By Cam Huffman
Dana Holgorsen wouldn’t make much of a cashier. West Virginia University’s second-year head coach simply doesn’t believe in change.
That was never more evident than during his weekly meeting with the media on Tuesday. Fielding questions about what he planned to do different on Saturday — when his No. 21 Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) meet up with fellow Big 12 newcomer TCU (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) for a 3 p.m. contest that will air live on FOX — Holgorsen stuck to his guns, promising that the plan would remain the same, even after a two-game losing skid.
“Seeing as how we decided not to switch back to the 3-3-stack and we decided not to go to a 4-2-5; we decided not to start running the option and we decided not to go just 100 percent empty, just because we had a little success with it against Baylor, then we probably didn’t change much,” said Holgorsen in a sarcastic tone. “Hopefully we got refreshed and our mentality is good, our body language is good and our players are excited about playing.”
Most of the inquiries, naturally, surrounded the Mountaineer defense which, under first-year defensive coordinator Joe DeForest and co-coordinator Keith Patterson, ranks last in the Big 12 in scoring defense, giving up 53 points per game, and next-to-last in total defense, allowing 564.8 yards per contest.
“I guess it would make a lot of people around here happy if we switched to a 4-2-5 version, seeing as how TCU’s pretty good at it, Kansas State’s pretty good at it and Texas Tech’s pretty good at it,” said Holgorsen, defending the new 3-4 defense that was put in place after longtime defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel left the program to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. “But it’s not scheme. I don’t know how many times I’ve got to say that.
“We had three practices last week, and I was proud of how they played with effort,” he continued, defending his much-maligned defensive unit. “They were attentive. They kept playing. If 5-2 teams that are coming off a loss pout and feel sorry for themselves, they’re probably not going to finish the year very well. How you handle losses is eventually what you’re going to be made of.”
WVU will be facing another defense this weekend that has struggled at times this season — the usually strong Horned Frogs are giving up 31.2 points and 404.4 yards per game — but Holgorsen said they’re better than what the numbers show, and he used their situation as an example of why sticking with a system can work so well.
“Their retention with their defense staff is impressive,” said Holgorsen. “(TCU head coach Gary Patterson) has been there for going on 15 years doing the same stuff. When you get a whole bunch of people who believe in what you’re doing, you get pretty good at it. When you get people saying the same stuff in the four or five different meeting rooms that exist on one side of the ball, your scheme is going to be pretty good, and you won’t have a lot of mistakes.”
As much criticism as the WVU defense has taken in recent weeks, the offense has also played a part in a pair of blowout losses for a team that was once ranked as high as No. 5 in the country. The same group that scored 70 against Baylor and 69 against Marshall earlier in the year posted just 28 points in two games in the losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. One of those touchdowns actually came on special teams, and quarterback Geno Smith went from the clear leader in the Heisman Trophy race to a dark horse, whose chances are quickly fading.
WVU has been impacted by injuries, including one that has kept Smith’s top receiver, fellow Miramar High School product Stedman Bailey, limited, but Holgorsen isn’t using that as an excuse.
“I didn’t know we forgot how to coach them,” he fired back when asked if the injuries were part of the problem with the offense. “I didn’t know our offensive problems were incredibly magnituded by one guy. Are we better with (Bailey) out there? Are we better with Shawne Alston at 100 percent? Yes. Is that the reason we lost? No. There are a lot of things that go into it, and we’re working hard to try to fix them.”
Another factor in this Saturday’s game — and the preparation leading up to it — could be the weather after the impact of Hurricane Sandy left most of West Virginia blanketed in snow.
WVU has an indoor facility it could use to get out of the cold, but that would differ from the normal plan.
“At this time last year we had the same stuff, and we managed to go outside in a very tough environment at Rutgers with the weather being rain, sleet, snow, wind and chaos,” Holgorsen remembered. “It was a tough opponent, and we did OK. So we’ll probably go outside and throw snowballs around and get used to the weather. It’s setting in, so, who knows, maybe it’s going to be like this on Saturday. In the Northeast, you have to be able to deal with it and play in these conditions.
“We’re in the same situation as the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots, the New York Jets, the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. We have to deal with weather, and we’re not going to panic about it.”
Mountaineer fans are panicked, however, and even if it doesn’t happen on the practice field this week, they’re expecting something to change on Saturday.
And Holgorsen, although out of his character, would be perfectly happy if it does.