By Cam Huffman
While West Virginia University head football coach Dana Holgorsen admitted there’s still plenty of areas his team needs to improve after a season-opening 69-34 win over in-state foe Marshall, he wishes the work could come against somebody in a different color jersey.
The Mountaineers don’t have another game on their schedule until Sept. 15, when they’ll travel to FedEx Field in Landover, Md., the home of the Washington Redskins, to meet up with Football Championship Subdivision power James Madison. Holgorsen said the early break was a necessity when trying to put together a schedule for the Mountaineers’ move to the Big 12 Conference, but Week 2 of the season is definitely not the best spot for it to occur.
“I don’t think it’s ideal,” said WVU’s second-year coach during Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “You’re going to have a couple of off weeks regardless of where you put them. We’ll have to make some corrections by playing against each other, but I think it’s a little easier to make corrections when you’re playing against somebody else. But there’s nothing we can do about the off week.”
A coach’s job is to make the best of any situation, so Holgorsen said he and his staff will go to work correcting some of the weaknesses that showed themselves on Saturday.
“There’s things that we have to get out there and try to improve on,” he said. “Special teams-wise, the punt team’s got some issues that we have to take care of, and the timing on our PAT/field goal stuff is something that we have to get taken care of. We have to block a little better on punt returns. There’s some things that we’ve identified that we can work on in practice.”
A defense that allowed four touchdowns and 545 yards will certainly need some fine tuning, as well.
“We didn’t tackle well, which is always a concern early in the year,” said Holgorsen. “Third down opportunities, we had about 22 critical downs and were only successful with nine of them. We need to do a better job of that. We did play hard and played fast defensively, but there are obviously some things we need to do.”
n n n
Offensively, so much went right for WVU in its 2012 debut that much of the film evaluation Sunday morning was spent trying to figure out which player to hand the weekly Offensive Champion Award.
Geno Smith, who was named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 323 yards and four touchdowns, with just four incompletions in 36 attempts, was certainly a candidate. But Holgorsen and crew went with senior running back Shawne Alston, who gave the Mountaineers a weapon on the ground with 123 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Geno’s going to get a lot of stuff nationally, and he played his best game since I’ve been here,” said Holgorsen. “We could have very easily done that, but we obviously like to spread it out a little bit. Shawne played the best game that he’s ever had. Jeff Braun, who’s a guard, we considered giving it to him, because he played the best game that he’s played since he’s been here. We could have given it to a couple of the other offensive linemen. You can make a case for a lot of different people.
“Shawne played the best he’s played since he’s been a Mountaineer. He had about 65 yards after contact. Some of the rushing yards that he had were just him being a physical runner, which is something we’ve been trying to get him to do for quite some time.”
n n n
WVU was almost perfectly balanced on offense in the win over Marshall — rushing for 331 yards and throwing for 324 — and many are wondering if that trend will continue for an attack that had been labeled by many as pass-first.
Holgorsen said the increased focus on the running game came about largely because of the success he saw from Alston, and he promised it would continue as long as the results are the same.
“Our game plan’s always the same,” he said. “We always have the same number of plays on our script, and the percentage of run to pass to play-action to screen, whatever it is, is always relatively the same. That doesn’t mean they’ll get called the same. It’s all about the success you have. When we have success running the ball like we did early, we’re probably going to keep doing it.”
— E-mail: chuffman@