By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The hardest lesson for a young coach to learn is that you must adjust ... from day to day, from year to year, sometimes from quarter to quarter.
Most often, young coaches come out of very successful programs and backgrounds.
Why wouldn’t they?
Given a chance to hire an assistant from Alabama or Georgia State, which would you take?
Young coaches come in with ideas formed from working for and playing for successful head coaches; they come in with a philosophy already in place and intent on shaping their team to fit that philosophy.
Having that background, having such a strong belief in something you have seen work is a great asset.
It also can be a great liability.
What if the players you have — for whatever reason, be it injury, defection or simply bad recruiting — do not fit your system? What if you are playing against a team whose strength is defending the type of offense you run or attacking the style of defense you play?
West Virginia University’s Dana Holgorsen finds himself in this situation.
A year ago and the year before, when he had the triumvirate of Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin and no kick-butt running back, he was comfortable throwing the ball, just the way he had done in other places with an NFL quarterback and NFL receivers.
This year that isn’t the case. His quarterbacks have been injured and, to be honest, are a notch below the level Holgorsen has coached over the years. At the same time, while it appears he might have brought in a number of receivers who could become stars, they are no more ready to do so than Austin was his first year when he caught 15 passes or Bailey was his first year when he caught 24.
To Holgorsen’s credit, he has altered his offense some to take advantage of running backs Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith, but rather than featuring the running game, he still uses it to complement his passing game.
It’s in his football blood.
Goodness knows, it would make absolutely no sense to second guess him for his use of Tavon Austin during his time at WVU, yet ...
For one game he played him at running back rather than slot receiver and the result was a school record in rushing yards with 344 along with four catches for 82 yards.
That’s 426 total yards against no less an opponent than Oklahoma.
Should he have been a wide receiver, making much of his yardage off pass plays that were little more than handoffs and pitchouts, touching the ball around 15 times a game as he was? Or should he have been a running back used much as he’s using Sims this year and getting the ball maybe 25 times a game?
If you get 10 more touches a game out of Austin, over a season that is 120 more touches, which is a lot. But Holgorsen’s philosophy is built upon creating offensive mismatches, which was why Austin was a slot receiver.
Certainly, it makes sense, and spread offenses are rewriting the record books everywhere on just that philosophy, but it demands not only receivers but quarterbacks to deliver the ball and offensive lines that give you time to throw.
Why, you must be wondering, are we having this discussion today?
It is a fair question, and the answer is that what happened to West Virginia against Texas Tech on Saturday as they blew an 11-point lead is the perfect example of how a young coach like Holgorsen can get lost in the midst of a game.
Through 2 1/2 quarters, he was dominating the Red Raiders with a balanced attack, one so balanced that after three quarters WVU had 33 rushes and 33 passes, rushing for 173 yards and two TDs and passing for 235 yards and one TD.
True, quarterback Clint Trickett possessed six of the rushes, mostly on aborted pass plays gone bad.
The thing was the flow of the game was in WVU’s favor ... but games are won and lost in the final quarter, and that’s when everything changed for the Mountaineers.
They were outgained by Texas Tech, 164-29 ... and yes, you read that right.
“We had them up against the ropes at the end of the third quarter. But they made more plays than us. They deserved to win that football game,” WVU’s senior center Pat Eger said. “They came out in that fourth quarter and dominated. Hats off to them for doing that.”
And how did that happen? Well, WVU reverted to the style of football Holgorsen had grown up on.
From the time Dreamius Smith rushed 12 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-16 with 4:36 left in the third quarter, the Mountaineers ran 19 more plays. Fourteen were called pass plays; five were runs. On three of the pass plays, Trickett wound up carrying the ball for a net total of two yards.
The other 11 pass plays gained a grand total of 23 yards with five incomplete and six complete, one completed for no gain and another for minus-1 yard.
Why did this happen?
Part of it was circumstance, WVU penalties putting them into bad situations ... but earlier in the game they ran Sims on a third-and-30 and gained 16 yards and on third-and-8 ran a quarterback draw that gained 12 and on third-and-10 ran Sims for 16 yards, so the Mountaineers had been successful running the ball even in long-yardage situations earlier in the game.
And, of course, once Texas Tech took the lead with the clock running down Holgorsen felt it necessary to throw, which would make more sense if he were having success with it.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.