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November 15, 2011

Slow starters

Coach: WVU offense hasn’t progressed as hoped

MORGANTOWN — Having bounced around a bit the previous couple of seasons, Dana Holgorsen figured he had this installing-his-offense thing down pat when he made the move from Oklahoma State to West Virginia.

It mattered not, even that he was promoted from offensive coordinator/head coach in waiting to head coach no longer in waiting, for he had an idea of how long it takes and how quickly it can be picked up.

Now, facing an off-week before the final two games of the season decide the fate of his first West Virginia team, he was asked to look back upon the progress his offense had made, and he was quite honest in his assessment, noting that it had not gone as well or as quickly as he had anticipated.

“It has gone slower than at the other places,” he admitted. “It’s been more like at Texas Tech in 2000 than at Houston or Oklahoma State where their philosophies were similar (before Holgorsen arrived).”

Those were teams schooled in high-paced, pass-first offenses, wild-west style. WVU had run at a fast pace when Rich Rodriguez was at the helm, but leaned heavily on the running game.

The offense under Bill Stewart really never developed a persona, which was why Holgorsen was summoned by athletic director Oliver Luck.

At Texas Tech, as it was at WVU, he had to change the philosophy of the offense that the players had learned and, while wildly successful on many levels as evidenced by the way the passing record book is being rewritten, it hasn’t gone as fast or as smoothly as he would like.

“I’ve changed quite a bit,” Holgorsen admitted, speaking mostly about the tempo at which the offense has been run.

“I haven’t tempoed hardly ever,” he admitted. “I changed a lot on how I call plays, how fast I call them.”

Interestingly, Holgorsen has faced a problem similar to the one his avowed enemy at Pitt, Todd Graham, has faced.

Graham, a former Rodriguez assistant who went to Rice and then Tulsa and built some powerful offensive machines, wound up going toe-to-toe with Holgorsen at Houston and Oklahoma State in games that were almost for offensive supremacy in the Southwest, if not the nation.

Holgorsen won easily head-to-head and it was said that there were some hard feelings between the coaches, so when they wound up at Pitt and WVU it looked like it would be a long-running rivalry, one that has been interrupted by the conference intrigue.

Carrying five losses and without his best player, running back Ray Graham, who was second in the nation in rushing when injured, Todd Graham altered his offensive philosophy this past week in beating Louisville.

“You probably noticed that we weren’t very fast today, but that’s what I talked about last week, that we probably tried to go too fast and do too much. It is better to execute than to go fast and mess up,” Graham said in his postgame press conference.

“We’d like to get quicker with our tempo, but it is better to be efficient, and we did a good job. We had no penalties, and, other than that one (fumble), we were one play away from playing what we consider a perfect game (on offense — zero penalties, zero turnovers).”

You might notice that Pitt played the Louisville game without a penalty, Graham feeling in part because they were running plays in 25 seconds, rather than 15 seconds between plays.

West Virginia, of course, managed somehow to beat Cincinnati while committing 14 penalties.

“Graham is dealing with the same thing I am,” Holgorsen noted.

Holgorsen admits he has been restricted somewhat by the way his team has advanced, be it an offensive line that has not blocked efficiently, taking a running game away.

“I have been slimming (the game plan) down, doing the things we can handle,” he said. “The amount of plays we go into a game with is the same. It comes down to being able to block the people up front. Last Saturday we had numbers to run the ball and couldn’t do it.”

Despite the problems, WVU has put up yards all season, including 400-yard-plus games against Syracuse, Rutgers, Louisville and Cincinnati, all solid defensive teams.

Against LSU, the nation’s No. 1 team, they produced 533 yards.

The problem is that against Cincinnati they could not gain anything on the ground, running 32 times and gaining only 32 yards even though they seemed to be in good running situations.

Unable to run, slowed by those 14 penalties, WVU has got to get things straightened out if it expects to win the Backyard Brawl and then go to South Florida and win on the road.

The Pitt game will be played at Milan Puskar Stadium on the Friday after Thanksgiving at 7 p.m., it was announced Monday.

NOTES: Defensive tackle Julian Miller and safety Eain Smith were named Big East Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Week ... Miller had seven tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown against Cincinnati while Smith blocked an attempted game-winning field goal on the final play of the game ... Wide receiver Stedman Bailey was on the weekly honor roll with six receptions for 104 yards and a 59-yard TD from quarterback Geno Smith.

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

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