth down play where Darwin Cook forced running back Jordan Anderson out of bound short of the end zone.
But when the Mountaineers took over, it took only one play for the Dukes to bring Alston down in the end zone for a safety.
“Soft. Soft and not ready to play,” said Holgorsen when asked to evaluate the first few minutes of the second half. “They were clearly playing harder than us. Other than the four snaps of goal line, the defense started slow. We gave up two drives all the way to the goal line, and yes I’m happy with the goal line stands, they were tremendous, but we were really soft in the first two drives.
“Offensively, we looked like crap on the third-and-one. We went for it (on fourth down) and were soft,” he continued. “We got the ball on the goal line, and we were soft. We were soft up front. We ran soft. It was just soft. They played with more effort and played harder than us for half of the third quarter.”
Holgorsen wasn’t willing to pass all of the blame on Alston. After playing an almost perfect game against Marshall, Holgorsen said the WVU offensive line struggled at times against a JMU team that blitzed more than any team the Mountaineers have faced the last two years.
“They were relatively soft and their communication wasn’t very good,” he said. “We’re going to challenge them to get better. We were really excited about all five of those guys playing really well together, and they’re still going to. I’m not going to say they took a step backwards, but they didn’t play very good.”
One of those linemen, guard Jeff Braun, received some big news this week when he was one of 30 athletes selected as candidates for the 2012 Senior Class Award.
To be eligible for the award, which recognizes student-athletes who excel both on and off the field, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I FBS senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence — community, classroom, character and competition.
Braun, a Westminster, Md., native, has started 28 straight games on the WVU offensive line.
Smith also received national recognition this week when he was named the Manning Award Player of the Week after earning the most votes in the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s Facebook contest, beating out seven other Manning Award Stars of the Week.
Smith threw for 411 yards and became WVU’s all-time passing leader in the win over JMU.
The Manning Player of the Year Award — created to honor the college football accomplishments of Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning — is the only quarterback award that includes the candidates’ bowl performances in its balloting. It will recognize its eighth winner at the end of the season.
Ticket sales for WVU’s final home game against Kansas on Dec. 1 have been suspended, pending returns from the visiting team allotment. Ticket sales were already suspended for the home contests against Baylor, Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma.
Single-game tickets for road games at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State can still be purchased online at www.wvugame.com or by calling 1-800-WVU-GAME.