By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Dana Holgorsen remembers the moment well.
“That Friday, we were going through our walk-through against Rutgers,” he said.
That was almost a year ago now, Friday, Oct. 28, to be precise. Across the Hudson River in New York City, they were celebrating the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, an event that has little football significance short of the fact that had this not occurred there never would have been a Statue of Liberty play in the game of football.
In Morgantown, there was some celebrating to be done, the announcement having come down that West Virginia University was leaving the Big East to join the Big 12.
Everyone was excited about that announcement.
“It came across the TV that we were going to the Big 12, and everyone was excited about it but me,” Holgorsen admitted Tuesday afternoon as he discussed another historic day on the horizon, Saturday’s meeting with Baylor in the first-ever Big 12 game played by the Mountaineers.
“Geez, we have a game to play,” Holgorsen thought to himself.
See, football coaches see disaster in everything, and all he could picture was his team focusing more on the future than on that Rutgers football game, a game they would win 41-31 in Piscataway, N.J.
“I gathered the team around me,” he explained, “and I told them we were going to the Big 12 and that they would talk about the Big 12, but this is not the time.”
Even as this football season was born, Holgorsen held off on his discussion of the new league for fear of distracting his team.
Now, however, he can hold off no longer.
“Now the Big 12 is upon us,” he said.
And so it is that on Sunday they had a chat, went over the film from Saturday’s Maryland victory and began thinking of Baylor, Holgorsen again downplaying to them the idea that they were changing conferences.
“We’re not playing the Big 12,” he told them quite pointedly. “We’re playing Baylor.”
That certainly is challenge enough, the Bears being a wide-open offense like West Virginia itself, a team that is averaging 51 points a game in the season after it shed the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III.
In many ways, the nation’s eyes would turn to Morgantown for this game that strangely has been granted no more prestige than a noon starting time and place on the FX network.
It is an important game, a huge game not only in the standings and the rankings, with WVU holding down the No. 7 or No. 9 spot, depending upon your poll of choice, but in the history of WVU football.
The game of football changes with this encounter, and it will never really be the same again.
Holgorsen admits that they play differently in the Big 12 than they did in the Big East, that it is a game as wild as the West itself, a game where offenses are king and defenses are simply there to follow the rules that say you need to line 11 men up on the other side of the ball.
“There is a cultural difference, and we are still adapting to it,” he said. “The biggest difference is the amount of kids that play in those (Big 12) games compared to the Big East games. You can go into a Big East game and plan on playing about 40 kids. That is hard to do when you are taking that many snaps.”
Holgorsen noted that Baylor averages 90 snaps a game. He compared that to the style of football Maryland played last week, keeping WVU to just 68 snaps.
“Based on what Baylor is going to do — they are going to go up tempo and they are going to play fast — they are going to play a lot of snaps, and that means we are going to take a lot more snaps on offense as well, which means you have to play more people,” he said.
The cultural difference goes deeper than just the style of play.
“From a recruiting standpoint, those guys have played football since they were in third grade,” Holgorsen said. “They are playing a lot of football when they are in junior high. When you get them, they are probably more game ready from a skill standpoint, not from a talent standpoint.”
What Holgorsen is saying is it’s a different world in more ways than just barbecue and Texas drawls, that the football WVU will face from here on out is a rodeo every Saturday, and they had better come wearing their chaps and spurs because they will be on the back of a bucking bronco.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.