By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
One half bad, one half good ... one game bad, one game good ... Dana Holgorsen just doesn’t seem to know what to expect when his West Virginia Mountaineers walk out onto the field.
“We’re an inconsistent football team right now,” he said Sunday night in his weekly post-mortem of the week’s game, a 41-31 victory over Rutgers in a driving snowstorm on Saturday. “We’re still learning to play together.”
He’s not talking about teammate playing with teammate, although that is part of it, but he’s talking about unit and unit, about the offense playing well and the defense playing well and, yes, the special teams playing well.
“The second half was all about playing together on all three sides of the ball,” he said. “You don’t expect it to be there in game one. The goal is to eventually get there. Hopefully we can build on that second half.”
The Mountaineers will have to this week, for it well could be an angry group of Louisville Cardinals who come to town for the noon kickoff at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday, a team that knows WVU elbowed its way past them and into the Big 12, leaving them stuck behind in what seems to be a league that is falling apart.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Bobby Petrino was at Louisville and Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, when these were two prime national teams having shootouts on national television. It was a tough rivalry then and looks as though it might be again.
Holgorsen, who doesn’t have much of a grasp of the history of WVU and Louisville, says he can remember somewhat that they played important games but that he doesn’t know any of the specifics, like that it was the WVU-Louisville game when West Virginia’s offense with Patrick White and Steve Slaton came to life with a comeback far more exciting and important than the one Saturday against Rutgers.
“I assume it was very competitive like it is this year,” Holgorsen said of WVU vs. Louisville. “The Big East this year is competitive. Louisville’s record does not matter to us. It’s about figuring out who they are and what they will do in specific situations.”
When you speak of inconsistency and West Virginia, you might as well be speaking about almost anyone in college football. How, for example, can you explain Syracuse simply putting it to West Virginia one week, then eight days later going into Louisville and doing nothing right?
“There is no magic formula,” Holgorsen said. “If you did have one there would be more parity in college football because everyone would be following it. Look at us and Syracuse. Look at the Big 12.”
Holgorsen pointed to Texas Tech, where he used to work, who two weeks ago beat Oklahoma, the nation’s No. 3 team, then lost this week to a dreadful bunch from Iowa State.
The Red Raiders became the first team to go from getting no votes in the polls one week to a Top 25 team the next (they were No. 24) to getting no votes again the following week.
Holgorsen and his staff had their normal Sunday practice and worked on correcting the mistakes they saw, which is an endless process, he noted.
“There’s specific things on every play that you do not catch in person. That’s why you watch the tape. It’s things like don’t take that step, your pad level is too high, you were a step slow on that play, your blocking technique was bad on that one,” Holgorsen explained.
One person he didn’t have to correct much was Rutgers’ hero Shawne Alston, the running back who had his first career 100-yard game in the difficult playing conditions.
He also can block. With Ryan Clarke out of the game with a stinger, Alston took his place as a blocker in situations and excelled there as well as running the ball.
Holgorsen noted that both his nose guards, Jorge Wright and Josh Taylor, were injured in the game and are now “day to day” while young Shaq Rowell had about a dozen much-needed plays in the Rutgers game.
NOTES: Award winners for the Rutgers game — offensive champions, Tavon Austin; defensive champion, Julian Miller; special teams champion, Cody Nutter; Offensive Scout Champion, K.J. Myers; Defensive Scout Champion, Ishmail Showell ... Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano has faced West Virginia 11 times as a head coach and never beaten them ... The Mountaineers return home this week after an off week and a couple of road affairs, facing Louisville in a noon game ... Difficult to imagine, WVU is last in rushing defense in the Big East, giving up 133 yards a game.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.