Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia learning to deal with lofty expectations
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Ranked in the nation’s top 5 and playing the clear-cut favorite for the Heisman Trophy at quarterback, West Virginia will have to play the rest of the season while dealing with extraordinarily high expectations.
That is especially true in the wake of Saturday’s results, a 48-45 win at Texas that saw the Mountaineers again flex their offensive muscle on a national stage -- and prove that its defense and special teams, while flawed, were good enough to help overcome a bit of adversity.
Does that worry WVU’s Dana Holgorsen, a head coach who preaches the need to stick to a routine throughout the season? Can West Virginia continue to find success in a season that, thus far, is anything but routine?
“I think they’re handling [success] well, based on how we traveled and how we acted in the locker room before the game and really played with a sense of urgency,” Holgorsen said Monday. “We had to drag those guys off the field in warmups, because they wanted to get out there. We didn’t sub very much because the guys that were out there didn’t want to come out of the game. So I thought they did a good job of that. I think we’re playing pretty good.
“I’ve got some guys that believe. I said it last week heading into this game, but we like how this team plays together,” the second-year coach added. “We felt like we had to play together on all three sides of the ball to win, which we did. We had to overcome some adversity on all three sides, which we did. Those are some qualities of a good team, there’s no question. We’ve got to continue to play like that. Each and every game is going to be competitive. Each and every team in the conference brings something different to the table. We’ve just got to take them one at a time and keep playing together as a team.”
Holgorsen not expecting an emotional return to Lubbock: The second-year WVU coach spent the better part of a decade at Texas Tech under former coach Mike Leach, but this trip back to Lubbock for this week’s game against the Red Raiders won’t exactly stir any particular emotions, he said.
After time at Houston and Oklahoma State, and now more than a full season at West Virginia, any special feelings about the Red Raider program have long passed, according to Holgorsen.
“I’m not gonna think twice about it,” he said. “I’m over that. I had eight great years there, but I faced Texas Tech when I was at Houston and had a road game at Texas Tech when I was at Oklahoma State. So it’s nothing new to me. I’m five years removed and have been at three different places since then.
“All those feelings and emotions have gone away a long time ago. I’m excited about the trip and I’ll be able to, as we do each and every week, tell the guys here in Morgantown what it’s like in Lubbock, Texas and what the facilities are like, what the hotel is like and all the rest.”
Smith’s streak without an interception a collaborative effort: It’s been more than 10 months since QB Geno Smith last threw an interception, spanning all the way back to the 2011 regular season finale at South Florida.
Yes, Smith has thrown for an eye-popping 24 touchdowns in the Mountaineers’ five games this season, but he tops the list of Heisman Trophy candidates thanks in large part to the fact he has attempted 204 passes this season without a pick.
But Holgorsen emphasized the senior isn’t the only one who deserves credit for avoiding those costly turnovers.
“It’s a combination of things,” the head coach said. “You try to come up with the best plays you can and call them in the proper situations. You’ve got to do a good job of protecting. Receivers have to do a good job running routes to get open. When the ball is in the air, the receiver has to continue to do their part and attack the ball and make sure they’re the only ones that can catch it.
“This streak has a lot more to do with what the system is and how we coach everybody from a technique standpoint and an assignment standpoint as much as it has to do with the guy who is throwing it.”
Games like Saturday’s are why Holgorsen wanted in the Big 12: Plenty of eyeballs were on WVU’s win over the Longhorns on Saturday, as the game drew a strong TV rating for Fox television -- and a Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium record crowd of 101,851.
That combination of environment and exposure is exactly why Holgorsen said he was pleased when West Virginia announced plans to join the Big 12 last October.
“Texas is one of the premier programs in the country, and the environment was fantastic,” Holgorsen said. “That stadium has never been more alive than it was on Saturday, and our guys fed off that. It was a national TV broadcast that had high ratings, which means we played in front of a bunch of people and had some success. So yeah, I think that will be a positive. That’s one of the reasons we were excited about going to the Big 12 Conference.”