By Cam Huffman
When No. 25 Baylor visits Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday at noon for a Big 12 showdown with No. 9 West Virginia, which will be broadcast on the FX television network, it will be the first-ever gridiron meeting between the two schools.
But the Mountaineers (3-0) and the Bears (3-0) aren’t exactly strangers.
For starters, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen knows Baylor head coach Art Briles about as well as a toddler knows peanut butter and jelly.
The two coached together under Mike Leach at Texas Tech for three seasons from 2000 through 2002, when Holgorsen was instructing wide receivers and Briles was in charge of the running backs. That’s where both learned the basis of their current offensive philosophy.
As is often the case in the world of coaching, the two friends soon went from co-workers to competitors.
Briles was hired as the head coach in Houston in 2003 and in 2005 Holgorsen was named the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech.
Briles went 34-28 in five seasons with the Cougars before leaving to take the Baylor job in 2008. That’s when Holgorsen went to Houston, taking over as offensive coordinator for new head coach Kevin Sumlin.
But it wasn’t until Holgorsen accepted the position as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State for the 2010 season that he met head-to-head with Briles — other than meeting up on the recruiting trail.
Holgorsen got the best of that first on-field meeting, as the Cowboys won 55-28 on their way to a 10-2 regular season.
“Dana is a great coach,” said Briles. “He has done a great job everywhere he has been. He is very passionate, very attentive to detail and very intelligent. I am certainly not surprised at all where he is right now. I could see it back in 2000.”
Holgorsen’s knowledge of the Bears may be limited compared to that of WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.
The Mountaineer assistant spent 11 years at Oklahoma State from 2001 through 2011. He coached special teams and safeties and was the associate head coach before making the decision to come to Morgantown this past winter.
DeForest has faced off against each of Briles’ Baylor teams, and OSU won all four, outscoring the Bears 182-65 — including a 59-24 victory last year, with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III quarterbacking the high-powered Baylor offense.
Holgorsen admitted results like those helped persuade him to bring DeForest to WVU, but he’s not sure his assistant has found any secret formula for putting Bears to sleep.
“I was a part of one of those victories, and Oklahoma State did such a good job of moving the ball on offense that Baylor was always behind,” said Holgorsen, trying to explain the results. “Obviously, we’re going to look at those tapes, just like Coach Briles and his staff will look at those tapes, to try to see if there’s some things we can do better.
“Every year is different. When Baylor lines up and plays Oklahoma State this year, it’s going to be a completely different ball game. So you can try to learn from it, but ultimately it’s preparing the team you have this year the best you can and putting those guys in a position to make plays.”
Aside from Holgorsen and DeForest, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, running backs coach Robert Gillespie, and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital all have experience coaching in the Big 12, something Holgorsen said could be a positive has his team begins its first season in the new conference.
“It certainly can’t hurt,” said Holgorsen, explaining that there are similarities in the WVU offense and those at schools like Baylor and Oklahoma State, but also some major differences. “We know Baylor very well, and there are a lot of guys on our staff who have coached with them or against them. All that stuff can’t hurt any, but they’re going to know a lot about what we do on all three sides of the ball and prepare for that, as well.
“Ultimately, it’s about players making plays.”
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