By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It wasn’t so much that the words coming out of Dana Holgorsen’s mouth were surprising, for certainly everyone who would hear them or read them would agree with them.
Yet somehow they carried strong shock value.
It’s as if you knew it but you didn’t want to believe it, and until the man himself, West Virginia’s coach, said it in his final pregame press conference, you could avoid even thinking about it.
Yet there they were, as clear as John Denver singing “Country Roads.”
“I’m the first to say that we haven’t had a winning offensive performance this season,” he said.
Think about that. Eleven games into a 12-game season, with the finale coming up Saturday at 4 p.m. on the home field against Iowa State, Holgorsen rates none of his team’s performances on the offensive side of the ball as good enough to win.
They did manage to win four games, beating overmatched William & Mary and Georgia State along with an upset of Oklahoma State — an upset that now can be called stunning after the Cowboys blew away previously unbeaten Baylor — and a win over TCU.
Only against lowly Georgia State did they score more than 30 points, a figure they would reach by halftime a year ago on occasion, but that was with Geno Smith at quarterback and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey catching his passes.
This year Holgorsen says to place the blame on him for the offensive deficiencies, but that is more for not having replacements ready who could perform on a high level than for simply coaching the offense or play calling.
This is how Holgorsen puts it:
“All the dynamics combined haven’t completed a winning effort. That’s something that will get addressed in the offseason. Just point the fingers at me. We know the guys are trying hard.”
Trying hard covers up mistakes more than it covers up a lack of ability. You can try as hard as you want, but if 4.3 speed is needed and you can only run 4.6, it isn’t going to matter.
The quarterbacks weren’t Geno Smith — none of the three of them — and injuries to two of them only complicated matters.
The wide receivers were filled with potential but on empty when it came to experience. Combine it with injured quarterbacks who weren’t ready to perform in this offense, and it became a disaster so bad that it culminated with a loss to Kansas, a team that had not won a Big 12 game with WVU in the conference.
“Continuity is the biggest thing,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t anticipate ever being in this situation again. New guys, new coaches, etc. — I don’t anticipate this happening ever again.”
In fact, Holgorsen honestly believes his team made strides through this year.
“We’re going to be extremely competitive,” he said. “We are a better team than we were last year, minus one or two guys.”
That remains to be seen and Iowa State could be a solid test of it, coming off its first conference victory over Kansas.
“Iowa State is the best 2-9 team in the country,” Holgorsen said. “They’re an extremely competitive football team. They are what they usually are, which is incredibly coached. They have a tough outfit. They’re extremely sound with their schemes. It will be a tremendous challenge for us, as it is every week in the Big 12.”
WVU will go at it with either Clint Trickett, cleared to play after suffering a concussion against Texas, or Paul Millard at quarterback. Holgorsen ruled Ford Childress out of the mix for the final game.
“He’s just not ready. We’re just going to let him sit there and use him as we need to. We are repping the other two right now. They’re taking 50 percent of the reps. They’re not a whole lot different than they were two weeks ago.
“They’ve both done well. They’re trying hard and practicing well. They’re competing. They want to get better. I feel like we can win with either one. Trickett has proven he can win some Big 12 games. Millard is working on the scheme and what we want him to do, and he’s progressing.”
As for bouncing back from the Kansas loss two weeks ago, Holgorsen just isn’t sure.
“We will find out if they refocused,” he said. “We got over Kansas the next day. In this game you can’t dwell on losses; you can’t sit there and wallow in it. You can’t celebrate victories longer than 12 hours.
“I’ve been telling the guys since the Kansas game that this time of the year, it doesn’t matter who you play. You have to play tough, strong and be in the game.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.