The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 15, 2011

WVU players admit feeling weight of offensive expectations

MORGANTOWN — What is happening two weeks into West Virginia University’s 2011 football season with the first road game and the first test against a BCS conference opponent in Maryland set for noon Saturday on ESPNU is one of the strangest phenomena you will ever see in competitive sports.

Here are the Mountaineers, a team which was lacking badly last season in offense, having scored 34 points in the Marshall opener that was called after three quarters and 55 against Norfolk State in a game which produced one of the most explosive second halves in school history.

But rather than basking in the improved offense that coach Dana Holgorsen has brought with him from Oklahoma State, the production has been rated unsatisfactory, in part by the fans but more so by the coaches and players themselves.

“Sad to say, but we do,” quarterback Geno Smith said when asked if they felt pressure to play better on offense, even after all that. “That’s our mantra. We don’t focus on the positive because we expect to do that. We focus on the negative and try to get better because we want to execute our game plan to the best of our ability.”

Holgorsen himself, who is creating the image of the coach who is never satisfied, no matter how good the results, admits he believes the offense is performing under pressure, too.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said to the gathered media when asked if there was pressure during his Tuesday press conference.

He quickly pointed out that it is internal pressure, not something being applied by media scrutiny or by the fan base.

“This is going to disappoint you, but we tell all the coaches and players not to read anything you guys write, and there’s a reason for that. All that matters is what we think about ourselves and what our abilities are as far as becoming the best football team we can.

“Do I think we’re pressing a little bit offensively? Yes. Do I think my expectations are probably higher than your all expectations? Probably so. But our players can’t be like that. They need to just understand what their job is and try to get better at it every day and not press.”

Smith understands that. The quarterback and leader of the offense says he’s not talking about game pressure that you traditionally think of, the inability to perform in tough situations.

“It doesn’t put pressure on you as far as the game goes,” he said. “It puts pressure on you to work your butt off every day. Our coaches make sure we come out and do that. There’s never an easy day. They are always on us, but that’s what makes an easy day. As long as we understand that and accept that, we’ll be fine.”

“I believe there is pressure because Coach Holgorsen and the rest of the coaches have very high expectations,” wide receiver Ivan McCartney said. “We have to come out and play ball and not let that bother us.”

The pressure comes mostly from the success Holgorsen’s offense has had over the years as an offensive coordinator. His teams average more than 500 yards a game and more than 40 points and seem to be able to do whatever they want, be it in the passing game that he favors of the running game that he has leaned on more in recent years.

That has set up great expectations, expectations that almost can’t be met and probably shouldn’t be met in the first two weeks of a season as it is being installed.

Holgorsen understands that and also understands that things probably aren’t as bad as they seem.

“The fact of the matter is we have scored on about 70 percent of our drives, which is really high. We probably won’t maintain that through the course of the season. The three places I’ve been the last three years we’ve never scored on 70 percent of our drives. So, if the expectations are high, I’m probably guilty of that as well,” Holgorsen said.

“It’s our job as coaches to makes sure the players understand it doesn’t matter what the expectations are. It’s what we feel like we need to do in this room.”

The coaches realize that the team has twice come out of the gate slowly and that the running game has been virtually non-existent, which are two worrisome matters but also something that they believe will improve over time.

And, when those areas do come around the expectations will really grow and raise the pressure level with it.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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