MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (August 26, 2014) - Coach Dana Holgorsen addressed the media today prior to the Mountaineers’ season opener against No. 2 Alabama on Saturday, Aug. 30, at 3:30 p.m., ET, in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
“Welcome, everybody. It’s finally game week. I think everybody is probably more excited than I am at this point, but we are thrilled to be able to head down to Atlanta on Saturday to take part in a game that will be considered one of the top games in the country coming up this weekend. We’re fired up about it. Our players are in a really good spot at this point. I think the overall health of our program and health of our team is as good as it’s been. We got through 25 practices over the last four weeks, and have put ourselves in a position where we feel really good about taking on a quality opponent in Alabama. I don’t really need to say much about our opponent, as far as what they’ve accomplished over the last few years. We’re pretty excited to be in this situation – to be able to play a game of this magnitude. Our guys are thrilled with the opportunity to be able to go down to Atlanta to be able to play in this game. Coach Saban’s body of work speaks for itself. They’ve been playing at a very high level here for the last six years. I think he has lost seven or eight games over that span, so they’re an outfit that is tough to beat. Our guys understand that, and look forward to the opportunity to be able to get it on, on Saturday.
Starting with their offense, a lot has been made about their quarterback spot – I think too much has been made about their quarterback spot. They’ve got two guys who are going to be able to run their offense. To me, with coach (Lane) Kiffin – I’ve known coach Kiffin for a long time – he has a great history of being able to coach some pretty good offenses. I don’t think what they do offensively is going to change a whole bunch. Coach Saban has an idea of what he wants to do on all three sides of the ball within in his program, and they have fantastic players around him. They have three running backs who they can go to each of them and have the ability to score quickly. They’ve got big kids up front – three of the five starters coming back. They say they’re starting a true freshman, then I figured out he was the No. 1 player in the country, and he was there all spring, so I really don’t consider him much of a true freshman. They’ve got big people up front. They’ve got an All-American tight end, three receivers who have played a lot of ball for them and can score. There is a bunch of talent around the quarterback spot. They will probably more than likely play both (quarterbacks). They say they’re going to play both, so I would anticipate that happening. And much like we’re going to do with each one of our positions – whichever guy plays better, we’re probably going to play that guy more. We’re anticipating them to play both, and I don’t think that is going to change what they’re going to be doing on offense.
With defense, when you think of an Alabama team, and you think of coach Saban, it’s going to be defense. Kirby Smart has been their defensive coordinator for a long time. He’s been with Nick (Saban) for a long time. They do a great job of recruiting top-notch talent – big, fast, strong guys – some of the better players in the country each and every year. They lose guys to the NFL every year, then they just replace them with guys who have been in the program, and then those guys go to the NFL also. They have five or six starters coming back, and have a good nucleus of guys who have played a lot of ball for them. Looking back on their tape from last year, you see about 20-some guys playing those snaps last year. They lost some really good ones to the NFL, but they still have a lot of guys who are going to continue to get better and develop into the caliber of players that they’re used to.
Special teams has always been a huge emphasis for them. They’re probably just the opposite of what we are with their specialists. They’re replacing a punter and a kicker, but they have one of the best return guys in the country coming back in Christian Jones. He was an All-SEC, All-American kick and punt returner. They have more than him. DeAndrew White is one of their receivers who has the ability to score as well. They have a great return game. The biggest question mark with them special teams wise is the punter and the kicker, because they’re replacing some good guys that they had last year. The emphasis is going to be there. They’ve always been good. They’ve got great depth and great talent to there they can put guys on special teams in order to be successful.
That’s the way I view them. Like I said, it’s going to be an exciting week for our fan base to be able to make the trip down to Atlanta. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Not only from within the building here, but as a fan base, as well. We’re certainly going to do everything in our power to be able to put our best foot forward to be able to come out of there with a victory. With that, I’ll take some specific questions.
On West Virginia having a first-year defensive coordinator and Alabama having a first-year offensive coordinator
There are always going to be conversations that take place during the course of the week. I asked coach (Tony) Gibson for his advice, and coach (Joe) DeForest and coach (Tom) Bradley for some advice on what they would do in some of our situations offensively. They do the same thing with the offensive coaches with some situations and what they should do on defensively. I think both us defensively and Alabama offensively are each in a similar situation where it’s not a wholesale change. One of the reasons I wanted Tony (Gibson) to take over the defense was because he was with (former defensive coordinator) coach (Keith) Patterson last year, and he was with coach Patterson three years ago. I can assure you that when coach Saban hired coach Kiffin, it wasn’t ‘I want you to change the entire thing.’ Coach Saban had an idea of what he wants to do offensively, which isn’t a whole different than what USC was doing the previous couple years as well. The philosophies both with us defensively and the turnover – and Alabama offensively and the turnover – is relatively the same because it is not going to be tremendously different.
