By Cam Huffman
Dana Holgorsen isn’t used to losing streaks. When asked Tuesday if he’d ever been involved in a four-game skid before, the West Virginia coach — who was 5-0 and had his team ranked No. 5 in the country before dropping games to Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma State — immediately showed his frustration.
“No, I haven’t,” said Holgorsen. “It is not a lot of fun for anybody.”
Holgorsen’s memory wasn’t exactly clear. In 20 seasons as a college football coach — starting at Valdosta State in 1993 and working his way up through Mississippi College, Wingate, Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, before landing his first head coaching gig with the Mountaineers prior to the 2011 season — he’s actually lost four straight games once before. In 1999, his only year at Wingate as the wide receivers coach, the Bulldogs fell to Mars Hill, Gardner-Webb, Carson-Newman and Lenoir-Rhyne all in a row.
But that was 13 years ago.
Since then, Holgorsen has been to the Alamo Bowl, Cotton Bowl, the Armed Forces Bowl and the Orange Bowl, just to name a few, and he’s experienced plenty of wins along the way.
Finding a solution to dig out of a hole hasn’t been part of Holgorsen’s job description very often, but he’s confident he knows what it will take.
“The only way to get out of it is to work hard, so that is what our coaching staff is doing,” said Holgorsen, whose team is 5-4 overall, 2-4 in Big 12 play and needs to win one of its last three — Saturday against Oklahoma, at Iowa State the day after Thanksgiving and the season finale at home against Kansas — just to become bowl eligible. “That is the only way you are going to get out of a losing streak. We understand what the challenges are, and we are realistic with them.
“There is only one way to get on track, and there is only one way that you can win in college football. I don’t care what conference you are in. The only way you win is by hard work. We are going to work hard.”
The focus of that work, Holgorsen said, will be on fundamentals.
In the Mountaineers’ most recent loss, a 55-34 setback on the road at Oklahoma State, WVU’s offense, which had gone missing after averaging 52 points per game in the first five contests, was back.
WVU posted 479 yards of offense and averaged more than five yards per play against the Cowboys, but some simple mistakes kept the Mountaineers from ending their losing streak.
A 96-yard Justin Gilbert kickoff return, right through the middle of the OSU wedge, a Cowboys kickoff that hit Andrew Buie in the head, before it was recovered by OSU at the WVU 4-yard line, and a bouncing punt that hit Tavon Austin before landing in the hands of an OSU player, turned what would have been a classic battle between two of the league’s top offenses into another Mountaineer disappointment.
“It’s coaching, and we have to coach it,” said Holgorsen, accepting blame for the miscues. “Obviously it was embarrassing.
“We went out Sunday night, and we worked on fielding punts. We worked on the ‘Peter Call’ (where the punt returner waves everybody off of a bouncing punt). We worked on fielding kickoffs and we worked on downing punts inside the 5-yard line. It is all elementary stuff, so we worked on it. We put them in those positions, and we worked on it. Was it frustrating? Yes. Should we have to work on that? Yes, I guess we did. We kind of took some of that stuff for granted, which I will take the responsibility for that.”
Holgorsen hopes those adjustments will help his team get its mojo back with a major upset of No. 13 Oklahoma (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) under the lights and in front of the FOX television cameras Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Mountaineer Field.
“We encourage everyone to come support the team,” said the coach, now 15-7 in his tenure with the Mountaineers. “The kids are playing hard, the guys are motivated and we are ready to get back to work. I understand the frustrations that have existed. Coaches and players are frustrated, as well, but we are going to get back to work.
“Our approach last week was good, and I thought we had good work last week. We traveled well, and I thought we wanted to play. We just made too many simple mistakes that prevented us from winning the game. We will get back to work and look forward to a great atmosphere Saturday night in Morgantown.”
— E-mail: chuffman@ register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.