By Cam Huffman
West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen isn’t likely to skip film study this week, but he may be wasting his time sitting in a dark room staring at tape.
When his Mountaineers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) make the trip to Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday to meet up with Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2 Big 12), in a game that will be aired locally on ABC at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 Central Time), it will be almost like watching an intrasquad scrimmage — at least when it comes to schemes.
Holgorsen, now 15-6 in his second year at WVU, was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2010 and installed the offense that head coach Mike Gundy and current offensive coordinator Todd Monken used to propel the Cowboys to a 12-1 finish and a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford in 2011.
This season, that offense is still in place, and Holgorsen said it’s not much different than when he left.
“It hasn’t changed much at all,” he said. “Just looking at it on tape, there are some specific things that they do better than what we do. It’s the same offense. If you look at it very closely, it’s called the same and a lot of the routes are the same.
“There’s always going to be tweaks here, tweaks there, an added formation, a different run play, a different pass play or a different set.”
The OSU defense should look familiar to Mountaineer fans, as well.
Before WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest became a favorite dart board target around the Mountain State, he was the associate head coach, special teams coordinator and safeties coach for the Cowboys for 11 seasons. Holgorsen lured him away this winter, after former WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel left to join former boss Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, in part because he wanted to see the aggressive OSU style in Morgantown.
But the ties between the two coaching staffs go back even further. Holgorsen first got to know OSU head coach Mike Gundy when Holgorsen was at Texas Tech working as an assistant under Mike Leach. They met on the field for the first time in 2001, when Gundy was the OSU offensive coordinator and Holgorsen was the wide receivers coach for the Red Raiders.
Their teams played every year for eight seasons, with Holgorsen becoming the Texas Tech co-offensive coordinator in 2005, the same year Gundy became the head coach of the Cowboys.
Holgorsen left to be the offensive coordinator at Houston in 2008 and 2009, but OSU was still on the schedule.
After seeing the strength of Holgorsen’s offenses for 10 seasons, Gundy wanted the coach on his side, and Holgorsen was hired as the OSU offensive coordinator prior to the 2010 season.
“We competed against each other for eight years, almost 10 years now,” said Holgorsen. “I had the opportunity to go work for him, which was a step up from Houston. This isn’t anything that I haven’t been quoted on saying in the past, but I left Houston to go to Oklahoma State, because it was a different level. It was a different league, and I knew he had a lot of things in place that were appealing to me from a facilities standpoint, a recruiting standpoint and a program standpoint.
“I felt that in order to get a job like the one I’m fortunate enough to have now, that it would take being a coordinator at a higher level. I took that opportunity; my conversations with him and Mike Holder, their AD who is a good friend and a great administrator, (were that) I wasn’t going to go there for a year and leave for the same job.”
After just one season, transforming the OSU offense into one that was ranked 61st in the nation in total offense in 2009 to one that led the nation in that category in 2010, Holgorsen found that promotion for which he had been searching.
The performance of the Cowboys’ offense was enough to draw the attention of Oliver Luck. In his first season as the athletic director at WVU, where he played quarterback under College Football Hall of Famer Don Nehlen, Luck made the controversial decision to let Bill Stewart go and bring in Holgorsen.
He was originally supposed to serve one year as the offensive coordinator, before taking over as head coach for the 2012 season, but when the transition didn’t work as planned, Holgorsen was elevated to the top position a year early, leading WVU to a 9-3 regular season, a Big East championship and a 70-33 win over ACC champion Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
A head coach for the first time, Holgorsen said he used many lessons he had learned from Gundy.
“He does a wonderful job from a structural standpoint and from an organizational standpoint, as far as how you run a program and as far as what your day-to-day operations are like,” said Holgorsen. “I took a lot of things from him, and from an offensive standpoint he took a lot of things from me that we were doing over the course of the previous years that fit into what he was trying to do at Oklahoma State.”
All of that familiarity could make things interesting on Saturday — and this week in practice.
Holgorsen said his team could do a little more “good on good” — first-team offense against first-team defense — on the practice field this week, since the two teams’ schemes are so similar on both sides of the ball.
“We will, not exclusively, because there are always going to be slight differences and we can’t just sit here and pound on each other for a whole week,” he said. “We will go good-on-good some, because it makes sense and because we’re able to.”
The WVU staff will also work on changing up its signals, something that’s a normal practice throughout the season.
“We do it every week, anyway,” said Holgorsen. “I’ve watched a couple of (Oklahoma State’s) TV copies here, and I can call out about 90 percent of their plays, so I’d assume that’s something that is on their mind, as well as it is on our mind. We have to be careful what we do from both an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint.
“You have to work on it. We’re going to know what they do; they’re going to know what we do. Are we going to know exactly the correct call they’re going to do based on a tip or based on us stealing their signals? That may happen every now and then, but ultimately it is line up, read keys and play ball. You have to coach your guys to do that. We’ve made strides on that defensively in coaching our guys to line up better, communicate better, be in position and be in the proper mentality to pull the trigger.”
With the schemes, priorities and even some of the signals the same on both sidelines, Holgorsen said Saturday’s game, a crucial one for both teams in the Big 12 standings, will be a battle of wills.
“It comes down to the effort being there,” he said. “They play with tremendous effort, so we have to play with tremendous effort. We then have to execute, which means finishing blocks, running routes, running full speed, going through your reads offensively, checking the proper run based on what coverage you get, throwing and catching, making the catch and getting up field.”
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