By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
As the experts begin analyzing this week’s key Big 12 confrontation between Kansas State and West Virginia University on Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, a must-win game for the Mountaineers following their 49-14 loss at Texas Tech, they ultimately will arrive at the conclusion that this is a clash of styles.
Kansas State, under 73-year-old head coach Bill Snyder, plays more of an old-fashioned brand of football, running first and relying heavily on ball control, while WVU’s Dana Holgorsen is a product of a more modern era with more of a video-game style of play built on quick scores through the air.
While that certainly is a legitimate analysis, Holgorsen himself hinted that much more is involved in this game, and it has to do far more with the toughness of his own team than any technical item.
Holgorsen was openly critical of the toughness and effort of his Mountaineers in Lubbock, Texas, referring to their lack of it on a number of occasions during the Big 12 coaches’ weekly conference call.
Early on, when trying to explain what he found wrong with his team’s performance in viewing the tape, he spoke of how it became evident early that if WVU was going to win this game it was going to have to follow the pattern it had the last two weeks and have to pile up points to make up for defensive shortcomings.
“When we went out there and fell behind, our guys weren’t mentally tough enough to handle another shootout, and I think that affected their performance,” he said.
At another point he was asked if his team was ready to put its first loss behind it and move forward with unbeaten K-State coming to town. Again there was criticism of the mental attitude and toughness displayed the week earlier.
“We were really disappointed we weren’t able to bow up when we faced some adversity,” he said. “The bottom line is we were kind of getting our butts kicked there, and we didn’t have anyone bow up.”
This is serious criticism in a sport such as football, a game played mano-y-mano and where it’s fine to be beaten on the scoreboard but not in effort and courage and manlihood.
“This group yesterday, their sense of urgency was a lot better than it was during the game and a lot better than it was during the travel,” Holgorsen said. “These guys kind of got their confidence taking a hit and were kind of embarrassed. I do think we’ll bow up and play a lot harder, and I think we’ll play a lot better this week.”
They are going to have to, not because Kansas State is in the driver’s seat in the league, but because if they don’t more embarrassment will follow because the one thing everyone admires about the Wildcats is their toughness and attitude.
“They are the same way they’ve always been. They are very, very, very tough. This will be our biggest challenge of the year, without question,” Holgorsen said, when asked of his thoughts about the K-State team.
“They are very tough, a physical group that is extremely disciplined. It doesn’t matter if it’s offense, defense or special teams. Their whole program is built around being tough, mentally tough, physically tough, very disciplined and play with a tremendous amount of effort,” he continued.
“Any coach at any level across the country can turn on their tape on all three sides of the ball and have an appreciation of how they coach their kids and how they get them to be very tough, very physical and very disciplined,” he concluded.
It was, of course, the opposite end of the spectrum of how he described his team’s play at Texas Tech.
Perhaps the most telling comment about what he thought of the Mountaineers’ toughness in that game came late in his portion of the conference call, when someone asked for an update on injuries to key players like Stedman Bailey, Jeff Braun, Will Clarke and Brodrick Jenkins.
“It had something to do with the mindset,” he answered. “When mental toughness is an issue and it’s a physical game, guys tend to go down and get hurt quicker. We’ll see how everybody practices Tuesday. I’m not ruling anybody out.”
Holgorsen was asked how he would address the issue of an offensive lineman tipping plays brought up by television commentator Chris Spielman.
“It’s something we talk about a lot. I know a lot has been made of it just because of the commentary,” he said. “It’s something we have been aware of it since we got here and we started coaching offense. We try to make sure our stances and our signals don’t give anything away from a standpoint of whether the defense can tell if it’s run or pass.
“That’s part of the trick of playing defense. You don’t know if it’s run or pass. If we’re doing anything from a personnel standpoint, a technique standpoint, a stance standpoint, a signaling standpoint it’s something we need to get fixed and make sure we are not predictable.”
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