On if Alabama reminds coach Holgorsen of anyone in the Big 12
Football is football. You can only put seven on the line of scrimmage and five off the line of scrimmage, and usually one guy is taking the snap. There are some similarities in what they do and what we try to do, offensively. There are some drastic differences, as well. They’re more of a pro-style offensive. They have the ability to be able to spread you out with really good receivers, and you’ve got to be able to cover them. Then, it lightens the box out, and they feel like they’re in a good position to run it. They’re going to try to establish the run. Regardless of what offense you’re looking at, whether it’s ours or Baylor’s or Kansas State’s, it’s always going to be the same. You’re going to try to establish the run, make the defense commit to a certain number of people in the box, and then you’ve one-on-one matchups you try to convert on. When it comes to that, I think there are some similarities with everyone
On how many will travel to Atlanta
We can travel a little more. We’re not restricted to 70 until the Texas Tech game, which I believe is game six. Next week is a home game, Maryland – we’re not restricted. Oklahoma is a home game here. Kansas is a home game here. So, it’s not until game six when we are restricted to 70. This one, we’re going to take about 80. I think that’s the number right now. We’re in good shape.
On which coaches will be on the field, and which will be in the press box
Offensively, we’re the same that we’ve been. It won’t change at all. (Offensive Coordinator) Shannon (Dawson) will be upstairs. (Graduate Assistant) Chris Hannon is going to be talking to coach (Ron) Crook from upstairs, because Chris is the GA for the offensive line. Defensively, coach (Brian) Mitchell will be up there – that is no different. They were just talking about this earlier this morning – the combination of coach Bradley and coach (Damon) Cogdell. I’m not quite sure which one they’ve got ironed out at this point. One of the defensive line guys will be upstairs. (Graduate Assistant) Anthony Leonard will be upstairs, because he’s our linebacker guy.
On the two Alabama quarterbacks
We have limited snaps to be able to gauge this from. Neither one of them has taken a bunch of snaps. They’re not the same quarterback. (Senior Blake) Sims has a little more athleticism to him, where (junior Jake) Coker is a bigger, more pocket-type guy. Again, we have to be aware of who they are, as far as elusiveness of one. And, don’t want to say lack thereof with the other one. There is only so much you can prepare for. The flip side of that is I doubt they’re going to have two different offenses for those two guys. There is only so much they can prepare for, as well. We’ve talked to our guys as far as who they are, what their body type is. There is not just a ton of film to be able to show them exactly who they are. Now, there is a whole bunch of film on the other guys, and they know exactly what they’re getting. Some of these receivers, they know exactly what they’re getting - the running backs, the tight ends and the offensive line as well.
On the different between getting ready for a game as a favorite and as an underdog
It doesn’t affect our coaching style whatsoever, it doesn’t affect our preparation whatsoever. We don’t pay attention to it. It’s not something that affects us one way or another. I think I’d be naive to say our players don’t look at it. They probably do a little bit. In a game like this, the first game, everyone is excited to play. It doesn’t matter what the matchup is. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing it. Everybody is going to be excited and anxious to be able to get out there for the first time. I’ve said this a few times - I believe my biggest coaching challenge will be Sunday, regardless of what happens on Saturday, whether we’re successful or not. I think the bigger coaching challenge is going to be on Sunday – getting these guys to overcome what happened, whether it’s positive or negative. We will deal with that on Sunday, but these guys are going to be ready to play. Our guys are going to be ready to play. Alabama guys are going to be ready to play. You can throw away favorites or underdogs, or any of that. It doesn’t affect us one way or another.
On gauging the progress of the program from last year to this year
I think it’s night and day. If you just look at the overall numbers, I think we’re better at every positon. We’re working with 85 scholarships for the first time in four years. We’re not having to march 10, 15 or 20 freshmen out there. Right now, I think it would be a safe bet to say (freshman safety) Dravon Henry
is going to play, but he’s the only freshman that is going to play. There are just a couple of redshirt freshmen who are going to be able to play as well. I look at every position. Based on what they did last year, based on the progress that they’ve made in the offseason and for the 23 practices we’ve had since August 1, and I see improvements from either the starters or backup at every single position across the board.
I would anticipate a few (snaps on special teams). I think his number is 27, I’m not sure. We had Wednesday of last week to be able to gauge what he can do. You can see his athleticism, but to say he’s going to do anything other than that right now I think would be crazy. We’ve got a few days. We’ve got today, tomorrow and Thursday to be able to see him, coach him and watch it on film to see how he reacts.
On replacement for redshirt senior cornerback Ishmael Banks during non-conference
Icky (Ishmael Banks
) was in a battle for quite some time, when we pulled him off the field 10 days ago or whatever it was. Terrell Chestnut
(redshirt junior cornerback) has been doing well. He’s a guy that’s been in the program for three years. I understand that he is healthy for the first time since he has been here. He was battling for that starting job. Travis Bell
(redshirt senior cornerback) has been solid, as good as I ever seen him. His physical condition is good. Where he’s at mentally right now is good. Something happens to fifth year seniors that is important, which is why you want to have a few of them. They know this is their last chance and something happens to guys like that and I see that happening to Travis (Bell) right now. He’s been playing well. He was in the discussion for that. You have (redshirt junior cornerback) Jaylon (Meyers). I don’t know if he is going to get to where he can give us any snaps or not. We just have some guys to choose from. If you guys can remember two years ago when we were in some of these battles with Baylor (University) out here and we were putting two or three true freshman out there at corners, so I think we are in a much better place, and will welcome back Icky (Ishmael Banks
) when he is cleared here in three weeks.
