By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
November 12, 2011 09:46 AM
|Dana Holgorsen is looking for players like Geno Smith to step up today.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Dana Holgorsen believes the solutions to his football team’s recent difficulties can be found from within. The 6-3 Mountaineers, predicted to win the Big East this year, already show two losses through four league games and its championship hopes are now tenuous to say the least heading into today’s game at Cincinnati.
In fact, if West Virginia drops one more conference game it will be the most losses in Big East play since Rich Rodriguez’s first season in 2001 when the Mountaineers were 3-8.
On Oct. 21, West Virginia lost by 26 points to a so-so Syracuse team that got a gift victory against Toledo and has since dropped back-to-back games to Louisville and Connecticut. It was the Mountaineers’ worst conference defeat since Rich Rod’s first season 10 years ago.
Then, last week against fired-up Louisville, West Virginia let scoring opportunities slip away in the third quarter before gift-wrapping the game in the fourth when the Cardinals blocked a game-tying field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown.
“There are a lot of guys that just show up and expect to win based on winning 60 games in six years,” Holgorsen said earlier this week. “There are a bunch of people that think that way and haven’t played a down around here. That’s part of success and getting guys to understand that - regardless of the way that it’s been in the past - is reality.”
Holgorsen said there are only a handful of programs in college football with overwhelming talent that are immune to this.
“The latest is Northwestern going into Nebraska and beating them,” he explained. “Pat Fitzgerald is a heck of a football coach, but that’s the reality of college football right now. The teams that are able to withstand that are the teams that win championships.”
Holgorsen says the answer for his team is a combination of the players buying into the system and playing with maximum effort on every single snap.
“You have to buy into what’s being said from a head coach standpoint, to a coordinator standpoint, to a position coach standpoint,” he said. “It’s not my team – it’s their team. We do our best to organize it in a way that puts them in the best position, and then it’s really about how they play.
“We talk about it all the time that we’re all in this together,” he added. “We’ve got to have guys that have invested enough into the program - and have enough of them - that step up and give their absolute best all the time.”
It is obvious West Virginia has gone up against teams that wanted to beat it badly. Syracuse pulled out all of the stops up in the Carrier Dome last month. So did Rutgers two weeks ago. It was obvious looking at the Louisville sidelines last Saturday that the Cardinals were excited to play the Mountaineers.
With a Big East championship now within its sights, it’s a safe bet that Cincinnati will be excited to play West Virginia this afternoon as well.
The question then is will West Virginia be excited to play the Bearcats?
“Really good teams with good schemes and tremendous leaders, from coaches on down, are teams that can handle (the opposing team’s excitement to play them) and have enough to get up for it and find ways to win,” Holgorsen said. “That takes three sides of the ball, and it takes a whole bunch of people that are in for the same reasons.”
Holgorsen is hopeful last Saturday’s disappointing loss to Louisville will serve as motivation for the Cincinnati game, much like the Syracuse loss did for the Mountaineers when they traveled to Rutgers two weeks ago.
“It is a humbling game,” Holgorsen said. “Everybody can be humbled pretty quick. I think that’s what happened up at Syracuse. We came back, and we had a great week of practice and we were pretty determined as a team. We did not play well enough on either side of the ball to dominate, but we played as a team, especially in that second half, and we played to win.
“Coming off another loss, hopefully we get guys that pull together, travel well together, are motivated in the hotel and root for each other to be successful, cheer for each other on the sidelines when things happen and pick people up when bad things happen.”
If not, then Holgorsen’s only other solution is to begin paring things down to involve only those players who are committed to the greater good. He mentioned Tuesday that he is willing to take a pared-down travel roster to Cincinnati.
“I’m pretty serious about it,” he said. “I tend to say what’s on my mind, if you haven’t figured that out by now. That makes some people mad, and others get a kick from it. We’re going to take who wants to win. We’re going to take who wants to pull for his teammates and who wants to be all-in on this thing, not guys that pout and mope because they’re not playing or any of the rest of it.
“We’re going to be a united team, and the only way I know how to get that accomplished is to make sure that we’re only taking people that are focused and headed in the right direction.”
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