By Cam Huffman
After West Virginia University’s dominating 69-34 win over Marshall Saturday, Mountaineer fans are already starting to put up bets about how many points WVU — which has scored 139 points in its last two games, after ending last season with a 70-33 trouncing of Clemson — will score against Division I Football Championship Subdivision member James Madison when the teams meet at FedEx Field on Sept. 15.
During Tuesday’s weekly press conference, though, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen explained that lighting up the scoreboard at the home of the Washington Redskins may not be as easy as many think.
“They have a few less scholarships, but they probably have the same amount of people on their team,” he said, downplaying the difference between the level of football at the FCS level, compared to the big boys in the Football Bowl Subdivision. “They can break their scholarships up, so they still have a good bit of kids on their team and playing with the same numbers.
“They’re quality,” he continued. “We’re going to talk about it a bunch next week, but the same team (JMU) beat Virginia Tech a couple years ago. That pretty much sums it up.”
As Holgorsen outlined, many of the stars at the FCS level are transfers from FBS programs that either got stuck behind a star at their position and struggled to find playing time or perhaps struggled academically and decided to find a new home.
The coaches, he said, are also just as good as you’ll find at some of the country’s top programs.
“I think there are good football coaches everywhere,” said Holgorsen, who hired his offense coordinator, Shannon Dawson, and his defensive line coach, Erik Slaughter away from Stephen F. Austin. “I don’t know if the schemes are that drastically different. What Shannon and I did was basically the same job for a couple of years. Mine just happened to be at Houston (as offensive coordinator), and his was at Stephen F. Austin. It’s the same type of football, and we’re coaching the same way.
“There are a whole bunch of good coaches at Division II and Division III. It’s about your path and getting opportunities. Erik Slaughter is making the most of his opportunity right now. He has as much energy as anybody I’ve seen. He’s been at the Division I level (Houston), and he was probably a better coach at the I-AA level, because he was 10 years older. There are a lot of good coaches out there. Some of them get opportunities, and some of them don’t.”
WVU will try to take full advantage of the off week on the recruiting trail. Having some extra time, Holgorsen explained, will allow his coaches to travel a little further from Morgantown.
“When we have a couple of days, we can get to Texas and get to Florida,” said the coach, pointing out that there are other times when they can travel within the state and to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryalnd and Virginia. “We’ll probably send four to Texas and three to Florida. I think Steve (Dunlap) is going to stay local. Other than that, everybody is going to be on an airplane going somewhere.”
Holgorsen said that in-season recruiting is a critically important part of the process.
“The guys like to go evaluate them and watch them play,” he said. “From a support standpoint, it’s tremendous. Fall is just evaluation. We can’t go talk to parents; we can’t go talk to the kids. We can basically go to the high school and talk to the high school coaches. We’ll be at a bunch of high schools all day Friday, and then we’ll pick a game and really just watch, evaluate and support.
“I’m going to watch my nephew play in Houston,” he continued. “Because that is the only time I can go watch him play, if I count it as an evaluation. That’s the dumbest rule in the world.”
Holgorsen was asked by a reporter Tuesday whether Andrew Buie’s block on Marshall’s Cortez Carter, which sent the sophomore linebacker flying into the air, was the best of Saturday’s game.
“Buie’s was slightly better than K.J. Dillon’s,” said Holgorsen. “K.J. Dillon’s happened right in front of me, which I got really, really excited when I saw that. I even showed emotion; it was awesome. Looking back on it, Buie’s was better, and the ironic thing about it was that it was the same defender.
“That sucks, man,” Holgorsen continued, showing some sympathy for Carter. “Poor kid, geez.”
WVU has played only one football game as a Big 12 member, and two of its players have already been honored by the league.
Quarterback Geno Smith was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week after scoring five touchdowns — four passing and one rushing — in the win over Marshall. Smith completed 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards and rushed for 65 yards in just three quarters of action.
Freshman linebacker Isaiah Bruce recorded 16 tackles in his first collegiate game and was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week. The Jacksonville, Fla., native also returned a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown.
The Mountaineers aren’t just getting respect as individuals. The team is also getting some credit.
WVU came in at a tie for No. 9 in the Associated Press Poll, even with South Carolina. In the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, the Mountaineers were No. 8.