The Times West Virginian

October 24, 2011

Picking up the pieces

WVU tries to ‘move on’ after setback

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The flight home, as anyone who watched West Virginia lose, 49-23, to Syracuse on Friday night, seemed to be by way of San Francisco.

It was long.

It was quiet.

The night, though, was short and the film that followed the next day seemed more like a Vincent Price horror classic than a football game.

“It’s no fun,” Coach Dana Holgorsen admitted on his weekly Sunday night press call.

He had been asked about losing on a personal basis, if it was a failure, a challenge or something you just have to move past.

“It’s what we do; it’s our job,” he said. “You only get 12 opportunities a year. You put so much into it, when it doesn’t work out it’s discouraging.”

Certainly, most cases, it is a failure.

This one was, WVU being the favorite, perhaps a false one as the game played out and looking back to last year.

In many ways the games were similar, although the score last year was much closer. But still, Syracuse won here in Morgantown and if the coaching staffs were different, the reaction to the loss had to be the same.

“Coaches, players, they have to get it over with and move on,” Holgorsen said. “There ain’t no time to feel sorry for yourself. We have to move on to be in position to win the game at Rutgers this Saturday.”

That being said, you have to look back, too, for there has to be some kind of basic problem when a team like Syracuse beats you physically and emotionally two years in a row.

“We knew what we were getting ourselves into, the atmosphere up there. I talked to the guys about last year and they hit the field in Morgantown and played harder than we did, just like this year,” Holgorsen said.

It was, he said, a matter of being “outcoached and outplayed.”

“They played with more effort, more energy and more excitement,” Holgorsen said.

And when asked why that would be and what he could do to change it, he offered the standard answer that comes with that question:

“If we could figure out why we’d be writing books.”

The only thing he knows is the same thing that every coach knows when they lose: learn from the loss and move forward.

“You tell them exactly what happened. That’s why you coach,” he said. “We showed them exactly what happened on the tape. It won’t take them long to figure it out when they see it. It typically motivates you. We’re not going to change anything around here.”

In some ways that seems strange, such a theory as not changing things after a loss. The author Rita Mae Brown, in her 1983 “Sudden Death,” wrote that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Yet in football changing things is looked upon as panicking, and no coach wants to be viewed as in a panic mode, especially with a 5-2 record.

“We do the same thing every week,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve done the same thing for seven weeks. I’ve done the same thing for 20

years. Coach Casteel has done the same thing for 20 years. We didn’t forget how to coach. We’ve got a plan. We’ll stick to it and do everything we possibly can to get our guys ready to play.”

And so it will be more of the same getting ready for Rutgers, a team who is a lot like Syracuse, which probably is not a good sign.

Syracuse really came into the game on fire and the Orange had a surprising game plan.

“Sixteen of the first 24 blitzes were different. That’s something I’ve never seen in college football,” Holgorsen said.

The result was that quarterback Geno Smith was under constant pressure. Holgorsen did not place the blame solely on the protection, however, saying Smith had to get the ball out of his hands quicker and the receivers had to make quicker adjustments to their routes.

Put into non-coach speak, what he was saying was that if you can’t hold them out for three seconds, you better get rid of the ball in two.

NOTES: The only injury was a stinger suffered by Ryan Clarke, who played only two plays ... Holgorsen switched away from Tavon Austin to Devon Brown back with Bradley Starks on kickoffs in the second half because he felt he needed Austin more to be fresh on offense during the game ... There was a point when Syracuse seemed to be caught with too many men on the field without drawing a flag. Holgorsen tried to challenge but the officials told him that was not something they were allowed to review, although he was under the impression that it was.  

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.