By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Picture this. You’re a sprinter, a pretty good one, running 100 meters somewhere near Olympic qualifying time, and your coach tells you you’re no longer a sprinter but a marathon runner.
Or you’re a power hitter, just finishing up a season in which you hit 42 home runs, playing in the seventh game of the World Series, down two runs with runners at first and second with no one out. You walk up to the plate, take a cursory look down at the third-base coach and see the bunt sign.
Either way, you are mortified. The thing you do best, the thing that has lifted you to the top of your world is taken from you.
Now you know how West Virginia University coach Dana Holgorsen feels.
Weaned on the passing game at the knee of one of the most inventive pass-oriented coaches in college football history, Mike Leach, Holgorsen’s trademark had become the pass, but this year circumstances have forced him to change the personality of his team.
“We want to establish the run, be more physical,” he said during Tuesday’s press conference. “We have not done a good job of establishing the passing game. We have had a more difficult time in the passing game for a lot of different reasons.”
It has been painful to coach and painful to watch.
“We have inexperienced guys all around, running routes, trying to get the timing down with inexperienced quarterbacks. You don’t know how difficult that is,” he said.
So how does this affect West Virginia’s very own home run hitter being asked to bunt with his offense? How does a coach handle that?
“I deal with it,” Holgorsen said. “What can you do about it?”
That’s easily said, but not so easily done.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “I saw it coming. We all saw it coming and kind of geared what we have done to try to overcome it a little bit.”
Even with that, Holgorsen wasn’t ready for what was to come.
It hasn’t been pretty, but they are trying to move forward..
If you look at the numbers, Paul Millard has been his best quarterback. Millard was the opening-day starter because he had the most experience in the system and has completed 61.2 percent of 80 passes for 581 yards and three touchdowns.
He was replaced by redshirt freshman Ford Childress, who won his first game but stumbled badly against Maryland as he suffered a torn pectoral muscle
That’s when Clint Trickett became the starter and, despite communication problems with Holgorsen, beat Oklahoma State but came undone at Baylor, when he played with an injured throwing arm.
Like Millard, he has thrown 80 passes but has 16 fewer completions, owns just a 41.2 percent completion record and two TDs with three interceptions.
No one has taken charge, and it leaves Holgorsen little choice but to push the running game.
How different is it from what WVU was early last season and the year before?
Six games into this season Daikiel Shorts and Charles Sims are the leading receivers with 19 catches each.
Last year both Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin caught 14 passes in a single game, and Ronald Carswell is the only receiver through six games to have more yardage than Bailey compiled when he caught 304 yards worth of passes against Baylor.
It’s reached the point, in the shadow of the 73-42 loss to Baylor, that Holgorsen felt it was necessary to sit down with his coaches and with his players and give them a talk aimed at boosting what has to be sinking spirits.
“I have had this talk with the offensive coaches and players to not lose sight of who we are,” Holgorsen said. “The biggest thing is trying to get better at something each and every day. We cannot get discouraged. We need to work hard at it and keep our confidence high. Eventually, it will get better and easier.
“It is so hard for a new quarterback to throw to new receivers. It really is, and we have so much inexperience at each position that it does not look good at times. It will get better. It has, and it will continue to get better over the next six weeks.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.