By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
If football were a fable, West Virginia would be the tortoise to its opponents’ hare.
Wanting to be a high-powered team that is building confidence in its new offense, the Mountaineers instead have so far been left at the gate and Coach Dana Holgorsen is well aware of the problem.
“We haven’t started well offensively in two weeks,” he said. “I don’t know what the numbers are, but we are getting slaughtered.”
It really isn’t anything he hasn’t experienced before. Two years ago, at Houston, when he was offensive coordinator, the Cougars were outscored in the first quarter, 109-98.
It might be best for all concerned for him to get it corrected this week, for WVU ventures on the road for the first time and goes into a hostile environment against a regional rival in Maryland. Taking the crowd out of it early would be considered important, especially considering the way this season has begun.
The offense was stagnant in the first quarter against Marshall and Norfolk State, being outscored by 10-3 in the two games. The defense’s ability to keep the opponents out of the end zone (the TD was on an 87-yard punt return by Marshall’s Andre Booker, not against the defense) has kept the Mountaineers close while the offense regrouped.
WVU did outgain Marshall 90 yards to 50 in the first quarter, but Holgorsen admitted that what went on against Norfolk in the first quarter of their game was “embarrassing,” Norfolk gaining first-quarter yards to 19 for the Mountaineers.
In two games WVU managed only 109 first-quarter yards, 54.5 per game, while giving up 229 yards.
“We weren’t ready to play in the first half,” Holgorsen admitted during Monday’s Big East Conference call. “You can come up with a lot of excuses ... not respecting the opponent, coming off an emotion game against an in-state rival, and a short week of practice probably had something to do with it.”
But that doesn’t forgive it and it forced WVU into situations where it could not dictate the tempo or flow of the game, which is crucial to the Holgorsen offense.
There are a number of factors involved in what’s going on. To begin with, you have the success Holgorsen’s offense has had and people adjust, try something new to stop it.
“It’s a bit of guesswork and rolling the dice on their part,” Holgorsen said of defenses trying things that go against their tendencies.
“You watch a bunch of film, and you develop tendencies of the defense to try to figure out what they’re going to do. You call plays based on what you think they’re going to do,” he continued. “Sometimes you start a play, and they hit it right in the teeth. It’s discouraging as a coach when it’s a tendency they didn’t previously show. You have to know that people are going to change tendencies. We need to be more alert on the sidelines between plays and between series to figure it all out.”
That is one of the reasons Holgorsen doesn’t script the game’s first 15 or 20 plays the way some coaches do.
“You can’t come up with 25 plays and run them consecutively and expect to find success. You have to figure out what they’re doing on both sides of the ball,” he said.
Just as an aside, last year’s team, which was so heavily criticized about its offense, outscored opponents 114-41 in the first quarter of games.
“We talk about coming out faster,” Holgorsen said. “You never know what they’re going to do anyway. I’ve been in charge of offenses that we start really fast, and then we’ll start really slow. If I had a magic formula, we’d always start fast.”
o o o o o
It is the Game of the Year for West Virginia, but is it the Game of the Week for the nation.
LSU, the nation’s No. 2 team, invades Milan Puskar Stadium next Saturday, Sept. 17, but as of yet there is no game time.
ESPN has exercised the six-day clause, meaning it does not have to name a time for the game until Sunday.
If both teams win this week, it’s expected the battle of unbeatens will be played at night and probably bring ESPN’s “Game Day” production to town.
This week’s Maryland game, at noon Saturday, is to be telecast on ESPNU.
o o o o o
WVU’s coaching staff handed out its Champions from the Norfolk State game, but despite scoring 55 points could not find anyone to qualify as offensive champion.
The defensive champion was safety Darwin Cook, who led in tackles with 11, and the special teams champion was Cecil Level for his work on coverage teams for the second week in a row. The offensive scout team champion was Coley White, and the defensive scout team champion was William Marable.
o o o o o
WVU is hosting a luncheon in honor of former Mountaineer All-America linebacker Darryl Talley on Friday, Sept. 23, at noon at the Waterfront Hotel. The luncheon features an outstanding group of speakers, including former Mountaineer head coach and Hall of Famer Don Nehlen, former head coach Frank Cignetti and assistant coach Bob Simmons. Former Talley teammates from both Buffalo (Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Cornelius Bennett) and WVU also will be present.
This luncheon is in conjunction with the on-campus salute to Talley, who is being honored Saturday, Sept. 24, at the LSU game for his selection into the National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel