The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 7, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Mountaineers focus on self, not new opponents

MORGANTOWN — One may have expected, when it was announced that West Virginia University was moving from the Big East to the even “Bigger 12,” so to speak, that the coaching staff would be scurrying around gathering film and intelligence on the teams they will be playing and passing that information on to their players.

It isn’t like the Mountaineers moved into the Ivy League.

The schools here are national football powers, schools like Oklahoma and Texas and Oklahoma State and Kansas State and TCU.

These are schools that battle for national, not regional prominence, schools with rich histories in the sport and a list of coaches and players that fill the College Football Hall of Fame.

That hasn’t happened, though. With Dana Holgorsen as head coach, it is mostly about West Virginia and what it does, be it in Pittsburgh, Pa., or Pittsburg, Kansas.

Oh, the coaches are virtually all out of Big 12 country, if not out of one of the schools that plays there, so they have their own familiarity with what makes the conference tick and what a school must do and can’t do to be successful.

Sharing such stuff with the players, however, has not be emphasized over the off-season or in spring camp.

“No, not much,” 1,000-yard wide receiver Stedman Bailey answered when asked if they had been pouring over scouting reports of their new opponents. “We’re focused on getting better here. When the time comes, we’ll scout those guys up and get a plan.”

Even quarterback Geno Smith has not been given a crash course in defense, Big 12 style.

“Not really,” he said. “During my time here with Coach Holgorsen, we’ve never really done that. We focus on executing these plays. In this system, it really doesn’t matter what the defense does. We just have to be able to sight adjust and be able make plays on the fly.”

It is a unique, almost cocky approach to the offense, but one Holgorsen has made stand up. He believes his offense is able to handle any challenge, if executed as it should be, and he has sold his quarterback on that.

“We script every possible circumstance,” Smith said. “When game day comes, it’s not new to us because we’ve already been through it at practice.”

What he tries to do is not lay such matters as strategy on his players’ shoulders. He teaches them how the offense should react to a certain defensive plan within his offense and relies on his coaches to put them into formations and plays that work against that particular defense.

Especially in the spring, it isn’t time to be dissecting Texas defense or Oklahoma’s secondary.

Spring practice is much like spring break … it’s time to make yourself look better, feel better and play better.

“We just need to get better,” Holgorsen said about his approach in the spring. “You know that I’m never satisfied with anything. That’s part of it. What I’m happy about is that it seems like we’re battling back and forth.”

In truth, Holgorsen was worrying a whole lot more about his own defense than Texas’ or Oklahoma’s.

“I had a little concern about that since we have a new defensive scheme and on offense we’ve got nine starters back, but that hasn’t been the case. The defense has done well. We’ll make some plays on them, but then they make some stops. We make some plays; then they get some stops.

“I’m happy with the competitive nature where we’re at, but we’ve still got a long ways to go from an assignment standpoint and from a schematic standpoint.”

There are some critical things Holgorsen wants to make sure improve before the end of spring, things you wouldn’t necessarily believe would be worrying a coach who is coming off an Orange Bowl victory in which that offense scored 70 points.

But, as Holgorsen said, he’s a perfectionist and will always have something that he wants to improve.

“What we need to do to get better is find backups, but from a situational thing, we’ve got to get better on third downs, get better at the scoring percentage in the red zone, the touchdown percentage in the score zone, better at short-yardage and goal-line situations,” Holgorsen said.

If the Mountaineers do that, Oklahoma or Texas can play 12 men on defense, and his offense will have an answer.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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