By Cam Huffman
West Virginia’s first off-week of the 2012 season came nearly two months ago. The Mountaineers had played just one game, defeating Marshall 69-34 in the Friends of Coal Bowl, and everything was rosy in Morgantown.
This week, the story is much different. Losers of their last two — 49-14 at Texas Tech and 55-14 at home against No. 4 Kansas State — the No. 25 Mountaineers (5-2) are no longer the toast of the college football world, and the 69 points they posted against the Herd — or even the 70 they scored against Baylor on Sept. 29 — seem like a distant memory.
So with a different scenario in front of it, WVU’s coaching staff has a different plan in store for this bye-week.
“It will be a little different than the first one,” said head coach Dana Holgorsen during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “The mentality is going to be a little different.
“This Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we will get back to the basics out there. Last off-week, we put the ball down and played a lot, because it was so early in the season. At this point, it is more important to focus on the fundamentals of football. When you play as many young kids as we are, the first thing that is going to go is the technique in the heat of the battle.”
Holgorsen said that practices this week will be more like what the team goes through during the offseason than what it usually experiences during the fall.
“It will be similar to a spring practice,” said Holgorsen. “We’re not going to focus on TCU (which will visit Morgantown on Nov. 3) too much. They are not focusing on us, I can assure you of that. There are some things that they do that we can mirror. But it’s more of a mentality. We have to do a better job of offensively playing our game. Defensively, we have to get better at everything we do. Hopefully, we will get healed up and re-energized for the final five weeks of the season.”
WVU was in a similar spot a year ago. Seven games into the 2011 season it was 5-2 and coming off an embarrassing 49-23 road loss against Syracuse.
But the Mountaineers rebounded to win four of their last five, as well as a Big East title. They claimed the conference’s bid to the Orange Bowl, where they dismantled ACC champion Clemson, 70-33.
Holgorsen said there were lessons learned over that stretch, but he also pointed out that this year is also very different, mostly because teams like TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are left on the schedule, instead of the likes of Rutgers, Pitt and South Florida.
“There are some challenges this year that didn’t exist with last year’s team, and there were some challenges last year that don’t exist with this team,” said Holgorsen. “Basically, it boils down to having to bounce back, and that doesn’t happen overnight. We bounced back last season. This is different because of who we are playing.”
Holgorsen also doesn’t have the advantage of relying on defense to get things turned around. Last year, standing at 6-3 with three games to play, WVU found a way to win while scoring just 75 points over the last three contests. The Mountaineers turned up the defense, holding opponents to 68 points over that same stretch.
That’s not likely to happen this time around. WVU’s defense has allowed 279 points already this year — 36 fewer than it allowed through all of 2011 — and there are still five games left to play. In Big 12 games, Mountaineer opponents have had the ball 48 times and scored on 32 of those possessions, 29 of them touchdowns.
Defense — to nobody’s surprise — will be a focus during the week off.
“We have to a better job as coaches,” said Holgorsen. “We have to put them in better position to be successful. It is a combination. Nobody is pointing fingers anywhere. Nobody is doing that. We all have to understand, as coaches, that we need to put them in a position to be successful and what their technique needs to be.
“Ultimately, it comes down to getting them out there in practice and having them get better at what we want them to do. There are only a certain number of coverages or plays that we can run. If you try to make up for our deficiencies with more plays, it is going to confuse them.”
One thing that won’t be different during the second off-week is the staff’s focus on recruiting. With no game on the weekend, WVU’s coaches can search the country for future Mountaineers. But unlike the September break, when they focused on high schools, the WVU coaches will spend much of their time this week at junior colleges, looking for players who can step in and help right away in 2013.
“That’s the plan,” said Holgorsen, who last week praised Kansas State for its ability to find JC players who can help the Wildcats win games, especially on defense. “We will be in Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Mississippi. We will hit all of those this week. We will be out seeing a bunch of games this Friday and Saturday, and we will see a lot of guys.”
The coaches plan to return to Morgantown on Sunday, and preparation for TCU will officially begin.
“Hopefully, they get away from it for a couple of days, then come back energized and regrouped,” said Holgorsen. “We want to have a great Sunday of preparation for TCU.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.