By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The other day — to be more precise, almost every other day — someone approaches and asks what may be the most asked question these days: “Hey, how’s that Mountaineer offense going to be this year?” they say, and always the answer is the same.
“I don’t really know. I don’t know who the quarterback will be, who they will be throwing to and who will be blocking for them,” I answer, but think way down that chances are, with so many key questions to answer as the team begins camp Thursday, they might not be very good.
But somehow, listening to the man putting it all together, you get the impression that maybe he sees something more there than we all do from the outside; that he believes the offensive scheme and scheming is what makes it run and that if he has capable players — not necessarily superstars — in that offense it will do just fine.
As he speaks, you see, there are hints.
Take, for example, the question that came from the media that sounded a whole lot like the questions us media types have been getting from others.
Q: Coach, you talked about (Houston transfer Charles) Sims already, and you mentioned some of the deficiencies, I guess, on offense in terms of experience. One of the places you do have a lot of depth is at running back. Do you have to be a little more creative when you’ve got Sims and (Andrew) Buie and (Dustin) Garrison to maybe get those guys in the game and get the ball in their hands? Are you planning on doing anything differently to maximize that potential?
Coach Dana Holgorsen: I wouldn’t consider them deficiencies. We haven’t taken a snap yet. Who knows? We might be pretty good on offense. I think we’ve got to wait and see.”
That answer bears repeating, for Holgorsen isn’t one to go out there revealing anything he has up his sleeve.
“... Who knows? We might be pretty good on offense. I think we’ve got to wait and see.”
May we echo one part of that again?
“We might be pretty good on offense.”
What does the man know?
Well, for one thing, he knows all kinds of different things out of the running game that he didn’t have last year. Buie and a healthy Garrison give him a pair of backs who have each surpassed 200 rushing yards in a game while working in a pass-first offense.
Junior college transfer Dreamius Smith brings in a big, talented back who not only can do the short yardage stuff that Shawne Alston did but who can run sweeps, too.
And then there is Sims, whose value in this type of offense as a slot receiver or running back cannot be diminished.
He carried Houston while he was there, former quarterback and WVU sideline reporter Jed Drenning noted this week, Houston going 7-0 when Sims rushed for 100 yards and 12-1 when he ran for at least 75 ... compared to 15-11 when he did not play or had under 75.
That’s 19-1 when he rushed for 75 or more yards in a similar type offense to the one Holgorsen runs.
And then there’s the wild card in the backfield who Holgorsen worked in slowly last year but grew to love as the season went on, understanding that big, powerful Cody Clay put a different dimension to the offense.
“With a guy like Cody Clay, he may be our best football player on our team,” Holgorsen said, perhaps meaning “most versatile” rather than best. “He can be in the backfield. He can line up at tight end. He can line up at slot receiver and do a lot of things.
“It’s all about personnel groupings,” Holgorsen continued, noting that there are teams in the Big 12 that are excellent at matching up with those groupings. “Our job offensively is to try to disguise that, to try to put people in positions they don’t think are going to be there and be able to execute our offense regardless of where they line up.”
True, losing quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey take away the heart and soul of the offense, and force Holgorsen to reshape it toward this year’s strengths, but he doesn’t see that as an obstacle that cannot be overcome.
Much will depend upon who comes out of camp at quarterback, the Florida State transfer Clint Trickett, last year’s backup Paul Millard or redshirt freshman Ford Childress, each with different skills and much to accomplish.
So how will that Mountaineer offense be this season, you ask?
About all you can do is “wait and see,” just as the coach is going to do.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.