By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Before this week is over, West Virginia University’s football team will be going from its iPads to its football pads as preseason camp opens, and it does so with a glow of confidence in a Mountaineer offense that could be setting upon a record-shattering season.
Certainly, coach Dana Holgorsen won’t back away from it when someone asks if this year’s offense should be an improvement on last year’s, an offense that shattered any number of school passing records and capped the season by rewriting the NCAA bowl offensive record book in a 10-touchdown, 70-33 Orange Bowl victory over Clemson.
“It should be better,” Holgorsen said at the Big 12 media day. “Everything is better the second year. It was evident last year with Brandon (Weeden) at Oklahoma State. His Year 2 was more comfortable. It was very evident at Houston going from our first year to second year with Case (Keenum).”
Holgorsen went from Texas Tech to Houston in 2008, and his first year there Keenum threw for 5,020 yards and 44 touchdowns while the next year it was up to 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns and the team going from No. 2 in total offense and passing in the nation to No. 1 the next year.
It was little different with Weeden. Holgorsen put in his offense in 2010 and Weeden passed for 4,277 yards, but in 2011 he passed for 4,737 yards, almost 500 more.
In truth, this is a natural progression, even though the defenses should be a bit better in figuring out ways to stop Holgorsen’s passing game from year to year, experimenting and trying different approaches, be it via gambling blitzes or standing one’s ground and trying not to give up anything deep.
As the quarterback becomes more adept in the offense and more experienced, however, he can read the defenses better and, more importantly, faster. Things become more instinctual rather than having to think while running plays for most of the first year.
“You can see Geno with a bit more confidence,” Holgorsen said of his quarterback Geno Smith. “It makes more sense to him. There should be improvement. If there’s not, we’re not doing a good job as coaches.”
Holgorsen’s offense is all about reading ... the quarterback and the receivers read the defense, then the quarterback reads the receiver. It comes to a point where the quarterback knows what the receiver is going to do almost before the receiver himself knows, which puts the defense at a terrible disadvantage.
The truth of the matter is, the onslaught in the Clemson game may have had less to do with the Tigers’ inability to defend the offense as it had to do with the natural maturation that took place with the month off and the 15 days the Mountaineers had to prepare for the game.
“In all my years for 12 straight bowl games, all my years of December practice time, I think we got better in the month of December last year more than we ever have,” Holgorsen admitted. “Geno progressed, and he’s got a chance to be pretty good. He stacks up with a lot of the other guys I’ve had in the past.”
All of that bodes well for this year, especially with nine starters coming back. That means the same advancement that Smith has made, his skill players have also made.
That allows the coaching staff to add even more intricate wrinkles to the offense, things that will give a defense that is trying to catch up something else to think about long before they have mastered what already has been presented to them.
Holgorsen is quick to point out how important those other players are in taking heat off Smith.
“I don’t want to put a bunch of pressure on Geno,” Holgorsen said. “We’re not going to win a bunch of games with Geno and Geno alone. It’s (the offense) not only familiar for Geno; I feel good about having nine starters back and 20 guys that have played ball.”
In fact, if running back Dustin Garrison can come all the way back from knee surgery, giving Holgorsen a two-headed monster at that position with Shawne Alston, then offense has yet another dimension.
And the truth of the matter is that Smith won’t be judged on how many yards he passes for, but instead on the team’s success.
“Ultimately it’s how many games you win and him going into his senior year, he’s going to be remembered for how many games he wins,” Holgorsen said.
Smith, of course, has already explained that he expects great improvement in the second year under Holgorsen, saying the team is capable of scoring 50 points any time it walks onto the field.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.