Dravon (Henry). Yeah, you forget he is a freshman, and he’s the only freshman that we are having this conversation about, and again going back to last year or two years ago we were having this conversation about a whole bunch of them. We kind of forget that he is a true freshman, because he is a mature kid, and he doesn’t have ups and downs. He needs to continue to improve, and I think he will. One of the things with a true freshman that you never put out there before is trying to find out what their demeanor is like, and how they are going to respond when there is 70,000 people in the stands. There is a real opponent across the field. I think based on what he has done in practice that he can handle it just fine, but we are going to look and see. It’s not like he is (sophomore safety) Jeremy Tyler
out there, a season vet. He is a true sophomore. We are going to continue to monitor that this week. The one thing on depth charts which I know you guys want, and I understand the necessity of needing it and wanting to talk about it. I’m going to have this discussion with my team here in an hour, but to me it’s about competing for snaps. If you’re first, second or third then you are competing for snaps in practice on Tuesday, in practice on a Wednesday, in practice on a Thursday, and throughout the course of the game and film evaluation as well as moving on to game two. We will continue to monitor that and make decisions on the amount of snaps that each individual gets. I think that is probably more important than who is the main person.
On freshman safety Dravon Henry not being here in the spring
It’s not crazy just to start a true freshman. That happens at every program across the country. I think the overall health of the program is the indication of how many of them you have to use. I think you get to a point where recruiting continues to improve, and I think it has over the last couple of years then you are going to get better bodies that are going to be able to go in there and compete at an early age. With that said, there is still a learning curve. Go ahead and look at Alabama’s depth chart, and I think they have four or five freshman on their depth chart. They are recruiting at a pretty high level, and they are better than the ones that are currently at first or second or third in the depth chart.
On the anticipation of freshman safety Dravon Henry as a starter
Yeah, we had a pretty good idea, but we are talking about a guy that has never taken a snap here. We are going to continue to monitor his progress this week to see how he does at practice, and hopefully evaluate how he does throughout the course of the game.
On the depth of the offensive line
I think so. We had a lot of snaps at the guard position. (Redshirt sophomore) Tyler (Orlosky) has done a great job at center. We have two inexperience tackles that have played games. We have five guys that don’t have many snaps. If we need to play those guys then you have to put those guys in every game for the first time at some point. Marcell (Lazard) and Grant (Lingafelter) are both redshirt freshman. They haven’t played yet. (Redshirt senior) (Mike) Calicchio hasn’t played much. (Tony) Matteo (redshirt sophomore) hasn’t played much. (Redshirt junior) Stone (Underwood) hasn’t played much. So those backups are guys that we feel good about, but they haven’t played yet, so we have to look at how they do once we stick them in there.
On playing in front of 70,000 people
It’s a concern for everyone across the country. When you go into the first game with guys that haven’t played in that setting or haven’t played college football period, of course, it is a concern. It is for everybody else across the country as well, including our opponent. They have guys that haven’t taken any snaps, and I’m sure they are in a very similar situation.
On field goal return play
No. That would just be ridiculous. Why would anyone want to do that?
On the offensive tempo
Yeah. Everybody has to deal with tempo. We have to deal with tempo. The opponent has to deal with tempo. Everyone across the country has to deal with offenses playing up tempo. That’s the nature of college football. That is where everybody is going. People are making it a big deal about it against Alabama, but nobody is making a big deal about Ole Miss going fast against Alabama where they shut them out or some of the other games that they played. They face teams that have played up tempo, and nobody has ever talked about it because they shut them out. Against Auburn, against Oklahoma, against Texas A&M. Everybody is talking about that because they won those games, but if you look at what they did defensively, it’s not like they are giving up six or 700 yards. They were still holding their own. When you are talking about a defense that last year gave up 206 yards, than anybody with any kind of success is what you are going to talk about. It’s something that is in our plan. I don’t care about who are opponent is. It’s going to be in our plan to be able to do that, and hopefully within the last year we found a way to do that better than the last year.
The only thing worse about punting is punting quickly. If we are not very good at it then we probably shouldn’t do it. Last year, there was a lot of games where I went into those games with some reservations of how fast I wanted to punt, and I think we are in a better place at this point.
On comfort level between this year and last year
Much more comfortable. I think we are better at every position. I think we are playing a very, very good defense. You have to take into consideration of who we’re playing. Where we are at offensively is night and day, starting with the coaching staff. There is a lot more continuity. We have three coaches that are much more comfortable in coaching what we are trying to do, and we have guys that are not starting for the first time which again we are in a much better position.
We don’t have many choices. Right. I mean (Alabama junior wide receiver) Amari Cooper is one of the best receivers in the country, so we are going to have to put our better guys on him. We are going to have to cover (Alabama senior wide receiver) DeAndrew White as well. They have multiple options, and we have to be able to have more than Daryl Worley