By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
If West Virginia University is going to turn its season around it must do so in today’s game at Oklahoma State, a game which will in some ways seem like an intrasquad scrimmage and in other ways like the Super Bowl.
The opponent, you see, runs the same offense, the same defense, the same special team schemes. It is a team that just two seasons ago employed Dana Holgorsen as offensive coordinator to put in its high-powered offense, a team from who Holgorsen’s defensive coordinator Joe DeForest brought the defensive and special team schemes.
“It’s like we’re looking in a mirror because what we do offensively, what we do defensively and what we do from a special teams standpoint is so similar,” Holgorsen, now WVU’s second-year head coach, admitted this week as he prepared for today’s 3:30 p.m. meeting in Stillwater. “As you know, there’s a lot of crossover and a lot of familiarity. We know a lot about their players and their schemes, and they know a lot about our schemes.”
It is almost as if all those X’s and O’s matter not, which must break Holgorsen’s heart, for he is an X and O man.
But this is different.
“There aren’t a lot of secrets that exist. It comes down to motivation and determination and what team gives greater effort,” Holgorsen said.
That they are inbred may matter in the preparation, but once the coin is flipped and the kickoff comes, all of that goes out the window.
“Once you get into a game, it’s not much different than any other game,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “They are much more familiar with us than we are with them. They’ve been here. We only know them. We don’t know their players. Once the game gets going, in most cases you actually forget who’s on the other side.”
The two teams come in with 5-3 records, Oklahoma State, however, owning a 3-2 Big 12 record, while WVU stands at 2-3 and is looking at a meeting with Oklahoma next week.
This is why Holgorsen is demanding a new level of effort, one he says has been lacking.
“We’re playing with nine or 10 guys from an effort standpoint,” he said. “If you have eight or nine that are playing with tremendous effort and one or two who aren’t, then you’re playing with eight or nine. We have to play better together. Trust in the system and trust in people being in the right spots is a big thing.”
The result of a lack of effort from certain people leads to a lack of concentration, a lack of execution, even from those who are giving effort but untrusting of their teammates. It showed in the loss to TCU when nine of Geno Smith’s passes were dropped.
“How do we explain nine dropped balls? We haven’t had nine dropped balls all year. That’s just execution. We have to execute, and it’s harder to execute when you play tougher defenses. You have to elevate your game, and that’s coaching. We have to get it out of them. When things get harder, we have to play better.”
After five straight victories, each engineered on an unstoppable offense, things have come apart on both sides of the ball.
“You have to execute, which means finishing blocks, running routes, running full speed, going through your reads offensively, checking into the proper run based on what coverage you get, throwing and catching, making the catch and getting up field,” Holgorsen said.
“Defensively, it means being in the right spot and having a chance to make the tackle. If you have a chance to pull the trigger as a quarterback, then you better pull the trigger. If you have a chance defensively to strip the ball, strip the ball. If you have a chance to make a play in the air, you need to make the play.”
That, of course, falls squarely on the players, but there is a coaching aspect to it that cannot be overlooked or minimized.
“Our job is to get them in the proper mindset to play determined, motivated and with tremendous effort and to get the right people out there and try to put them in the right situation,” Holgorsen said. “At that point, hopefully we’ve coached our guys to be able to pull the trigger and make a play.”
Geno Smith, whose Heisman Trophy chances are now gone, is philosophical in his approach to what has happened.
“It’s how the game goes,” he said. “You can’t be perfect. You can’t win them all, unfortunately. I would like to win every game I played, but I haven’t done so. It’s about focusing on getting better and not losing focus on what the goal is, which is to win every game, one by one, not looking ahead, not looking behind.”
The past is gone, the three losses are there for all history to see. WVU has rediscover what it had through the season’s first games.
“We just have to go out there on Saturday with the mentality that we are going to score. We have to be confident. We have to play fast, and we have to play hard,” Smith said. “Things haven’t changed for us. I still think that we have a really good offense. We are making progress, working guys in and out of the rotation as far as receivers, backs and offensive linemen. We are going to have fresh bodies out there and are going to be ready to play.”
The Mountaineers go into the game unsure if the Cowboys will use freshman Wes Lunt or junior Clint Chelf at quarterback, Lunt coming back from injury and more of a pure passer.
What the Cowboys do have is running back Joseph Randle, who could go over 1,000 yards for the season against WVU’s tough run defense as he enters the game with 934.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.